- - Monday, June 10, 2013

To paraphrase William Shakespeare, there’s something rotten in Washington, and the odor is emanating not just from the Internal Revenue Service and the Justice Department. It’s also coming from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other agencies accused of colluding with radical environmental groups to write regulations that are threatening the livelihoods of millions of Americans.

A U.S. Chamber of Commerce study has found that the EPA has given green groups a seat at the table when drafting environmental regulations, but it has excluded the people and industries most likely to be affected. The Sierra Club has participated in “closed-door deals” with the EPA 34 times since 2009; WildEarth Guardians has had the inside line on environmental policy 20 times, the EPA has struck nine deals with the Natural Resources Defense Council, six with the Center for Biological Diversity, and five with the Environmental Defense Fund.

How have these overtly political groups obtained such access to policy decisions that have the power to destroy industries and eliminate jobs? The answer lies in the “sue and settle” legal technique.

In essence, the groups file lawsuits against federal agencies, the courts order “consent decrees,” and the agencies settle the suits in closed-door meetings. According to one published report, the settlements are “pre-arranged” by the agencies and the environmental groups. After the settlements are finalized — without a public comment period — the agencies can move forward with the actions coveted by the environmental group and the uber-green Obama administration.

The result is a regulatory regime that penalizes industries and consumers, but hands economically damaging policy prescriptions to radical greens on a silver platter. Want to stop or delay energy development? File a suit alleging the EPA missed a reporting deadline. Want to prevent the construction of a coal-burning power plant? File a suit that results in laws being used in ways never considered by Congress.

For example, Sen. David Vitter, Louisiana Republican, points to an agreement by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Center for Biological Diversity over endangered-species rules. The settlement calls for a review of the lesser prairie chicken’s status, which could lead to federal control over private lands in New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Colorado and Kansas — some of the nation’s most prolific oil- and natural gas-producing states, where thousands of private landowners lease drilling rights to energy companies.

The leases are in greater danger of extinction than the chickens. According to Rep. Tim Huelskamp, Kansas Republican, the bird is so populous that it is hunted in Kansas. In his view, the settlement “is not about preservation of a species — it’s about federal control of private landowners and limiting the ability to develop and grow rural America.”

“Sue and settle” litigation is taking a toll on industries, consumers and state treasuries across the nation:

Because of a suit filed by WildEarth Guardians, eight states are spending millions to comply with EPA regulations to improve visibility in national parks and wilderness areas. The settlement agreement allows the EPA to exert its authority over state haze-mitigation plans, expands its power base and is increasing consumers’ utility costs.

A “sue and settle” case involving the Navajo Generating Station resulting from a suit by nine environmental groups is expected to raise electricity costs for Arizonans by an estimated 20 percent a year.

A case in which the EPA is accused of failing to consult with other federal agencies over the potential impact of some 200 pesticides has been called “the mother of all lawsuits.” Tom Nassif of the Western Growers Association says it could lead to regulations causing “severe economic harm and loss of jobs to tens of thousands of farmers and cripple their ability to grow America’s source of food and fiber on more than 112 million acres of farmland across the country.”

A proposed suit by the Institute for Policy Integrity in New York could result in a cap-and-trade system, forcing the creation of low-carbon transportation fuels. A study by Charles River Associates found a low-carbon fuel standard could destroy about 4.5 million jobs and raise gasoline and diesel costs by about 170 percent over 10 years.

Consumers (read: taxpayers) are the losers in these cases because they pay for them in triplicate. First, they pay in higher costs for energy, food and other products and services. Second, under federal law they get stuck paying the environmental groups’ legal bills. A 2011 Government Accountability Office report showed that between 1995 and 2010, Earth Justice was paid nearly $4.7 million, the Sierra Club received about $967,000, and the Natural Resources Defense Council got more than $252,000.

Third, they foot the bill for campaigns launched by the American Lung Association, which support the EPA’s actions and criticizes lawmakers who are critical. In the past 10 years, the EPA has provided nearly $20.5 million to the association. The American Traditions Institute says the agency has “uncomfortably close ties” with both the American Lung Association and the Sierra Club. In January, the American Traditions Institute sued the EPA for failing to respond to a Freedom of Information Act request for details about these questionable alliances.

The agency’s stonewalling and the accusations of collusion raise serious questions about the EPA’s accountability and direction. Its apparent complicity in the “sue and settle” method of promulgating regulations reveals that the agency cannot be trusted to focus on its primary mission — “to protect human health and the environment based on the best available scientific information.” At the EPA, science has taken a back seat to a green ideology that puts politics before “we the people.”

Bob Beauprez is a former Republican member of the House of Representatives from Colorado.

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