“Sue and settle” refers to a phenomenon whereby environmental special interests leverage the legal process to dictate the EPA’s priorities.
At heart, sue and settle results from the Clean Air Act’s overabundance of deadlines. Simply put: Congress tasked EPA with far more date-certain duties than the agency can handle. This wouldn’t necessarily be a problem in a statutory vacuum, but the fact is that the Clean Air Act affords green groups the right to sue EPA to compel the agency to perform its non-discretionary responsibilities. As a result of these dynamics [i.e., EPA doesn’t meet any of its deadlines, and green groups can sue to force the agency to meet its missed deadlines], environmental litigation groups like the Sierra Club can use the courts to set the agency’s priorities.
Of course, priority-setting necessarily entails policymaking—after all, it’s a decision on the use of the agency’s limited resources. Opponents of “sue and settle” argue that EPA should make policy with elected officials in Congress or the States (the regulated entity), rather than through litigation or negotiation with special interests.
Factually speaking, there can be no doubt that greens are employing deadline suits to control the EPA’s regulatory reins. As I demonstrate here, EPA is out of compliance with virtually all its Clean Air Act deadlines, which number well into the hundreds, by an average of more than 5 years. And in this report, on which I collaborated, we list all the Clean Air Act rules and regulations that were galvanized by sue and settle lawsuits.
Nonetheless, despite the evident existence of sue and settle problems, House Republicans on the Energy and Commerce Committee asked the Government Accountability Office to investigate the matter further. Yesterday, the GAO’s December report was finally released to the public. The document’s unfortunate tone is aptly imparted by its title: “Impact of Deadline Suits on EPA’s Rulemaking Is Limited.”
In this post, I’ll detail the GAO report’s flaws, and why its title is misleading. [click to continue…]