Groups Oppose the Sunshine for Regulations and Regulatory Decrees and Settlements Act of 2017 (H.R. 469)

Oct. 23, 2017 | Download PDF

Dear Representative:

On behalf of our millions of members and supporters nationwide, our organizations urge you to oppose the so-called “Sunshine for Regulations and Regulatory Decrees and Settlements Act of 2017” (H.R. 469). This bill will undermine the enforcement of federal laws and impede the resolution of various consumer protection, anti-discrimination, environmental, and public health cases before our federal courts.

H.R. 469 targets consent decrees and settlement agreements involving congressionally mandated federal agency actions. These agency actions in many instances have the purpose of protecting civil rights, health, safety, and the environment. H.R. 469 prescribes a host of burdensome – and, in some cases, ambiguous – steps for courts and parties relating to such consent decrees and settlements that would favor continued litigation over settlement.

Today, if the government is sued for missing a deadline (or other non-discretionary requirement) it may enter into settlement discussions with the party that sued it, because there are no legal defenses for missing a statutory deadline and the violation can be easily confirmed by looking at a calendar. The parties then negotiate the date of the new deadline under the supervision of a federal judge who must review and approve any agreement. H.R. 469 establishes a prolonged process of publication, intervention, and court-supervised mediation for these types of settlements. This wastes judicial, individuals, and local governments’ resources, while wealthy corporations are empowered to perpetuate violations of federal rules. Such hurdles to settlements conflict directly with the expressly stated and longstanding policy of the federal judiciary system to favor compromise and the settlement of disputes in order to make best use of limited judicial resources.

The consent decrees and settlement agreements at issue do not determine the substance of agency rules. Rather, such agreements simply seek to enforce mandatory statutory and procedural duties (such as deadlines enacted by Congress). In fact, a December 2014 Government Accountability Office report surveyed settlements over deadlines for major U.S. Environmental Protection Act rulemakings and found that the settlements did not influence the substantive results. [United States Government Accountability Office. (December 2014). Environmental Litigation: Impact of Deadline Suits on EPA’s Rulemaking Is Limited. (Publication No. GAO-15-34)] Furthermore, all public notice and comment requirements of the Administrative Procedure Act and the individual laws at issue still apply when an agency undertakes the substantive action for which a deadline was missed. Parties and non-parties alike are provided with numerous opportunities to provide input in advance of the rules being finalized.

H.R. 469 seeks to allow intervening parties an opportunity to obstruct and delay agency requirements to follow federal law, when these parties already have a reasonable opportunity to intervene under federal law. The bill attempts to give third parties the power to obstruct and delay the enforcement of federal law which will harm plaintiff corporations, state and local governments, nonprofit groups, and individuals alike, when their interests have been harmed by illegal federal agency actions or inactions.

We strongly oppose this latest attack on citizens’ ability to enforce our nation’s safeguards and we respectfully urge you to vote against H.R. 469 when it comes to the House floor.

Sincerely,

AFL-CIO

AFSCME

Alaska Wilderness League

Alliance for Justice

Altamaha Riverkeeper

American Association for Justice

American Rivers

Anacostia Riverkeeper

Atchafalaya Basinkeeper

Bayou City Waterkeeper

Black Warrior Riverkeeper

Blue Water Baltimore

Boulder Creek, A Waterkeeper Alliance Affiliate

California Coastkeeper Alliance

Center for Biological Diversity

Center for Justice & Democracy

Center for Science in the Public Interest

Center for Science in the Public Interest

Chattahoochee Riverkeeper

Clean Water Action

Coastal Carolina Riverwatch

Columbia Riverkeeper

Consumer Action

Consumer Federation of America

Coosa River Basin Initiative

Coosa Riverkeeper

Crystal Coast Waterkeeper

Defenders of Wildlife

Earthjustice

Economic Policy Institute Policy Center

Edisto Riverkeeper

Emerald Coastkeeper, Inc.

Endangered Species Coalition

Environment America

Environment in the Public Interest

Environmental Defense Fund

Environmental Law & Policy Center

Friends for Our Riverfront

Friends of the Earth

Georgia Watch

Gulf Restoration Network

Hackensack Riverkeeper

Harpeth Conservancy

Hip Hop Caucus

Humboldt Baykeeper

Hurricane Creekkeeper

Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy

Iowa Environmental Council

League of Conservation Voters

Lower Mississippi River Foundation

Lower Susquehanna RIVERKEEPER Association

Matanzas Rivekeeper

Milwaukee Riverkeeper

Mobile Baykeeper

National Association of Consumer Advocates

National Consumer Law Center (on behalf of its low-income clients)

National Consumers League

National Employment Law Project

National Parks Conservation Association

NATURAL RESOURCES DEFENSE COUNCIL

North Sound Baykeeper

NY/NJ Baykeeper

Oceana

People For the Americsn Way

Potomac Riverkeeper Network

Prairie Rivers Network

Progressive Congress Action Fund

Public Citizen

Quad Cities Waterkeeper Inc.

Riverkeeper, Inc.

San Luis Obispo Coastkeeper

Save EPA

Save EPA Ann Arbor

Sierra Club

Southern Environmental Law Center

State Innovation Exchange (SIX)

Suncoast Waterkeeper

Tennessee Clean Water Network

Tennessee Riverkeeper

Texas Watch

The Impact Fund

The Wilderness Society

Tualatin Riverkeepers

U.S. PIRG

Waterkeeper Alliance

White Oak-New Riverkeeper Alliance

WildEarth Guardians