President Obama's administration and the environmental groups have put together a "sweetheart deal" that allows environmentalists to sue federal agencies and if the federal agencies fail to respond in the required time limit, they secretly settle the suit. The environmental groups then win the suit and are reimbursed for their attorney fees.
The tactic has been labeled "sue and settle," and is being challenged with another legal action by 12 attorney generals led by Scott Pruitt, attorney general of Oklahoma, and Greg Abbott, attorney general of Texas.
Here's how the "sweetheart deal" works: The environmental group sues the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) over an environmental issue or the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) under the Endangered Species Act to force an action by a date specific. The federal agency and environmental group meet behind closed doors to hammer out a deal, which happens to be close to what the environmentalists want. A judge then issues a consent decree that makes the deal the law of the land, bypassing Congress and not allowing an opportunity for public comment.
The General Accounting Office issued a study in 2011 and found that from 1998 through 2010, the Justice Department spent $43 million in legal expenses defending the EPA from lawsuits from the Center for Biological Diversity, Wild Earth Guardians, National Resource Defense Council and the Sierra Club, all radical environmental organizations. Additionally, the federal government had to pay $16 million from 2003 to 2010 the plaintiffs' attorney fees and other costs.
Another GAO study of USFWS released in April 2012 found that from 2001 through 2010 (fiscal year) the government was forced to reimburse many of the same groups more than $21 million for settling suits under the Endangered Species Act.
The legal action, filed by the 12 attorney generals, challenges EPA's denial of a Freedom of Information Act request by the states seeking documents about the EPA's "sue and settle" tactics.
The lawsuit alleges that EPA settles suits brought under the Clean Air Act by non-government organizations (environmental groups) and intentionally seeks to prevent the state from participating in or commenting on the suit. The states are charged with enforcing the changes adopted under the settlement agreement between EPA and the environmental groups.
The action filed by attorney generals alleges that EPA gives fee waivers (similar to the waivers sought by the attorney generals) to environmental groups 92 percent of the time.
Additionally, the suit states that EPA denies fee waiver to industry groups or states that support industry 93 percent of the time.