Attorneys general from a dozen Republican-led states say the Environmental Protection Agency has been dragging its feet since February on their fee waiver requests, adding to a pattern of the agency making it harder for conservatives to obtain government records.
Twelve states with Republican administrations sent a Freedom of Information Act request for records regarding EPA “sue and settle” negotiations with outside environmental groups in lawsuits. These suits led to the agency entering into consent decrees that forced more federal intervention into state environmental plans.
“Oklahoma and other states seek this information out of substantial concern with EPA’s practice because it directly results in minimizing the substantive role of the States in energy, land use and environmental regulatory programs in a manner that is contrary to the cooperative federalism structure set forth in federal law and the United States Constitution,” wrote Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt on behalf of the twelves states. “The EPA must be transparent about its actions.”
The EPA denied fee waiver requests to the twelve attorneys general and the decision was appealed by the states in March. However, the EPA has been dragging its feet, twice asking for more time to consider their appeal.
The states are especially concerned given reports that the EPA has been routinely denying fee waiver requests to conservative groups seeking government records, while granting them to environmental groups that seek to push more federal involvement in state environmental rules.
The free-market Competitive Enterprise Institute obtained documents showing that since January 2012, the EPA granted fee waivers for 92 percent of FOIA requests from major environmental groups, while the agency rejected or ignored 81 percent fee waiver requests from conservative groups.
According to the states’ February FOIA request, the EPA has entered into at least 45 settlements with environmental groups under the Clean Air Act in the last three years, forcing the agency to engage in rulemaking. When this happens, the states — which have to implement the new rules — are kept out of the process.
“Not only does EPA’s action harm and jeopardize the States’ role as a partner with EPA, but it harms the interests of the citizens of the Requesting States,” reads the FOIA request sent by Pruitt and the states in February. The EPA has also disclosed nearly $1 million in attorneys’ fees to these groups.
Earlier this year, seventeen states, including Oklahoma, pushed back against the EPA’s new proposal that would revoke existing state implementation plans that grant exemption to fines for power plants and other emitters that exceed emissions limits during times of startup, shutdown, and malfunction (SSM). The new EPA rule was the result of a legal settlement with the Sierra Club.