EPA Facts

Transparency Problems:
Collusion with Environmental Activists

It’s no secret that environmental activist groups want the EPA to pass stringent standards on everything from emissions to water quality. But what had long been under wraps is the secret collusion between environmentalists and the EPA. The scheme works by environmentalists suing the agency to force regulatory change.

Environmental groups sue the EPA, arguing that the agency is taking too long to issue a particular regulation or that the agency isn’t meeting a specific legal requirement. The EPA can then either defend itself in court or settle with the environmentalists. Oddly enough, in several cases the EPA issued a settlement document (known as a “consent agreement”) the very same day environmentalists filed their lawsuits.

“Sue and Settle”

These lawsuits have resulted in new EPA regulations being rammed through without an adequate public comment period. For instance, the current Mercury and Air Toxics Standard (MATS) was created as a result of this strategy. In 2009, environmental groups sued the EPA to force the agency to limit mercury emissions. The resulting rule is projected to be the single costliest regulation in U.S. history—the EPA itself predicts that compliance with the rule will cost $10 billion per year.

Not only do these “sue and settle” lawsuits often result in regulatory changes that cost businesses billions annually to comply with, but the American taxpayer is often paying these environmental activists to sue the EPA.

According to a 2011 report from the Government Accountability Office, between 1995 and 2010 taxpayers gave millions of dollars to environmental groups, including:

  • Earthjustice—$ 4,655,425
  • Sierra Club—$966,687
  • Natural Resources Defense Council—$252,004

Earthjustice, originally founded as the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund, has been the major driver of environmental lawsuits since its 1976  founding.

These payments may only be the tip of the iceberg—the GAO was not able to obtain information for several years of attorney fee payments. U.S. Senator David Vitter (LA) was particularly critical of the EPA’s role in these lawsuits, commenting:

The GAO report shows that taxpayers have been on the hook for years while ‘Big Green’ trial lawyers have raked in millions of dollars suing the government.  Even worse, because of sloppy record keeping by the EPA and other agencies and a lack of cooperation by the Justice Department, we’re not even sure how bad the problem really is. This is unacceptable and I’m going to continue working to demand greater transparency.

Twelve state attorneys general sued the EPA in July 2013, alleging that “binding consent decrees between the EPA and environmental groups that have sued the agency over the years have led to new rules and regulations for states without allowing their attorneys general to defend their interests and those of its businesses and consumers.”

Allowing Activists to Dictate EPA Talking Points

Email correspondence obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request highlights the cozy relationship between EPA staff and environmental activist groups. The emails unveil the troubling impression that the agency often serves as a taxpayer-funded mouthpiece for activists’ anti-fossil fuel agenda. Among the information uncovered by the emails:

  • The EPA used official government events to help environmental activists obtain signatures for their petitions.
  • The agency gave advanced copies of EPA press releases and statements to environmental groups.
  • Official EPA statements were drafted using letters and talking points from activist groups. In one instance, the agency asked a Sierra Club chapter for its agenda to adjust EPA messaging accordingly.
  • The EPA collaborated with environmental activists to determine where to hold the agency’s coal “listening tour” hearings–environmentalists wanted “friendlier forums” for their anti-fossil fuel position.
  • To develop its recent rule on coal, the agency coordinated extensively with the Sierra Club–the environmental group that runs the “Beyond Coal” campaign. Email exchanges even show that the head of the Club’s Beyond Coal campaign responded to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy’s claim that the coal regulations wouldn’t end the use of coal because clean coal technology is viable by saying “pants on fire” to staffers at the EPA.

The agency often went the extra mile to help environmentalists advance their agenda, using official EPA events to help green activists obtain signatures for their petitions, giving activist groups advanced copies of EPA statements and press releases, using talking points from environmental activists to develop official EPA statements, and working with environmentalists to pressure an energy company.

The “NRDC Mafia” Within the EPA

After President Obama’s election in 2008, at least a half-dozen staffers of the Natural Resources Defense Council–one of the most ardent anti-fossil fuel and anti-nuclear environmental activist groups–left to work in key climate change and energy policy positions in the president’s new administration. In fact, so many employees from the NRDC left to fill powerful positions as Congressional staffers or EPA advisers that a former employee termed the group the “NRDC Mafia.”

The revolving door goes almost to the top–President Obama’s first EPA Administrator, Lisa Jackson, hired David McIntosh, a former air pollution attorney at NRDC, as her senior legislative adviser.

Friends in Hollywood

The EPA has also cooperated with Hollywood environmental activists. A FOIA request unveiled email correspondence between the former EPA Region 6 Administrator Al Armendariz and the Fox Studios producer of a 2010 anti-fracking documentary “Gasland.” In the exchange, Armendaiz noted, “it was good working with [Fox] for Gasland.”

Armendiaz became the Sierra Club’s Senior Campaign Representative for the “Beyond Coal” initiative and was forced to resign from his role at the EPA after a video surfaced of him likening the agency’s approach to the fossil fuel industry to the crucifixion of Turkish civilians during the Roman Empire.