by E&E Legal Senior Policy Fellow Greg Walcher
As appearing in The Daily Sentinel
There is an old Reader’s Digest anecdote about a wealthy but absent-minded tycoon asking his top manager, “How long have you worked here?” To which the man says 30 years. He then asks, “How much am I paying you?” The manager tells him, and he finally says, “And what is your name?”
It seems a little far-fetched that you might not know who you are paying, or how much you are paying, or how long you’ve been paying, but that happens to taxpayers all the time. If public funds are used to pay millions to particular groups or individuals, taxpayers are entitled to know it. But a 20-year string of “sue and settle” legal cases have been used to funnel untold millions of tax dollars to giant environmental organizations and their attorneys, mostly hidden from public discovery by sealed court decrees.
A 2017 White House executive order calling for greater transparency prompted both the EPA and Interior Department to begin significant changes in the handling of information about these legal settlements. Last week Interior put the finishing touches on its new policy, ending the secrecy, if not the settlements themselves, and the big environmental groups are not happy. What a surprise. I have written about this issue before, pointing out that these organizations object to the phrase “sue and settle.” They say it oversimplifies a very complex legal procedure, but in fact, the strategy isn’t complicated at all.