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Collins Sunshine bill would slow down federal rulemaking process
Legislation meant to address 'sue-and-settle' practices
Doug Collins.2015

A second bill from Rep. Doug Collins, R-Gainesville, taking aim at federal regulations is headed to the floor of the House of Representatives.

The Sunshine for Regulatory Decrees and Settlements Act is intended to break up “sue and settle” practices among federal agencies and special interest groups.

The bill, which Collins called a “fairness issue,” cleared the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday.

Conservatives have criticized federal agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency and other regulators for using lawsuits filed against them by special interest groups as a chance to make broad changes to federal policy — changes allegedly worked out ahead of time between the agency and the group suing them.

“This is something people can understand,” Collins said on Friday. “What they don’t understand is how a third party can sue the federal government over a date or the implementation time, already have the details worked out, go straight to a judge, get a consent order and never consult the people actually being affected by it.”

The example offered by Collins’ office is the Utility MACT Rule, which created tighter emissions regulations on utility companies that raise the cost of energy. It was created through a consent decree after the EPA was sued by an environmental conservation group.

Collins argues the rule goes beyond what the Clean Air Act allows the EPA to do, and that the rule was agreed upon by both sides before the lawsuit was filed.

“What we see a lot of times on a lot of issues is the suit and the settlement filed the same day,” Collins said.

His bill slows down the entire process of consent decrees — an idea that has its critics, who argue that it will bog down the federal government — by requiring public notice of the decrees and settlement agreements. It bans the same-day filing of complaints, decrees and settlement agreements, according to Collins’ office.

Additionally, it requires that decrees and settlements be filed “only after interested parties have had the opportunity to intervene in the litigation and join settlement negotiations” and only after notice of the action has been posted for 60 days.

In the case of the Utility MACT Rule, energy producers would have had the opportunity to intervene in the case and participate in a settlement agreement.

A companion bill in the Senate has been sponsored by Iowa Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley. The bill will require 60 votes to clear the upper chamber, a major hurdle for Republicans with almost all of its legislation, as the party controls only 52 seats in the Senate.

“We’re definitely confident in the House, and then we’ll send it to the Senate and let Chuck Grassley work the Senate,” Collins said.

The sunshine bill is Collins’ second major piece of legislation intended to reduce federal regulations.

He sponsored the Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny Act, which passed the House on Jan. 5; it was one of the first bills to clear the House this year.

The bill requires Congress to sign off on all new regulations that would come with a national cost of more than $100 million.

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