National Journal By Coral Davenport | National Journal – 5 hrs ago
Environmental groups have a tough time getting Congress to do what they want. Case in point: In the early months of 2010, the Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and the Environmental Defense Fund waged an all-out campaign urging the Senate to pass a sweeping climate-change bill backed by President Obama and leaders in the Democratic-controlled Senate. The measure crashed and burned that summer.
But the green groups—and Obama’s top environmental officials—knew they could resort to a different tactic: lawsuits to compel executive action. Toward the end of George W. Bush’s administration, the three big environmental organizations and 11 states sued to force the Environmental Protection Agency to issue new regulations reining in carbon pollution from coal-fired power plants and oil refineries. The Bush EPA fought the suit, but the Obama EPA, full of top officials who had worked in these very nonprofits, took a different tack. By December 2010, after the failure of the climate-change legislation, Obama’s first-term EPA administrator, Lisa Jackson, settled the lawsuit—on the advocates’ terms. The settlement obliged the agency to begin regulating carbon pollution from coal plants and oil refineries, an outcome with profound environmental and economic implications. And in April 2012, EPA proposed a historic new rule to regulate global-warming pollution from coal plants. As Obama’s second term unfolds, the agency is expected to finalize more rules that, thanks to lawsuits, will give the green groups what they want.
The climate-change settlement is just one in a series of recent so-called sue-and-settle agreements since Obama took office. Between 2009 and 2012, EPA has settled at least 60 lawsuits from outside groups, leading to dozens of new environmental regulations. A 2010 deal in another Sierra Club lawsuit led to a 2012 regulation on mercu