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Another Attack on Environmentalism

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Above: Scott Pruitt’s Dreams

For better or for worse, perhaps the most important strategy for environmental organizations in the last 30 years has been to sue the government to force it to actually enforce its own laws and regulations. I say perhaps for worse because this strategy has helped create an environmental movement largely disconnected from the lives of everyday people and thus it has lost the mass movement base that allowed it to succeed to begin with. In any case, there is a necessity to make the government fulfill its obligations. So of course Scott Pruitt has decided to make this much harder for greens to accomplish.

The head of the Environmental Protection Agency in effect declared trench warfare on environmental groups on Monday, ending a practice he dubbed “Sue & Settle” by which the EPA would often settle lawsuits brought by outside groups in an attempt to get the agency to enforce its own rules.

“As of today with this directive and the memorandum, we’re no longer going to be involved in that practice,” Pruitt told a small group of reporters, including TPM, Monday morning at the EPA. “It’s a regulation through litigation process.”

Pruitt painted the policy as a way that environmental groups profited off the agency during the Obama years, while those groups worked together to circumvent the normal rule-making process and create more stringent environmental regulations.

“We should engage in rule-making that takes into consideration the voices that will be impacted across the country,” he said. “What this sue-and-settle practice has done historically has bypassed that altogether.”

The rule change could force environmental groups to spend much more time and effort on lawsuits aimed at making the EPA enforce its own rules and abide by agreed-upon timelines—spreading them thinner and making it harder for them to expend effort on other, more complicated cases. The EPA’s decision to refuse to reimburse lawyers’ fees also could be costly to environmental groups, as well as make it harder and less likely for average citizens and localities to undertake lawsuits to get the EPA to do what it’s legally required to do.

Pruitt pledged that the agency would no longer reimburse attorneys’ fees in cases where it decides to avoid a lawsuit, arguing that both environmental and business groups had abused it to enrich themselves in the past.

“This is not particular to one type of plaintiff,” he said. “There should be no attorneys’ fees paid, period, no matter who the plaintiff is.”

Combined with measures to slash staff, a pattern of issuing fewer and lighter fines, and the rollback of Obama-era rules that crack down on greenhouse gas emissions from power plants to mitigate the effects of climate change, Pruitt’s latest move is part of an overall shift at Trump’s EPA that’s radically more friendly to big business and hostile towards environmental groups.

There are so many incredibly evil people working for Trump that even given that some of them have already been ejected from the administration it’s hard to choose who is the most vile. Given that Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III is the most evil, Pruitt might well take the silver.

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