- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 10, 2014

Republican lawmakers Thursday tried to derail the Environmental Protection Agency’s move to garnish paychecks of accused polluters, saying it was 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.

The EPA attempted to fast track the proposed rule that claimed authority to garnish wages without a court order, announcing it last week in the Federal Register as a “direct final rule” that would take effect automatically Sept. 2, unless the EPA receives adverse public comments by Aug. 1

In light of their adverse comment, the senators demanded “that the EPA withdraw its direct final rule on administrative wage garnishment immediately.”

The EPA did not immediately say whether its plan would change.

SEE ALSO: Power grab: EPA wants to garnish wages of polluters

The backlash follows EPA repeatedly flexing 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 EPA has been on the front lines of Mr. Obama’s climate change agenda. It issued proposed rules last month that would dramatically cut carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants, which critics say will cause lost jobs, power shortages and higher electricity prices.

A slew of other new regulations, from rules for wood-burning stoves to surface water that could include farmland drainage or golf course water hazards, have made the agency a magnet for criticism and distrust.

In the letter, the three senators objected to the EPA granting itself too much control over the hearing process, including 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,” said the senators.

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.

SEE ALSO: EPA considers ban on HFCs, a once popular greenhouse gas

The EPA gave notice of the proposed new rule last week, two days before the July 4 holiday weekend, 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 that centralized federal collection operations under the Treasury Department, which oversees garnishments of wages or tax refund checks.

An EPA official said the agency was taking “appropriate action” to exercise powers required under the act. “EPA will follow all applicable legal requirements and Treasury guidelines to ensure compliance with the rights of debtors under the DCIA,” said the official.

In another dig at the EPA, the senators brought up former top EPA official John Beale, who’s serving 32 months in federal prison for defrauded the agency out of nearly $900,000 in pay while skipping work with the bogus excuse of being a CIA spy.

“EPA’s decision to grant itself more power over private citizens is unwarranted given the agency’s repeated failure to manage its own personnel,” wrote the senators. “The bizarre tale of John Beale and other recent accounts of EPA employee misconduct demonstrate that wasted taxpayer resources and mismanagement permeate the agency. It would seem to make little sense for EPA to have the authority to garnish wages of private citizens without a court order, when the agency is apparently unable to properly oversee wage payments to its own employees or otherwise restrict the distribution of unearned pension benefits.”

• S.A. Miller can be reached at smiller@washingtontimes.com.

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