South Carolina has joined 11 other states in a joint lawsuit against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, charging that the federal agency isn’t complying with freedom of information requests related to implementation of a haze requirement in the Clean Air Act.
The states include Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Kansas, Michigan, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah and Wyoming.
They allege that the agency has denied the states access to records about consent decrees EPA has made with non-governmental organizations that have shaped how it implements haze limits that states must comply with under federal rules, according to the lawsuit.
EPA officials said in a statement released late Thursday, “EPA will review the lawsuit and respond accordingly.”
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Attorneys general of the 12 Republican-governed states want to find out if the EPA is using lawsuits from environmental groups as a way to settle and further strengthen regulations beyond laws that have been passed by Congress.
“Unelected bureaucrats in Washington keep trying to regulate through administrative fiat what Congress refuses to legislate,” South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson said in a statement to GreenvilleOnline.com. “The EPA’s regulatory abuses go too far as their “sue-and-settle” policy disregards due process and ignores the rule of law.”
Wilson said evidence collected by Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt suggests the EPA enters into consent decrees with environmental groups within hours of the groups filing lawsuit against the EPA.
“That’s why I’m joining with 11 other attorneys general to prevent unelected bureaucrats at the EPA from circumventing the rule of law in order to do through regulation what Congress won’t do through legislation,” Wilson said.
The EPA statement said, “The EPA’s use of settlement to resolve lawsuits is a longstanding practice across all administrations and throughout the federal government. Settlement reduces unnecessary litigation, saves government and taxpayer resources, and often affords the agency more time for its decision-making process than would likely be allowed by a court after litigation.
“EPA has no input or control over what parties sue the agency or what issues they focus on. Furthermore, an outside entity cannot compel EPA to take an action that it was not already required to take by law. Settling litigation frees EPA’s resources to focus on its core mission: protecting the health and environment of all Americans.”
The states originally submitted an FOIA request for access to information in several environmental programs, but EPA denied that request, saying it was too broad and there was no evidence the states would release the records to the public, according to the lawsuit.
The states then re-submitted their request on Feb. 6, seeking only records dealing with the haze program and asking that the EPA waive fees for producing the documents since they were in the public’s interest, according to the suit.
The EPA also denied that request, again saying it was too broad, and also denied the request to waive fees, according to the suit.
The states claim in the suit they were specific in their requests and that EPA has a standard protocol to deny requests by telling the requesting agency that it is too broad.
The states want access to EPA interaction with non-governmental organizations.
They allege in the lawsuit that EPA’s regulatory agenda has been shaped by agreements it has entered into with the environmental advocacy organizations in a sue-and-settle strategy that organizations have used with the EPA, while the EPA has also paid almost $1 million in attorneys’ fees to these groups.
“The EPA is picking winners and losers, exhibiting favoritism, at the expense of due process and transparency,” Pruitt said in a statement.