By Michael Sainato

December 1, 2017

The Center For Biological Diversity filed a lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency on November 29 for refusing to release public records regarding an agency directive announced by EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt in May 2017. The directive limits the EPA’s ability to settle lawsuits with polluters.

In a similar directive announced in October 2017, Pruitt wrote, “I reserve the right to exercise my discretion and permit EPA to deviate from the procedures set forth in this directive.” The directive also requires the EPA to include industry in the development of any lawsuit settlement and to notify industry representatives whenever a lawsuit may impact them. The Center for Biological Diversity is suing to clarify Pruitt’s statements after they were initially told records regarding the directive requested per the Freedom of Information Act don’t exist.

“Many environmental laws like the Clean Water Act and Clean Air Act include numerous deadlines to continuously reduce pollution over time so that the EPA does not become complacent or sit on its hands,” Jenny Loda, a staff attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity, told the Real News Network. “As new technology becomes available and as science becomes more sophisticated, we are able to better control and reduce pollution into the environment.  However, without deadlines like the three year reviews of water quality standards and the five year reviews of air pollution levels, EPA could easily become complacent (or a hostile administration could deliberately ignore these deadlines).”

She explained that previous lawsuits settled by the EPA affirmed pre-existing deadlines to ensure defendants of environmental lawsuits properly followed the law, and the the EPA met deadlines to formulize regulatory decisions, though the substance of those regulations were at the discretion of the agency.  

“This new directive effectively tells the EPA and Department of Justice to needlessly drag out lawsuits, make them more complicated by inviting industry to the table in every case, and otherwise gum up the works,” she said. “Under this new directive, polluters that spew lead into the air would be invited into the litigation and EPA would fight all the way to the bitter end, which would delay cleaning up lead pollution by many years.  We would still win in the end, but people’s health and lives would be harmed in the interim.”

Since Pruitt took office at the EPA, he has rolled back, paused, or cancelled several regulations in favor of polluters. On October 31, Pruitt moved to ban all scientists who receive grants from the agency from serving on any of the agency’s advisory boards, providing him with the opportunity to shape EPA boards to suit his pro-industry, anti-science agenda. At the beginning of his term in office, Pruitt delayed a water pollution control that would have eliminated a significant percentage of mercury, arsenic, and other hazardous chemical discharges into US waters from power plants and other large facilities.

So far, the Center for Biological Diversity has filed 37 lawsuits against the Trump Administration, many of them against the EPA.

“We will win our lawsuits eventually because the law is on our side,” Loda added.  “Scott Pruitt is just using every dirty trick that he can to slow down environmental progress because it benefits his special interest political benefactors.”

Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images

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