The Environmental Protection Agency’s attempt to quietly assume power to garnishing paychecks of accused polluters ran into firm opposition Thursday from top Senate Republicans.
The senators objected to the new rule proposed by EPA, saying it would put too much power in the hands of “an agency prone to regulatory abuses.”
“While we recognize the government’s legitimate interest in efficiently and effectively pursuing delinquent debt, EPA’s new wage
garnishment procedures provide an agency prone to regulatory abuses with even more power over individual Americans,” wrote Sen. David Vitter, Louisiana Republican and ranking member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, in a comment letter opposing the proposed rule.
The letter also was signed by Sen. John Barrasso, a senior member of the committee, and Sen. Mike Enzi, both Wyoming Republicans.
In light of their adverse comment, the senators demanded “that the EPA withdraw its direct final rule on administrative wage garnishment immediately.”
The backlash is occurring as the EPA flexes its regulatory muscle under President Obama, collecting more fines each year and hitting individuals with costly penalties for violating environmental rules — including recently slapping fines of as much as $187,500 per day on Wyoming homeowner Andy Johnson for building a pond on his rural property.
The senators objected to the new rule giving EPA too much control over the hearing process, including giving the agency power to decide whether and how accused debtors could challenge the fines.
“EPA’s decision to give itself the authority to garnish wages without first obtaining a court order compounds the challenge for individuals who face threats of ruinous fines from the agency,” the senators said.
They cited the cases of Mr. Johnson and West Virginia farmer Lois Alt, whom EPA threatened with fines of up to $37,500 per day because stormwater came into contact with dust as it traversed her farm and entered a U.S. waterway.
The EPA proposed the new rule last week with a notice in the Federal Register, saying it was claiming the authority under current federal law “to garnish non-federal wages to collect delinquent non-tax debts owed the United States without first obtaining a court order.”
The agency cited authority under the Debt Collection Improvement Act of 1996 (DCIA) that centralized federal collection operations under the Treasury Department, which oversees garnishments of wages or tax refund checks.
“EPA will follow all applicable legal requirements and Treasury guidelines to ensure compliance with the rights of debtors under the DCIA,” the official said.