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How Activists Pick Your Pocket

Defending Agriculture

So-called 'sue-and-settle' lawsuits cost ag millions in questionable regulations

Published on: September 9, 2013

According to the Capital Research Center, an education and research organization in Washington, D.C., activists are now using a process known as "sue-and-settle" to obtain policies favorable to their missions.

First, activists sue government agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency and negotiate settlements with friendly bureaucrats. They then obtain judicial decrees that have the force of law. CRC says this process "twists laws and creates disruptive regulations, while largely avoiding the scrutiny of Congress and the public."

Here is a closer look at how it works:

An apparent friendly lawsuit is brought by environmental groups against EPA. Before you know it, there is a consent decree issued by EPA and the environmental group agreeing to undertake issuing a regulation (a law) forcing some industry such as agriculture to start spending money to comply or face civil or criminal penalties.

So-called "sue-and-settle" lawsuits cost ag millions in questionable regulations
So-called "sue-and-settle" lawsuits cost ag millions in questionable regulations

Extreme elements

These settlements, CRC claims, are turning "…the [EPA] regulatory process over to some of the most extreme elements in American politics."

These sue-and-settle EPA deals result in jobs lost and programs undertaken that Congress – nor the American public – would ever approve.

A sue-and-settle lawsuit impacting agriculture was brought in Florida in 2008 by the Florida Wildlife Federation against EPA.  The district court approved a consent decree settling a suit between environmental groups which effectively forced EPA to develop new water quality standards that would severely impact nutrient runoff from Florida's farms.

Costs to the farmers: as high as $632 million annually.

In virtually all of these cases, consent agreements are reached without normal requirements for the public to know about the case. Most of the time affected parties are too late in seeking to intervene because there is no controversy remaining.

The CRC report identifies EPA's effort to ban coal fired power plants as a result of the sue-and-settle strategy. EPA is now banning new coal fired power plants and is in the process of closing down existing coal fired power plants.

CRC discusses a Chamber of Commerce study authored by the Chamber's top lawyer who surveyed the impact of EPA's destructive sue-and-settlement strategy. He reported a 2011 GAO report found that between 1995-2010, the U.S. Department of Justice spent $43 million in defending EPA against this type of lawsuit, and points out the taxpayer paid the environmentalists' lawyers almost $15 million for attorneys' fees in bringing these suits.

The report lists 10 costly regulations resulting from sue- and- settle agreements. One suit against the utility industry involved setting a mercury air toxics standard for utilities which virtually guarantees no new coal plant will be built using U.S. coal deposits. The Utility MACT Rule will allegedly cost all utility users, including farmers, up to $9.6 billion annually.

Workforce shrinking

As I write this column in early September, the Washington Post had a headline regarding the American workforce shrinking. The Post claims: "Americans are participating in the workforce at the lowest level in 35 years…"  The Post goes on to say "Nearly 90 million people are now considered out of the labor force..."

These sue-and-settle lawsuits, with EPA's support, cost jobs in America. CRC reports the National Economic Research Associates believe the mercury air toxics standard described above will cost our economy between 180,000-215,000 jobs.

Eventually this regulation, with others, could cost "…approximately 1.65 million jobs by 2020."

EPA is often accused of being a job killer and causing the hollowing out of the American work force. The CRC Green Watch July report proves this assertion!

CRC's reports and studies are worth reading to find out why America's job force is shrinking. Those engaged in production agriculture should follow the sue-and-settle strategy closely before agriculture's pocket gets picked in a secret backroom deal.