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Oklahoma attorney general, 11 others file lawsuit against EPA over 'sue and settle' tactics

Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt and 11 other attorneys general want the Environmental Protection Agency to fulfill a records request that may shed light whether the agency encourages “friendly lawsuits” for stricter enforcement of environmental regulations.
by Paul Monies Modified: July 16, 2013 at 9:22 pm •  Published: July 17, 2013

Johnson said decisions on fee-waiver requests lie with FOIA officers who are career civil servants. Most requesters don't identify their political affiliations and the agency has legal requirements to ensure fee waivers are applied consistently, she said. Still, the agency's inspector general in June opened a review into the criteria and procedures around fee waivers for FOIA requests.

Pruitt said enforcement of the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act is based on the idea of cooperative federalism, with the states working in partnership with the federal government.

“It seems to me to be very suspect when somebody brings a lawsuit of the complex nature of an environmental lawsuit, like the Clean Air Act or Clean Water Act, and the same day the lawsuit is brought, a settlement is issued and a consent decree is entered, binding EPA to take certain steps that affect the states,” Pruitt said.

Pruitt said that's what happened when an environmental group, the WildEarth Guardians, sued the EPA over implementing regional haze rules in several Western states. The regulations govern emissions from power plants that affect visibility in federal parks and wilderness areas.

A settlement in that case spurred the EPA to accelerate its timeline for getting states to implement their own plans for regional haze.

Other appeals

Last year, Pruitt joined Oklahoma Gas and Electric Co. in an appeal over EPA's disapproval of Oklahoma's state implementation plan for regional haze. A ruling by the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver is expected later this summer.

Whitney Pearson, with the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign in Oklahoma, said federal agencies typically receive notices of intent to sue by various groups. The Sierra Club, which makes frequent FOIA requests to the EPA, also gets asked to narrow its requests and has to wait for the production of information, she said.

Pearson called Pruitt's lawsuit a “fishing expedition” intended to find information to embarrass the EPA and the White House because of a political disagreement.

“We would think the AG (attorney general) has better things to do than fight off Clean Air (Act) protections,” Pearson said. “He's supposed to protect Oklahomans, and he's done nothing but fight clean air protections. It seems he's doing the coal industry's bidding instead of protecting Oklahoma families from pollution.”

by Paul Monies
Energy Reporter
Paul Monies is an energy reporter for The Oklahoman. He has worked at newspapers in Texas and Missouri and most recently was a data journalist for USA Today in the Washington D.C. area. Monies also spent nine years as a business reporter and...
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