[This is one good article from the Heartland’s Journal. It’s worth your time tolook at the whole Journal. -Bob ]
By Duggan Flanakin – Re-Blogged From Heartland Institute
The U.S. Department of Interior (DOI) has identified the steps it is taking to improve transparency and public input for legal settlements it is considering.A memo from Daniel Jorjani, principal deputy solicitor at DOI, explains what the department is doing to insti-tute then-Interior Secretary Ryan Zin-ke’s 2018 directive to stop entering into secret “sue-and-settle” agreements.Regulatory ShortcutEnvironmental lobbyists often sue vari-ous agencies, including DOI, to force them to implement policies they favor without going through the normally required regulatory process.Under previous presidential admin-istrations, federal agencies have often agreed to legally binding settlement agreements or consent decrees, creat-ing priorities and rules and establish-ing timelines for action outside of the normal rulemaking process.
When an agency is developing a new regulation, it is required to estimate the purported benefits and potential costs of the proposal, hold hearings on it, provide public notice of the rule, allow a public comment period, and solicit the input of states and local gov-ernments to be affected by the rule. Sue-and-settle agreements evade all these procedural steps, with the agency relinquishing discretion over timelines and actions in ways that often shift its duties and priorities.Sue-and-settle agreements are devel-oped behind closed doors, absent any public input, and they can impose sub-stantial payouts of taxpayer money to the interest group or groups bringing the lawsuit.
The DOI reports between January 1, 2012 and January 19, 2017, Interior entered into more than 460 settlement agreements and consent decrees, resulting in the payment of more than $4.4 billion to plaintiffs, while keeping key provisions of these agreements secret.New DOI RulesDOI Order 3368 from September 2018 requires the department to file public notice of all litigation and proposed set-tlement agreements or consent decrees in the Federal Register. Another provi-sion requires DOI to establish a process for public input before it approves a set-tlement with significant policy implica-tions or large payouts.In addition, as Jorjani announced in his May 15 memo, DOI launched a publicly accessible, searchable, “Liti-gation” webpage.
Entries on this page will include the names of the parties involved in litigation, the case num-ber, the date filed, the court where the complaint was filed, the statutory or regulatory provisions at issue in the complaint, the details of any attor-ney fees or costs paid or proposed to be paid, including the name(s) of the party or parties to whom any payment is to be made, and a link to the text of the decree or agreement. The webpage went live in mid-June.‘Thoroughly Corrupt Practice’Ending sue-and-settle agreements will prevent environmental lobbyists from acting as rogue, extralegal regulators, says Bonner Cohen, Ph.D., a senior fel-low with the National Center for Public Policy Research.“
Cozy, behind-closed-doors, sue-and-settle arrangements between green groups and friendly federal regula-tors have been business as usual for decades,” Cohen said. “In this way, environmental groups can force regu-lators to take actions Congress would likely never sanction them to do.“The arrangement has allowed environmental groups to line their pockets with taxpayer money, while enabling them to become extra-governmental regulatory entities, because their agenda becomes cemented into the legally binding settlements they reach,” Cohen said. “It’s good that under President Trump DOI is pulling the plug on this thoroughly corrupt practice.”