Senator John Barrasso Throws Down Gauntlet on Regulatory Capture at EPA

by William Yeatman on August 1, 2014

in Blog

Two Wednesdays ago, the Senate Environment & Public Works Committee held a hearing on EPA’s illegitimate Clean Power Plan, about which I reported in last week’s Cooler Heads Digest. For the details, check out the Digest; for this post, my purpose is only to draw attention to the brilliant opening statement made by Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY). He took aim at the role special interests played in crafting the rule. Below, I’ve provided a partial transcript:

On July 6th of this year, the NYT wrote a piece about the outsized role that the Natural Resources Defense Council had in developing the EPA’s new regulations to curb power plant emissions…The article says it was a remarkable victory for the NRDC. Now, for those outside the beltway, NRDC is a $120 million a year lobbying machine, backed by Hollywood elites. It is absolutely shameful to me that the EPA, under the direction of this administrator, would allow a team of lawyers and lobbyists to draft their regulations…

…EPA has decided to push a rule that was drafted behind closed doors by powerful, wealthy Washington lawyers and lobbyists at the NRDC. Let’s be clear, NRDC is a wealthy, elite, powerful lobbying machine with more influence over decision making in Washington than any ordinary U.S. citizen. They have millions which gives them access. The EPA has turned a deaf ear on those that don’t.

…If I’m wrong, then NRDC and the EPA and its Administrator can and should provide all records and documents that are requested by Members of this Committee and my House colleagues on how these new regulations for coal-fired power plants were crafted. Because right now, it sure looks like a trio of high powered Washington lobbyists write their regulations for them.

If what the [New York] Times is reporting is what the EPA Administrator has called “preposterous,” then the EPA must comply with any committee and FOIA requests for these docs. Comply [with these requests], so we can know the truth. If the answer is no, that you will not comply, or that there are more record keeping mishaps, broken hard drives, or lost files, then we’ll know the truth as well.

Sen. Barrasso’s challenge is a welcome development. I wish his staff good luck and Godspeed in its efforts to uncover the extent to which special interests were given the run of the mill at EPA after having helped get the President elected. Alas, the staff’s task will prove a slog, something we know from experience.

The subject of Barrasso’s statement–the “capture” of EPA by an environmental group–is an unfortunate reality we discuss often here at As I’ve noted, regarding NRDC’s role in creating EPA’s Clean Power Plan.

Political spending by special interests is but one manifestation of a phenomenon known as “regulatory capture,” whereby an agency is coopted by an outside group. Another is the existence of a virtual revolving door between special interests and agencies. In this regard, NRDC is well represented among EPA political appointees. The spoils of regulatory capture include policy making prerogatives like the NRDC’s “blueprint.”

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