What is in this article?:
- House Agriculture Committee takes on EPA.
- EPA adminstrator Lisa Jackson testifies on agency views, actions.
- Lawsuit settlements, NPDES permits and spray drift among topics covered.
Minnesota Rep. Collin Peterson, ranking member, wanted to know how the EPA handles legal actions. “What factors do you use to determine whether, or not, to settle with a litigant or petitioner?”
Jackson: “EPA makes a case-by-case judgment and we must look at several factors -- the requirements of the law, most importantly. Legal risk is always a big factor in determining whether to continue litigation or to settle a case.”
At what point does the Department of Justice (DOJ) get involved and who has the final say?
“We work in concert with the DOJ,” said Jackson. “They act as a check, if you will. We cannot move forward on a settlement without concurrence and consultation with the DOJ.”
Peterson wanted to know if all EPA settlement agreements “contain provisions for payment of attorney fees?”
“In general, I’ll simply say that Congress has imposed a vast array of requirements on EPA,” said Jackson. “We’re frequently sued by environmental and other organizations under statutes claiming that EPA has failed to take action in a timely manner, or that we’ve been unreasonably delayed. In many cases, the remedy demanded under that lawsuit is to undertake rule-making.”
Peterson interrupted, “What about if it isn’t litigated and you just settle? Then, all of the sudden, you’re doing a settlement that requires you to do rule-making? And (Congress) didn’t authorize it or probably agree with it.”
The EPA looks “at what the law requires us to do,” said Jackson. “One of the questions is whether (the EPA) would lose if we went to court and whether we’d be best served by settling early and agree on a schedule for rule-making. Oftentimes, that rule-making is overdue but (is something) we can live with rather than have the courts impose one on us. And we’d still have to pay court fees that would be much higher (if EPA) is on the losing end of a lawsuit.”
An irritated Peterson spoke about an area in Minnesota that annually floods. “It’ll flood again this year. … The reason we’ve been unable to do anything about (the flooding) is environmental groups have basically stopped us. These are folks not from the area, they bring nothing to the table and have cost taxpayers I don’t know how many hundreds of millions of dollars.”
Maybe the problem, suggested Peterson, is environmental groups have been provided “too many tools to muck up the whole system. Maybe we need to review those things.”
Unable to find a list of settled lawsuits on the EPA’s Web site, Peterson asked if such information is provided to the public. “I’ve heard complaints that (people) can’t find information on these settlements – how much, who got paid, how much for attorney fees.”
Jackson: “Most of our settlements are required by law to go through public comment. As to whether the (settlement information) is (available) in one place, I’d like to get back to you. I don’t know the answer off the top of my head.”
Lucas then jumped in. “The ranking member has a very good point. I think the committee should ask in writing for a list of all” the settlements. “We’re going to send you a wonderful letter, administrator, a wonderful letter.”