GUEST COLUMN: Sue and Settle Slams Small Businesses
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You are probably well aware of the administration’s propensity for burdensome, anti-business regulation. You also understand the sort of deleterious impact that over-regulation can have on unemployment and economic growth. What you may not be aware of, however, is the nefarious "sue and settle" system that allows pro-regulatory special interest groups to surreptitiously increase the regulatory burden on our nation’s small businesses.
"Sue and settle" is a process by which anti-business organizations – frequently environmental groups – can sue government agencies, such as the EPA, for failing to meet a statutory deadline. Frequently, these statutes are too new and cumbersome for the agencies to properly comply with. Pro-regulatory groups, already stalking the agency like vultures, pounce and sue the agency. They then reach a settlement or consent decree with the relevant agency in which the agency agrees to create a new regulation that suits the limited objectives of the special interest groups. This whole process transpires without any opportunity for public oversight or review. By the time external review is allowed, the damage has been done and the harmful new regulation is on the books. Astoundingly, the agency, and by extension, the American taxpayer, is often left on the hook for the legal costs incurred by these anti-business groups.
This "sue and settle" process is currently impacting my home state of Arizona, where the EPA recently entered into a consent decree to address regional haze, despite the fact that Arizona was already in the process of doing just that. At one Arizona power plant, the EPA’s new regulation will cost $436 million, on top of the $324 million that Arizona already spent to address the problem. Actions like these cost American taxpayers and small businesses alike, and worst of all, kills American jobs.
To fight this abusive practice, I sponsored the “Sunshine for Regulatory Decrees and Settlements Act of 2012,” which went before the House on Thursday as part of the “Red Tape Reduction and Small Business Job Creation” package, and it passed the House handily. This bill seeks to shed light on this anti-business process by requiring that all decrees and settlements be submitted for public notice and that 60 days for public comment be allotted. It will increase the ability of affected third parties, oftentimes small businesses, to participate and influence the outcome of these negotiations. It will also ensure that the affected agency is given enough time to properly comply with the new regulations, if they are still enacted. The "sue and settle" reform bill would also make it easier for future administrations to review and modify these regulations.
"Sue and settle" is but a glimpse into the distorted nature of our regulatory system. In voting for the passage of the “Sunshine for Regulatory Decrees and Settlements Act of 2012,” the House made a small, but important step towards improving the environment for America’s small businesses and their workers.
Rep. Ben Quayle represents Arizona's Third Congressional District.