Former EPA Administrator Carol Browner

Overreaching federal regulators, the EPA in particular, are getting lots of help from collaborating anonymous lawyers they pay to sue them. The Department of Treasury even maintains a special “Judgement Fund” to perpetuate these legal charades.

Referred to as “sue-and-settle” schemes, these closed-door, back-room agreements involve pre-negotiated legal filings by environmental organizations charging a federal agency with not issuing or enforcing rules according to their mutually preferred statutory interpretations.

Both parties then quietly settle their bogus differences in friendly kangaroo-courtcherry-picked courts so that new rules or powers are imposed without influence of state and public entities who inherit resulting cost and enforcement burdens.

Whereas the sponsoring environmental litigants are given seats at the table, outsiders who are often most impacted are excluded, with no opportunity to object to the settlements.

No public notice about settlement terms is released until the agreement is filed in court . . . after the damage has already been done.

On top of all that, we clueless taxpayers get fleeced again with legal fees of both colluding parties.

moneyfunnelRecent investigations by The Daily Caller show that more than $49 million was quietly funneled to environmental groups through these scams since President Obama assumed office. About half of that money was paid to the 57% of lawyers and firms whose names were redacted from publicly available records for 2009-2015.

Yet let’s not imagine that this cozy big green government hanky-panky began with the current White House. According to a 2011 Government Accounting Office (GAO) report, three organizations were rewarded with 41% of this payback between 1995 and 2010: Earthjustice, $4,655,425 (30%); the Sierra Club, $966,687; and the Natural Resources Defense Council, $252,004.

Most of this was paid in connection with EPA lawsuits filed under the Clean Air Act, followed next by the Clean Water Act.

The Department of Justice forked over at least an additional $43 million of taxpayer money defending the EPA in court between 1998 and 2010.

This didn’t include legal costs connected with those rip-offs, since the EPA doesn’t keep track of its attorneys’ time on a case-by-case basis.

The EPA isn’t the only federal agency to engage in secret legal dodoliaisons with crony environmental lobbying organizations. A massive 2011 lawsuit settlement filed by environmental groups against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (part of the Department of Interior) not only promised to address more than 250 candidate species currently being considered for Endangered Species Act protection, but also pledged to review hundreds of additional others they proposed for listing.

Such decisions have costly regulatory compliance consequences on public and private lands. While not the only sue-and-settle culprit, the EPA is certainly the largest.

As I reported in a February 17, 2013, Forbes column, a U.S. Chamber of Commerce study concluded that sue-and-settle rulemaking is responsible for many of the EPA’s “most controversial, economically significant regulations that have plagued the business community for the past few years.” Included are regulations on power plants, refineries, mining operations, cement plants, chemical manufacturers, and a host of other industries.

As noted by National Center for Public Policy Research Chair Amy Ridenour, “The bureaucracy isn’t interested in transparency here, because it doesn’t want the public to know what is going on.”

moranoMarc Morano, former senior staffer to the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and current publisher of Climate Depot, observes that we can no longer count on environmental policies and rulings being subject to laws passed by Congress with consent of the governed. Instead, “Now, we can add sue-and-settle lawsuits as yet another means by which to bypass democracy, along with EPA executive orders and presidential self-ratifying UN agreements.”

Morano adds that it’s easy now to legislate your own environmental regulations: “Just sue the feds and your identity will be protected and your legal fees covered.”

The 2016 Republican Party platform proposes to end this sordid sham. It states:

“We will put an end to the legal practice of ‘sue and settle’, in which environmental groups sue federal agencies whose officials are complicit in the litigation, so that, with the taxpayers excluded, both parties can reach an agreement behind closed doors. That deceit betrays the public’s trust; it will not be tolerated.”

While this expressed intent is noble, let’s remember that most party platform planks have very short post-election durability. Let’s also recognize that Republican legislators are hardly blameless in tolerating this deceit of public trust. Both aisles of Congress have turned blind eyes to the transparent sham for decades.

We, the impacted voting citizens and defrauded taxpayers, have been tolerant far too long.
NOTE:  A version of this article also appears at:


  • Larry Bell

    CFACT Advisor Larry Bell heads the graduate program in space architecture at the University of Houston. He founded and directs the Sasakawa International Center for Space Architecture. He is also the author of "Climate of Corruption: Politics and Power Behind the Global Warming Hoax."