Behind the scenes in Washington, tough new environmental regulations are put on the books through a secretive process known as "sue and settle."
The system works like this: environmental activist groups that want to get a new regulation implemented file suit against a government agency, which opts not to fight the case and simply settles — thereby letting the rule be enacted, outside the normal governmental scrutiny that would otherwise be required.
According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, between 2009 and 2012, there were at least 60 cases where the Environmental Protection Agency refused to defend itself and instead opted to settle lawsuits brought by environmental groups. Those settlements resulted in more than 100 new regulations.
In one case, the EPA agreed to propose the first-ever greenhouse gas regulations on U.S. power plants. In another, it agreed to propose similar regulations on oil refineries. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has agreed to make findings under the Endangered Species Act for at least 477 species as a result of “sue and settle” cases.
Those settlements are easy to reach because of the close ties between the environmental groups and the government agencies. Many suits are brought by former government employees who still have contacts within their former agencies, and who share the same agenda to implement strict regulations in the name of the environment, said experts who spoke to The BlazeTV's For the Record.
OpenSecrets.com, which tracks money in politics, lists more than 150 former EPA employees as now working for lobbying firms. Some examples of the “revolving door” between environmental groups, lobbyists and government employees at the EPA include:
• Lisa Garcia, a former senior adviser to the EPA’s Administrator for Environmental Justice joined EarthJustice, an activist law firm that works with the Sierra Club, to push litigation against her former employer.
• Auer Charles, who worked at the EPA's Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxics within the Chemical Control Division from 1992 to 2002, is now an employee of Bergeson & Campbell, a D.C. environmental law firm that's given roughly $19,577 in documented campaign contributions to the Democratic Party from 1999 to 2014, according to the nonprofit watchdog group Influencerexplorer.com.
Christopher Horner, a senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, uncovered a large swath of internal emails through a Freedom of Information Act request, revealing what he termed a "cozy" relationship between special interest groups and the EPA. He told For the Record in the season finale episode "Losing Our Land" that a majority of EPA senior personnel came from the environmental industry: out of the EPA's 10 regional directors, six "came from these pressure groups" either having worked as an activist or attorney.
The government agencies’ lack of transparency and collusion with environmental groups allows them to pass regulations that bypass Congress, he said.
"The truth of how EPA operates also is starkly contrary to Mr. Obama’s promises of limiting the influence of special interests, the revolving door, and transparency," Horner noted in his report. "Contrary to candidate Obama’s promise to run the 'most transparent administration in history,' free of conflicts of interest, documents reveal that various environmentalist pressure groups with extreme agendas have unprecedented access to and influence upon their former colleagues and other ideological allies who are now EPA officials. EPA serves as an extension of these groups and neither EPA nor the groups recognize any distinction between them."
Environmental groups like EarthJustice say their ability to sue "uses the power of law and the strength of partnership to protect people’s health; to preserve magnificent places and wildlife; to advance clean energy; and to combat climate change."
The group touted Obama's announcement in early November that the U.S. and China have agreed to reduce carbon emissions as a success, and immediately pushed for even stronger restrictions. EarthJustice President Tripp Van Noppen said in a statement that the U.S., China "and the other major emitting countries can and must even more aggressively transition away from fossil fuels to clean energy in order to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. EarthJustice will continue to fight for that transition at every turn.”
But lawmakers in multiple House and Senate hearings on the issue have said the fights brought up by environmental groups don't necessarily benefit the environment or endangered species. Instead, it appears that the financial gains from these lawsuits benefit the lawyers and special interest groups, and cost states billions of dollars annually in added paperwork and regulatory changes.
For example in 2011, settlements initiated by WildEarth Guardians and the Center for Biological Diversity against the EPA could cost taxpayers more than $200 million in paperwork expenses alone, said Karen Budd-Falon, a property attorney who represents people who have been victims of sue and settle.
The lawsuit will require the EPA to include more than a 1,000 species on the endangered species list. The list includes various bugs, plants, birds and other animals and none of the funds received will be used for conservation, Budd-Falon said.
"The Department of Justice has incredible power," she said. "So the Department of Justice can settle any lawsuit at any time, for any reason that it wants to settle."
One of the largest divisions able to capitalize on that power is the environmental section. Hans Von Spakovsky, a former Department of Justice attorney and senior legal analyst at the conservative Heritage Foundation, told TheBlaze that lawyers within the environmental division operate like the special interest groups and observed that the "only lawyers that you'll find more left-wing and more radical are in the civil rights division."
Find a full list of regulations resulting from sue and settle cases here, via the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
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