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.