EPA brings 'sue and settle' ban into 2018, environmentalists concern grows

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WASHINGTON (Gray DC) - In cold winter months, with rising electric prices, Alaskans turn to wood and coal to heat their homes. But it's increasing the level of air pollution in towns like Fairbanks.

"When we go and sue, we are not trying to tell the agency make a certain decision. We're just telling the agency, 'Start the process to make a decision,'" said Joshua Stebbins, managing attorney with the Sierra Club.

The Sierra Club sued the Environmental Protection Agency for failing to address air quality issues in Fairbanks quickly enough. The club credits its action with speeding up the government's planning process. But now, the EPA will bar groups from suing them.

[DATA VIZ: Alaska's air quality spikes in past 2 decades]

"No more is this agency going to engage in regulation through litigation, and I think engage in abusive practices which we have in the past," EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt said.

Pruitt said 'sue and settle' allowed interest groups to bypass the process, and it ultimately led to bad rules.

But President Clinton's former EPA Administrator said Pruitt can't simply opt out of court.

"These rights are provided in the law and people have the right to hold the EPA and Administrator Pruitt accountable for doing its' job," Carol Browner said.

Browner is pushing back against the EPA's new directive. She believes anyone - from members of the public to environmental groups - has the right to sue the EPA.

The EPA isn't the only federal agency that's been forced to act after settling a lawsuit, but it's the first of Trump's agencies to argue it's immune to it. No word yet if any other agencies will take a similar stance.

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