EPA's Pruitt moves to end Obama-era practice of 'sue and settle' with environmentalists

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt​ moved Monday to end a controversial practice known as “sue and settle,” which critics said was used during the Obama administration to cut deals with environmental groups leading to new regulations.

“The days of regulation through litigation are over,” Pruitt said in a statement, announcing a new EPA directive. 

Republicans, including Pruitt, had fought with the Obama administration in court over what they described as a back-room practice that led to more red tape. They claimed the EPA routinely entered into consent decrees with environmental groups that had sued the agency, in turn leading to new regulations for states – covering clean air rules and more – without allowing them to defend their interests.

“We will no longer go behind closed doors and use consent decrees and settlement agreements to resolve lawsuits filed against the Agency by special interest groups where doing so would circumvent the regulatory process set forth by Congress,” Pruitt said in a statement Monday.

Under the new policy, Pruitt said that whenever a settlement or consent decree is being considered, the EPA should reach out to any states or entities affected. He also wants to make sure related complaints or notices are published promptly, to forbid consent decrees “that exceed the authority of the courts,” and to give time to modify proposed regulations and consider public comment.  

Pruitt was one of the most outspoken critics of “sue and settle” during the Obama administration, when as Oklahoma attorney general he participated in multiple lawsuits against the agency he now leads.

Pruitt claimed at the time that dozens of lawsuits filed by environmental groups led to settlement arrangements that included terms beyond the guidelines approved by Congress.

The Obama EPA denied this at the time, maintaining that outside groups could not compel the agency to take any action they weren’t already compelled to take by law.

The policy change could result in more drawn-out court fights with environmental groups. The Sierra Club on Monday retweeted an environmentalist who predicted: “Scott Pruitt will be spending a lot more of your taxpayer dollars defending his inaction in court.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.