Committees Request Details on EPA and DOJ’s Rollback of ‘Sue and Settle’ Policy

House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Greg Walden (R-OR), House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Chairman Tim Murphy (R-PA), Regulatory Reform, Commercial and Antitrust Law Subcommittee Chairman Tom Marino (R-PA), and Environment Subcommittee Chairman John Shimkus (R-IL), June 29 sent a letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt.

Following reports of a recent EPA reform directive, the members request a staff briefing and written guidelines from the Department of Justice (DOJ) and EPA regarding Administrator Pruitt’s reported repudiation of the Obama administration’s favored practice of ‘sue and settle’ agreements, which committed the agency to undertake new rulemakings.

The members write, “During the previous administration, EPA entered numerous settlements or consent decrees, a practice known as ‘sue and settle,’ committing the agency to undertake significant new rulemakings subject to timelines or schedules. This process too often circumvents legitimate oversight by Congress and the Office of Management and Budget’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs.”

Citing recent media reports that Administrator Pruitt plans on rolling back the sue and settle policy, the members continued, “We appreciate this change in policy, hope that Attorney General Sessions shares Administrator Pruitt’s views, and urge EPA and the Justice Department to develop conforming written guidelines as soon as possible. To assist us in understanding the scope of the recent directive, we request that EPA and DOJ staff provide Committee staff with a briefing on the matter.”

To view the letter, click HERE.

U.S. environmental agency to offer buyouts to cut staff: memo

By Valerie Volcovici

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency plans to offer some employees a buyout program to reduce staff, according to an internal memo seen by Reuters, as President Donald Trump proposes slashing the agency’s budget and workforce to reduce regulation.

The memo sent by acting Deputy Administrator Mike Flynn on Thursday said the agency wants to complete the buyout program by September. It did not give a dollar figure for the buyouts or say how many employees it hoped would take the offer.

The memo was sent to all employees at the same time EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt joined Trump at the White House to announce that the United States would withdraw from the Paris climate agreement.

“Early outs and buy outs … can help us realign our workforce to meet changing mission requirements and move toward new models of work,” the memo said. “The authority encourages voluntary separations and helps the Agency complete workforce restructuring with minimal disruption to the workforce.”

The EPA would see the biggest cuts of any federal agency in Trump’s 2018 budget proposal, with a 31 percent reduction in budget and the elimination of over 3,200 employees. The EPA employs about 15,000 people.

In the memo, Flynn said the White House Office of Management and Budget must still approve the buyout plan. The EPA and other federal agencies have offered buyouts to employees from time to time in the past.

Details on the selection criteria for employees in the pool were still being worked out, the memo said.

Career staff at the EPA have been on edge since Trump took office, as the president vowed to undo major EPA air and water regulations in his first 100 days.

Pruitt, who was an instrumental voice in convincing Trump to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate accord, doubts that human beings drive climate change and believes the agency should pare back regulations on the energy industry.

The agency has also removed references to climate change and links to key EPA climate change reports from its website.

 

(Reporting by Valerie Volcovici; Editing by Peter Cooney and Lisa Shumaker)

 

Exclusive: Trump EPA transition chief laments slow progress in killing green rules

By Valerie Volcovici

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The man who led President Donald Trump’s transition team for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Myron Ebell, told a conservative conference last month that the new administration is moving too slowly to unravel climate change regulations.

In closed-door remarks to members of the conservative Jefferson Institute in Virginia on April 18, a recording of which was obtained by Reuters, Ebell said Trump’s administration had made a series of missteps, including delays in appointing key EPA officials, that could hamper efforts to cut red tape for industry.

“This is an impending disaster for the Trump administration,” Ebell, a prominent climate change doubter, said in the recording provided to the Center for Media and Democracy and shared with Reuters.

Ebell was chosen by Trump’s campaign to lead the EPA’s transition until the Jan. 20 inauguration, a choice that had reinforced expectations Trump would follow through on promises to rescind Obama-era green rules and pull the United States out of a global pact to fight climate change.

 

Since taking office, Trump and Pruitt have moved to unwind environmental regulations, including former President Barack Obama’s Clean Power Plan to reduce carbon emissions from electricity generators.

But his administration has frustrated some conservatives by entertaining the idea of remaining in the Paris Climate Agreement, and hesitating to tackle the Obama-era “endangerment finding” that concludes carbon dioxide is a public health threat and underlies many U.S. regulations governing emissions. Lawyers have said challenging that scientific finding could be time consuming and legally complex.

Pruitt has said he does not want the United States to remain in the Paris agreement but he has not yet decided to tackle the endangerment finding. At least three conservative groups have filed petitions asking the EPA to overturn the finding.

“Paris and the endangerment finding are the two big outstanding issues. It’s the first wave of things that are necessary to turn this country around, particularly in the heartland states,” Ebell said at the conference.

Ebell cited the slow pace of key EPA appointments, including deputy administrator and various assistant administrators, a lack of experienced personnel at the White House, deep ideological divisions between the president’s close advisers, and an “imperfect choice” of EPA administrator, as the main reasons Trump was not acting more aggressively on climate rules.

He said Trump strategists should have allowed his transition team to roll out the full de-regulatory agenda before Trump took office, instead of delaying. “The new president doesn’t have long before inertia sets in,” he said.

 

Ebell also faulted Trump for choosing advisers with broadly different political perspectives and backgrounds – something he said was triggering paralyzing debate, instead of action.

“He’s got people on different sides and they are all fighting over who gets these jobs and nobody has the clout except the president to say, ‘Hey fix this, let’s get this done,'” Ebell said.

In a statement given to Reuters on Saturday, Ebell said he is still concerned about the White House log-jam in nominating people for key EPA posts and the delay in making the Paris decision.

But he said he supports Pruitt as an administrator and is encouraged by his recent actions.

“Pruitt was an excellent choice to head the EPA, and minor disagreements aside, his recent actions have made me even more confident that he will be an outstanding administrator,” he said.

A White House official did not respond to a request for comment.

(Editing by Richard Valdmanis and Alistair Bell)

EPA seeking input on WOTUS rewrite

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army sent a letter to governors Tueday soliciting input from states on a new definition of protected waters that is in-line with a Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s opinion in the 2006 Rapanos v. United States case. Scalia’s definition explains that federal oversight should extend to “relatively permanent” waters and wetlands with a “continuous surface connection” to large rivers and streams.

“EPA is restoring states’ important role in the regulation of water,” said EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt. “Like President Trump, I believe that we need to work with our state governments to understand what they think is the best way to protect their waters, and what actions they are already taking to do so. We want to return to a regulatory partnership, rather than regulate by executive fiat.”

“The Army, together with the Corps of Engineers, is committed to working closely with and supporting the EPA on these rulemakings.  As we go through the rulemaking process, we will continue to make the implementation of the Clean Water Act Section 404 regulatory program as transparent as possible for the regulated public, ” said Douglas Lamont, senior official performing the duties of the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works.

The Clean Water Act asserts federal control over “navigable waters” without providing clarity or details about the law’s scope. President Donald Trump signed an executive order on February 28, 2017 to direct federal agencies to roll back and replace the Obama Administration’s Clean Water Rule – also known as the “Waters of the U.S.” or WOTUS – to ensure that the nation’s navigable waters are kept free from pollution, while at the same time promoting economic growth, minimizing regulatory uncertainty, and showing due regard for the roles of Congress and the States under the Constitution.

To meet the objectives of the executive order, federal agencies are following a two-step process that will provide as much certainty as possible, as quickly as possible, to the regulated community and the public during the development of the replacement rule.

The first step is to revise the Code of Federal Regulations to re-codify the definition of “Waters of the United States” which currently governs administration of the Clean Water Act, in light of a decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit staying a definition of “Waters of the United States” promulgated by the agencies in 2015. This action will simply make the text of the Code of Federal Regulations reflect the definition currently in effect under the Sixth Circuit stay. This action, when final, will not change current practice with respect to the how the definition applies, which is consistent with Supreme Court decisions, agency guidance documents, and longstanding practice.

The second step will be a public notice-and-comment rulemaking involving a substantive reevaluation and revision of the definition of “Waters of the U.S.” in accordance with the executive order. The letter sent to governors today is seeking input on the second step of the process.

Source: EPA

Committee Leaders Request Information from EPA Regarding Grant Management Process

House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Greg Walden (R-OR), Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Chairman Tim Murphy (R-PA), and Environment Subcommittee Chairman John Shimkus (R-IL), sent a letter to Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt seeking information regarding the process by which EPA closes out its grants.

“For the past decade, investigations and reports by the Committee, Office of Inspector General, and Government Accountability Office (GAO) have uncovered waste and mismanagement in EPA’s grant programs,” write Walden, Murphy, and Shimkus. “This comes in light of a 2016 GAO report that found $994 million in expired grant accounts at the federal entities it reviewed. Because EPA was not among the agencies GAO examined, questions remain about whether EPA properly manages its grant closeouts. This is crucial given that EPA awards almost half of its budget, approximately $4 billion annually, in grants.”

The members continue, “While EPA has made some improvements, recent reports continue to show the need for improved grant practices, including EPA grant money apparently spent by a subgrantee for political advocacy, a state grant recipient accumulating millions of dollars in unspent grant funds while continuing to receive additional money, and concerns that EPA could improve grant monitoring practices.”

The committee requested EPA provide documents to assist in its oversight of whether or not the agency is properly closing out grants in a manner that is timely and efficient. The committee requested:

  1. Reports from EPA’s cash management systems and grant management systems of all expired grant accounts from FY 2012, FY 2013, FY 2014, and FY 2015.
     
  2. All documents relating to expired grant accounts, including how long the accounts have been expired, whether an extension on the period of performance has been given, total monthly banking fees for each expired grant, and any information regarding the reason the grant was not closed out in a timely manner.
     
  3. All final reports, performance reports, and progress reports submitted for each of the expired grant accounts.
     
  4. A list of all grant applicants and grantees designated as high risk, including information relating to any additional monitoring conducted on high risk grantees.

To read the letter online, click here.

###