Congressman Spencer Bachus (AL-6) today presided over a hearing that explored the uses and abuses of consent decrees and settlement agreements in federal litigation cases.
Negotiated settlements are used to end lawsuits brought against federal regulatory agencies, but can lead to expensive new mandates being imposed on businesses and local governments without adequate public comment or legislative review. According to a U.S. Chamber of Commerce study, the current Administration has entered into more than 70 such agreements resulting in the issuance of hundreds of new regulations.
"We have been reminded recently it is essential that government agencies perform their duties with full transparency and accountability. This includes allowing all members of the public a proper opportunity to provide input during an open regulatory procedure. It is proper to take a close look at the consent decree process, because these settlements carry the force of law, are difficult to overturn, and too often offer the public an insufficient opportunity for comment," said Congressman Bachus.
As Chairman of the Judiciary Subcommittee on Regulatory Review, Commercial and Antitrust Law, Bachus today heard testimony on so-called "sue and settle" cases, where outside parties and federal agencies reach legal settlements that impose new regulatory requirements, typically without any public input. The manager of a brick company in Columbus, Mississippi said the environmental rules stemming from such cases could cause businesses like his which provide jobs, health care insurance, and retirement benefits to significantly downsize or close.
Congressman Bachus entered into the formal committee record a law review article he authored on Jefferson County's traumatic experience with a sewer plant consent decree.
Bachus is a cosponsor of "The Sunshine for Regulatory Decrees and Settlements Act of 2013," which would give all parties affected by a potential settlement a fairer chance to be heard and enhance the public accountability of the federal regulatory process.