Environmental activists routinely exploit the judicial process to make public policy without public input. In what has become known as “sue and settle,” activist groups sue a federal agency, typically for missing a deadline to issue a new regulation, then negotiate a settlement with regulators that advances the activists’ agenda. The process occurs behind closed doors and leaves taxpayers on the hook for the litigant’s legal fees.
The latest “sue and settle” case to grab headlines involves the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) sulfur dioxide regulations. In a settlement reached between EPA and activist groups, including the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), EPA has apparently agreed to impose new restrictions that will likely shutter coal-fired power plants and undermine states’ rights.
EPA regulates sulfur dioxide under the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS). The settlement unveiled this week would re-designate 3,000 U.S. counties as being in violation of the NAAQS guidelines if the counties have coal plants that emitted above certain amounts of sulfur dioxide in 2012, regardless of whether or not emissions have improved since then. Even if these counties have implemented measures after 2012 to reduce their emissions, they could still be forced to comply with more stringent regulations. States, power companies, and ratepayers had no input in this decision.
Unfortunately, this tactic is nothing new. As we have documented, the process of “sue and settle” has become one of the most pervasive tools in the big green radicals’ toolbox. In fact, in just the first three years of the Obama administration, EPA issued more than 100 new regulations, costing the economy of tens of billions of dollars. Forthcoming regulations on ozone and carbon dioxide will likely cost billions more.
In most court cases, plaintiffs and defendants are adversaries. Yet “sue and settle” has created a symbiotic relationship between federal agencies and the activists that sue them. It’s part of what U.S. Senator David Vitter (R-La.) has called a “beyond cozy” relationship between these radical environmental groups and the EPA. Absent major regulatory reform, EPA will likely continue to carry water for radical activists at the expense of the American people.