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The rule allows the EPA to decide whether a debtor gets a chance to present a defense and then picks whomever it chooses to serve as a hearing officer, even someone not trained as an administrative law judge, wrote David S. Addington, group vice president for research at The Heritage Foundation.

It also puts the burden of proof on the debtor, not the EPA, he said.

The EPA has been on the front lines of the battle over Mr. Obama’s climate change agenda, including issuing proposed rules that would require coal-fired power plants to cut carbon dioxide emissions by 30 percent over 15 years.

Critics say it will cause massive increases in the cost of electricity, lead to power shortages and eliminate jobs, while making scant impact on the amount of greenhouse gasses emitted worldwide.

The agency has been a magnet for criticism over new rules on things such as wood-burning stoves and small streams or ponds on private land, including waterways on farms and golf courses.