Sue and settle is no way to run the EPA

2013-08-05T05:00:00Z Sue and settle is no way to run the EPA Casper Star-Tribune Online
August 05, 2013 5:00 am

The means of last resort appears to be the first option for the Environmental Protection Agency, according to 12 states including Wyoming.

Those 12 states, led by

12 Republican attorneys general, believe the EPA is working in concert with “green” groups to sue the agency so that it will relent, settle and enforce stricter regulations than it would have normally.

The problem is two fold. First, opponents say it forces the agency to follow the strictest interpretation of the law or policies and discourages working toward solutions and collaboration. Moreover, those opposed to the sue-and-settle practice say it gives fringe, radical or extreme groups a way to force views that are out of line with the majority of citizens.

Meanwhile, those who have resorted to the courts have argued they’re just forcing the government to follow its own rules and policies.

The Republican attorneys general who are pursuing the records, believe correspondence and documents will show that these green groups were actually working together with the EPA government officials they were suing in a wink-wink-nudge-nudge agreement. If the states prevail, it will demonstrate a sort of collusion between activists and those on the government payroll.

There are several troubling aspects of the settle-and-sue practice.

First and foremost, courts should not have to become involved — and that goes for both sides.

The government should not have to be sued to follow its own rules. Not only does it set a terrible example, the EPA should be at least competent enough to follow its own directives. We have to rely on federal, state and local officials to enforce the policies on the books, regardless of personal feelings or politics.

And if “green” groups are truly using the courts to over-sue, then it’s equally disappointing. Using the already overburdened court system seems like a poor use of stretched resources. It begs the question: Why won’t the EPA follow its own rules without having to be sued?

We suspect this practice, if it exists, could stem from needing political cover. In other words, we can imagine these two groups working together as government officials. Asserting a lawsuit gives them an excuse to follow a policy or a law. In other words, government officials can blame the courts and not take responsibility.

While we understand the benefit and necessity of having laws and policies, especially those that protect the environment, we’re equally concerned that a sue-and-settle practice will discourage the EPA from working with state and local government to find solutions. This will encourage an environment of litigation not collaboration.

If it’s indeed proven that the EPA employs the sue-and-settle strategy, we also wonder if by selectively choosing what laws and policies to enforce, these green groups are changing the complexion of the EPA. If that’s the case, we wonder how much the EPA’s position represents that of an average American? Is the sum of a sue-and-settle agency greater than the whole? In other words, have several strategic settlements meant the overall approach to protecting the environment is different and more radical than what it would have been?

It would be tempting to criticize the dozen states — including Wyoming — which are joining the lawsuits as nothing more than paranoia stemming from a Democrat in the White House. Unfortunately, we’ve seen plenty of politics right here in Wyoming from the EPA ranging from its approach in the Pavillion water controversy to its stance on haze.

It’s good that Wyoming is following suit here. If nothing else, suing to get the documents will help shed light on how the federal EPA is really being run.

Copyright 2015 Casper Star-Tribune Online. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(6) Comments

  1. irdrmr
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    irdrmr - August 05, 2013 9:53 pm
    As I recall there was an article in the CST a couple weeks ago where Gov Mead was using this very tactic. Practicing what we preach??
  2. IrishRaider
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    IrishRaider - August 05, 2013 6:58 pm
    Pavillion had very bad water 50 years ago. long before any drilling was done. Those people complaining over there are a con job. I know some of them personally. These are people that will cheat you in every business deal you ever have with them.
  3. ken
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    ken - August 05, 2013 2:30 pm
    This is indeed a chicken & egg argument. Have the enviro groups absorbed the EPA, or on the other hand through executive fiat has the administration directed the EPA to function as an advocate of the green (squirrel squeezing) groups?
  4. Richard Garrett
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    Richard Garrett - August 05, 2013 12:07 pm
    I'm confused, and perhaps so is the CST as it "suspects" and "imagine(s)" a problem. On one hand, the CST seems to be critical that 'green groups' are suing and yet on the other hand is supportive of 12 states when they sue. Not only that, but the editorial writer offers nothing in the way of evidence that proves the 'sue and settle' theory and yet appears to endorse the concept that groups and agencies should be collaborative. Confoundingly, the CST also advocates "first and foremost, courts should not have to become involved". The fact is that ours is a nation of laws, not men. Many men do not obey laws and many men fail to enforce them. It is for that reason that we have a judicial system and that the Equal Access to Justice Act was passed (and others similar to it including the Freedom of Information Act, which reporters for the CST have used). Confusion aside, I am profoundly disappointed that the CST, as Wyoming's newspaper of record, implies that the human welfare issues related to rural Pavillion has political underpinnings. I am certain if that were the case, Governor Mead and the state would not be committing significant time and resources to a scientific process as a solution to the water issues there. The CST should know, report and editorialize that the EPA has an obligation to create and help enforce rules that reflect laws passed by Congress, signed by our presidents, and upheld by our judiciary. The Clean Air and Clean Water Acts are on the books for a reason and have been incredibly valuable tools in helping people live in the best environment in the world.
  5. pappy
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    pappy - August 05, 2013 8:53 am
    The policy of sue and settle is also used by the Fish and Wildlife Service. I wonder if those people working for EPA or FWS were to have reprecussions to their jobs in cases that are lost if they wouldn't do a better job in the first place. This would include the Justice Department attorneys that represent them. Had they done their jobs correctly the green groups wouldn't be able to sue.
  6. Todd
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    Todd - August 05, 2013 6:52 am
    Environmental groups have become extremely profitable with their lawsuits and the ability to harvest money from just about every one of those lawsuits. Since they are "non profits" they keep every penny of every "win" while forcing the beleaguered taxpayer to pay more and more into their coffers to support their every whim.
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