U.S. Sen. David Vitter (R-La.), top Republican on the Environment and Public Works Committee, led three Subcommittee Ranking Members to follow up on requested information related to a "sue and settle" agreement made by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) with the Center for Biological Diversity and WildEarth Guardians. In May 2012, Sens. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) and Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), requested the information, but to date, there has been no response.
In the letter, the Senators wrote, "Because we remain concerned about this "sue and settle' agreement, we renew our call that you provide us with the information requested... Perhaps the best opportunity to assure the espoused transparency can be "documented' would be to actually provide the documents that were requested by Congress nearly a year ago. Doing so will help to prove that the President's words are more than simply a vacant promise."
The Senators' initial inquiry requested documents related to settlement agreements under which USFWS agreed to publish listing determinations for more than 750 species. A GAO report confirmed that the USFWS' use of multiple closed-door settlements is leading to significant costs to taxpayers. The Department of the Interior is now claiming that the sequester will create "havoc" if the proposed 5 percent cut goes into effect.
Vitter said, "An easy, common-sense way to reduce federal spending would be to immediately cut off money for enforcement of sue and settle agreements that never gave landowners or impacted communities a seat at the table."
Text of the February 28, 2013 letter from Sens. David Vitter (R-La.), James Inhofe (R-Okla.), Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Oversight, Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Clean Air & Nuclear Safety, and John Boozman (R-Ark.), Ranking Member on Water & Wildlife, to USFWS Director Daniel Ashe is below.
February 28, 2013
The Honorable Daniel M. Ashe
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
1849 C Street, NW
Washington, DC 20240
Dear Director Ashe,
On May 24, 2012, you received the attached letter from Senators Inhofe and Sessions. The letter requests documents and answers to a series of questions about the closed-door settlement agreement made by the Fish and Wildlife Service with the Center for Biological Diversity and WildEarth Guardians. To our knowledge, there has been no response to that letter. Because we remain concerned about this "sue and settle" agreement, we renew our call that you provide us with the information requested.
In addition to those items specifically requested in the May 24, 2012 letter, we also ask you to reconsider your agency's decision to deny access to all records, electronic or otherwise, of meetings, conversations, e-mails, letters, and/or other communications or documents between the Administration and the parties of the settlement agreement. As members of the Environment and Public Works Committee, we have oversight responsibility for the Endangered Species Act. Having such communications would provide us with invaluable insight into the manner in which this settlement agreement was reached. In addition, we note that the landowners whose private property would be impacted by these ESA listings were not privy to the any of the settlement negotiations.
These settlement agreements mandate that your agency make listing determinations for more than 250 species throughout the United States. Listings of these species will have a tremendous impact on private property and on economic growth. Having a listed species on property can greatly limit a private property owner's ability to use his or her land. Because the terms of this settlement were made without consultation with all stakeholders, their views remain unrepresented in the process.
The information requested will help us investigate a process that is under growing public scrutiny. In 2009, President Obama said "we will achieve our goal of making this administration the most open and transparent administration in history," and earlier this month the President further stated "this is the most transparent administration in history, and I can document that is the case." Perhaps the best opportunity to assure the espoused transparency can be "documented" would be to actually provide the documents that were requested by Congress nearly a year ago. Doing so will help to prove that the President's words are more than simply a vacant promise.
We look forward to your expeditious response to our letter. Please feel free to contact us if you have any questions.
David Vitter John Boozman
Ranking Member Ranking Member
Committee on Environment & Public Works Subcommittee on Water & Wildlife
James M. Inhofe Jeff Sessions
Ranking Member Ranking Member
Subcommittee on Oversight Subcommittee on Clean Air & Nuclear Safety