Representative Doug Collins (R-GA) participated this morning in a House Judiciary Subcommittee on Regulatory Reform, Commercial and Antitrust Law hearing on his first sponsored piece of legislation, H.R. 1493, the “Sunshine for Regulatory Decrees and Settlements Act of 2013.” The legislation addresses a troubling practice used primarily by the Environmental Protection Agency known as sue and settle.
Sue and settle occurs when a federal agency engages in the rulemaking process via settlement to achieve a desired policy outcome. In essence, outside advocacy groups notify agencies of their intent to sue and then conduct months of closed-door negotiations. During these settlement talks, special interest groups dictate the agency’s policy priorities and funding choices, ultimately resulting in legally binding court-approved settlements. In the process, States and other affected parties are sidelined from weighing in on policy decisions that directly impact them. In fact, affected parties often have no knowledge of the negotiations until they have become legally binding.
Collins offered the following opening remarks on the bill, emphasizing the need to protect communities and business that have suffered under the scrutiny of sue and settle litigation practices through increased transparency throughout the executive branch:
“Thank you Mr. Chairman. I appreciate you holding this hearing today and I look forward to hearing from our witnesses. I ask unanimous consent to enter into the record a written statement from the Attorney General of the State of Georgia, Sam Olens. Mr. Olens was unable to be here today, but he is a tireless leader on this issue and I appreciate his support.
“As the sponsor of this legislation, I believe that the ability of citizens to hold government accountable is an important part of administrative law, but it must be appropriately carried out, with transparency and full public participation. This legislation restores the balance and intent of the APA, and ensures that those who wish to subvert the rulemaking requirements in current law are unable to do so.
“I am proud to represent the thriving agriculture community in Northeast Georgia and across the state. Farmers and ranchers back home are concerned by a recent settlement that has the potential to severely impact their livelihood. In 2011 WildEarth Guardians (WEG) and Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) entered into an agreement binding Fish and Wildlife Services to deadlines for decisions on over 1,000 species under the Endangered Species Act. Even though the agriculture community will be significantly impacted by this agreement, they were not allowed to participate in its development.
“American families across the nation are tightening their belt. It is absolutely unacceptable that their hard-earned taxpayer dollars go to fund backroom deals that subvert the rulemaking process. I particularly want to thank Mr. Puckett for being here, and I look forward to hearing from him, and all of our witnesses.”
Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens, who has been on the frontlines fighting federal overreach, offered written testimony. In his testimony, Olens argues that sue and settle runs afoul of transparency and the important federal principles of separation of powers and federalism by circumventing the steps put in place by Congress for the rule-making process and by excluding States from regulatory decisions in which they have historically played a vital role.
“Sue and settle is just the latest example of a dangerous power grab by our ever-expanding federal government,” said Olens. “As Attorney General, I will continue to exercise my authority to prevent Washington from overstepping its bounds into areas the Constitution has reserved for the States. I appreciate Representative Collins inviting me to offer my view on this serious policy matter, which has immense repercussions for States and private parties.”
Full text of Collins’ statement and Olens’ written testimony are attached.