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GOP Moves To Increase Oversight Of EPA ‘Sue-And-Settle’ Lawsuits

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With a Republican-controlled Congress, GOP lawmakers are introducing a bill to bring transparency to so-called “sue-and-settle” lawsuits between activist groups and like-minded federal agencies.

Republican lawmakers Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia and Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa have introduced legislation to prevent backroom dealings between federal agencies and activists designed to force more regulations on the economy.

“All it is bringing is transparency, openness and fairness,” Collins told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “They can still sue and get an agreement without anybody else knowing.”

For years, environmentalists and other activists have sued federal agencies to promote regulations they have missed deadlines for, which federal law allows. The problem comes when federal agencies immediately settle the case with activists to force politically contentious rules to be written, a practice called “sue-and-settle.”

Republicans and industry groups argue that “sue-and-settle” lawsuits allow for backroom dealings between, for example, environmentalists and EPA officials; all while locking out industries that will bear the brunt of any regulations resulting from the settlement.

“All you gotta do is look at coal country, and look at other areas where they are being affected by the EPA and the Endangered Species Act,” Collins said.

Collins and Grassley introduced the same bill in 2013. The bill didn’t make it far, but now that Republicans control both chambers of Congress, Collins is confident legislation will be placed on President Barack Obama’s desk. It’s uncertain, however, if Obama would veto the legislation.

“His environmental agenda is the most left-wing parts of his administration,” Collins said. “I would at least want him to answer why he didn’t sign it– and why he endorses backroom deals.”

Environmentalists have opposed GOP efforts to shine light on “sue-and-settle” lawsuits. These groups say such lawsuits are necessary to hold EPA and other federal agencies accountable for missing regulatory deadlines.

But what happens when nearly every major EPA rule is the result of a special interest lawsuit? A 2013 study by the U.S.Chamber of Commerce found that “sue-and-settle”agreements between activists and the EPA resulted in 100 regulations being issued, with some even costing billions of dollars.

In these lawsuits, environmentalists can also get their attorney fees paid for by taxpayers.

“Sue-and-settle litigation allows federal agencies to short-circuit the controls that Congress has set in place to ensure transparency in the rule-making process,” Grassley wrote in an emailed statement to TheDCNF.

Grassley is the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and has made passing a “sue-and-settle” bill a major priority.

“These tactics result in new federal regulations imposed on American businesses and, ultimately, on American families, all without an adequate opportunity for the public to weigh in,” Grassley said.

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