For Immediate Release
Lawsuit Seeks EPA Records on Pruitt's Damaging Settlement Directive
New Directive Gives EPA Administrator Sweeping Power to Cut Industry Deals.
WASHINGTON - The Center for Biological Diversity sued the Environmental Protection Agency today for refusing to release public records regarding Administrator Scott Pruitt’s directive that limits the agency’s ability to settle lawsuits — even when delays in resolving a case result in significant environmental harm.
Under this new directive, Scott Pruitt wrote: “I reserve the right to exercise my discretion and permit EPA to deviate from the procedures set forth in this directive.” The Center’s lawsuit seeks to clarify this statement and bring to light the full implications of Pruitt’s mandate.
“The EPA and Scott Pruitt continue to operate in the shadows while cozying up to industry,” said Jenny Loda, an attorney with the Center. “Ironically, Pruitt claims his directive is meant to increase transparency and public participation, but the public’s left in the dark wondering if EPA will actually hold polluters accountable.”
Pruitt boasted at a conference in May that he had sent out a directive across the EPA to curtail consent decrees such as those that include court-enforced deadlines for rulemaking. The Center filed a Freedom of Information Act request to learn about the directive at that time, but on July 3 the agency claimed it had no relevant records. The Center appealed this decision, and the EPA failed to provide a response to the appeal by the mandated deadline. The agency has been silent on the Center’s document requests for more than four months.
Last month Pruitt announced a new directive that appears similar to the one he described five months earlier. The directive includes limits on the ability of the EPA to enter settlements and requires the agency to notify industry representatives when a lawsuit might impact them. It also requires EPA to include industry in the development of any settlement. Pruitt reserved for himself the right to make whatever exceptions he’d like to this directive without any commitment to public transparency on these decisions.
“Sweetheart deals with industry will be an ugly hallmark of the Trump administration,” said Loda. “Pruitt’s new directive leaves him the broad discretion of a dictator to choose when to cut deals with polluters. The public has a right to learn more about this.”
In 2015 the Government Accountability Office released a report examining settlements with the EPA. The GAO report concluded that lawsuits and settlements only have a “limited” effect on EPA regulations because settlements rarely, if ever, “included terms that finalized the substantive outcome of the rule.”
Instead settlements only set dates — most of which are already required under existing laws — for the EPA to make a decision. The decision itself follows all public comment and participation requirements and remains within the EPA’s discretion. Despite this clear fact, the Pruitt settlement directive still decries “collusion with outside groups” as the rationale for instituting this new directive.
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At the Center for Biological Diversity, we believe that the welfare of human beings is deeply linked to nature - to the existence in our world of a vast diversity of wild animals and plants. Because diversity has intrinsic value, and because its loss impoverishes society, we work to secure a future for all species, great and small, hovering on the brink of extinction. We do so through science, law, and creative media, with a focus on protecting the lands, waters, and climate that species need to survive.