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GAO Debunks Right-wing Fear-mongering Over Environmental Lawsuits That Push Feds to Take Action

WASHINGTON - A new report from the federal Government Accountability Office debunks a long-running Republican criticism of environmental lawsuits targeting federal agencies that fail to meet legal deadlines for taking action. The GAO concludes that those lawsuits had only a “limited” effect on Environmental Protection Agency regulations and that none of those in their report “included terms that finalized the substantive outcome of the rule.”

The GAO looked at 32 major air-pollution regulations issued by the EPA between 2008 and 2013 and found that only nine were rules that stemmed from settlements in lawsuits that sought a deadline for the federal agency to issue regulations. The EPA solicited public comments on all of the settlements, the GAO found.

“Republicans have complained for years that these legal settlements are somehow secret agreements between the government and environmental groups that exert vast power over federal regulations,” said Bill Snape, senior counsel at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Well, the GAO has just debunked those claims and revealed them for what they are: political fear-mongering.”

The complaint over deadline lawsuits and settlements has become a staple for right-wingers in Congress attacking the Clean Air Act, the Endangered Species Act and other bedrock environmental laws.

“Citizens and nonprofits can, and should, hold the government accountable when it misses legally binding deadlines for carrying out laws meant to protect people and the environment,” said Snape. “The settlements in this GAO report, along with many others, simply set deadlines for the government to take action, but they didn’t dictate what that action would be.”

EPA officials, in their official response to the GAO report, said they hoped it would finally end these “unfounded allegations.”

In a letter to the GAO, Avi S. Garbow, general counsel for the EPA, wrote: “It is my hope that this report will put to rest any misconceptions about the relationship between the manner in which EPA and DOJ litigate claims brought against EPA and the content of any EPA regulations. In recent years, this Agency and others within the federal government have faced unfounded allegations that our efforts to resolve litigation are somehow conducted in a manner to evade public input on important questions of public policy. As your findings confirm, nothing could be further from the truth.”

The EPA attorney added that when clear deadlines are missed and the EPA is sued, it’s “almost always a fruitless endeavor to seek to avoid those deadlines through legal maneuvering. Further, such efforts cost the taxpayers’ money and squander our limited resources.”

The GAO report can be read here.


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