"The collusion between federal bureaucrats and far-left environmental organizations entering legal agreements under a shroud of secrecy is the opposite of a transparent government," Vitter said. "This is a problem across the country, but could quickly become a threat to Louisianans if we see the full weight of the EPA and Fish and Wildlife Service come crashing down on private landowners."
Vitter is encouraging Caldwell to join the other states' AGs, and is also encouraging the inclusion of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in their investigation. The Fish and Wildlife Service was not included in the original FOIA request. In his letter, Vitter also highlights a specific recent example where the Fish and Wildlife Service entered an agreement with the Center for Biological Diversity that could impact private property owners across the South and in Louisiana with new rules on habitat for endangered species on private property because private property owners will have few resources to fight any legal challenge of a massive federal agency.
A copy of Vitter's letter is below.
James D. "Buddy" Caldwell
State of Louisiana
1885 N. Third Street
Baton Rouge, LA 70802
Dear A.G. Buddy Caldwell:
I write asking your personal assistance regarding a matter imperative to Louisiana's economy and private property owners across our great state. My concern stems from the non-transparent nature of litigation with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), and specifically the entering of consent decrees through a practice referred to as "sue and settle," and sometimes referred to as "friendly lawsuits."
Under this practice, radical environmental groups file lawsuits against a federal agency in a friendly court demanding the agency take action. Rather than allowing the entire process to play out, the Department of Justice and the agency being sued settles the lawsuit by agreeing to move forward with the requested action. While the environmental group is given a seat at the negotiating table, private property owners and other affected residents are not given the opportunity to object to these settlements.
On August 10, 2012 thirteen state Attorney Generals filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request with EPA asking for any and all correspondence between EPA and a list of 80 environmental, labor union and public interest organizations that had been party to litigation since the start of the Obama administration. My specific request is that you intervene in these efforts and expand the investigation beyond the EPA to include the USFWS. The collusion between federal bureaucrats and the organizations entering consent agreements under a shroud of secrecy represents the antithesis of a transparent government, and your participation in the FOIA request will help Louisianans understand the process by which these settlements were reached.
Using these "sue and settle" agreements, a significant portion of regulatory policy is being fashioned behind closed doors with groups that are clearly antagonistic to the economic health of the United States and Louisiana. This regulatory policy is having a significant, negative impact on states and private property owners. A specific recent example involves the settlement agreement between the USFWS and the Center for Biological Diversity, an environmental group who has made clear its goal is to use the litigation process to force species listings. The agreement to make listing determinations on hundreds of species will adversely impact private property owners across the South and the state of Louisiana with new rules on habitat for endangered species on private property. Unfortunately, most private property owners will not have the resources to fight the legal and regulatory onslaught of a massive federal agency.
As the new ranking member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, I plan to investigate this "sue and settle" practice using all available tools to bring to light this often abused path to regulatory influence. Private interest groups using lawsuits that are settled in secret, with minimal to no input from the regulated community, small businesses and private property owners should no longer go on without oversight.
As the AG, your intervention and requested expansion of the FOIA request can help to investigate and shed light on what our federal agencies are doing to undermine Louisiana and the people of our great state. I am warily confident that both EPA and USFWS will shun all efforts to open the doors on these practices, the negotiations, and the communications between agency staff and outside groups regarding "sue and settle" agreements. However, I request that you stay vigilant and join the consorted effort of the 13 other state AGs working to make public the collusion between our federal government and certain interest groups.
If I can be of any assistance please do not hesitate to contact me directly.
U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works