Grassley Introduces Senate Legislation Targeting Environmental Consent Decrees

By Dean Scott  

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and five other Republicans introduced legislation July 12 targeting “sue and settle” practices in which public interest and environmental groups take legal action against the Environmental Protection Agency and other agencies to make existing regulations more protective or force agencies to expedite long-delayed rules.

The Sunshine for Regulatory Decrees and Settlements Act of 2012 (S. 3382) is the Senate companion to a House bill that is among several Republican deregulatory proposals slated for floor debate the week of July 23.

The House version (H.R. 3862), introduced by Rep. Ben Quayle (R-Ariz.), may be incorporated into a broader package of Republican regulatory reform bills, including a moratorium on any new significant regulations. Quayle's bill cleared the House Judiciary Committee on March 27 (132 DER A-31, 7/11/12).

Grassley said in remarks July 12 on the Senate floor that consent decrees and settlement agreements are increasingly being used by “pro-regulation activist groups” to circumvent laws and procedures that are supposed to ensure detailed examination of regulatory impacts.

Outlook in Senate Said Uncertain.

While the Republican-controlled House is expected to approve Quayle's bill, the outlook for Grassley's bill in the Democratic-controlled Senate is less certain. Senate Democrats have generally resisted Republican-led efforts to revamp regulatory procedures.

Grassley said that in some cases, agencies are able to “short-circuit” analytical requirements imposed by Congress on regulatory agencies as well as rules reviews by the executive branch's regulatory gatekeeper, the Office of Management and Budget's Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs.

Grassley's bill would give industry groups and other affected parties an additional opportunity to intervene in court settlements involving federal regulations before such settlements go into effect. For example, the legislation would require agencies to publish details of proposed settlements in the Federal Register and request comments at least 60 days before the agreement is finalized.

Industry groups and other parties that submit comments in response to such requests would have to be granted “amicus participation” and thus be considered full participants in the settlement before the court.

The Grassley bill is co-sponsored by Sens. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), John Cornyn (R-Texas), Mike Lee (R-Utah), Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), and Rand Paul (R-Ky.).

By Dean Scott  

The Sunshine for Regulatory Decrees and Settlements Act of 2012 is available at