Accuracy in Media

On Wednesday, the Washington Post returned to a familiar figure when it profiled Myron Ebell and how he and his allies convinced the Trump administration to follow through on its promise to withdraw from the Paris Climate Accords.

Ebell is the longtime director of energy and environmental policy for the Competitive Enterprise Institute. He headed President Trump’s transition team for the EPA. He also leads the Cooler Heads Coalition, which holds a monthly meeting with representatives of free-market energy and environmental groups to discuss trends, legislation and strategy.

He is a thought leader in Washington in combating global warming alarmism who has been the subject of numerous articles in the Post already. He says climate change probably exists to some extent, man is at least partly responsible and the government should monitor it. But he does not subscribe to the theory massive public investment and new regulation are needed to avert imminent disaster.

He seems so normal, so sane — a “wingnut in sheep’s clothing,” Mother Jones once called him. An outsider would never know he denies science for a living. But he does. He meets with coal and energy company representatives. He coalesces with other free-market groups. He organizes voices on his side and amplifies their message.

Ebell works to affect the same types of change his peers do, but because those changes don’t fit the mainstream media narrative, he is portrayed as underhanded while his opponents go unnoticed.

Because those opponents skip meeting with private entities in favor of going right to the government for help with advocacy and even ask for money.

It’s called sue and settle. The EPA and other agencies charged with environmental and energy enforcement encourage outside groups to sue them. The groups and the agencies usually have determined settlements before the suits are even filed.

Laws are changed, regulations implemented and payments to plaintiffs made, frequently behind closed doors with no opportunity for public input or government oversight. George W. Bush’s two terms generated 66 such suits; Barack Obama’s first term generated 60 by itself, which led to more than 100 new regulations and costs to the economy totaling tens of billions of dollars. Another 36 such cases were settled in his second term.

The conduct was so pervasive that the U.S. Senate held up the nomination of one of Obama’s EPA administrators, Gina McCarthy, until she promised to improve transparency in sue-and-settle cases. She made the promise, but she didn’t keep it.

In many instances, the real damage sue-and-settle cases make comes from the regulations they generate. The Utility Maximum Available Control Technology rule, which costs American electric power rate payers $9.6 billion per year, came from a sue-and-settle case. So did the resumption of the 2008 Ozone air quality rule, which costs up to $90 billion annually.

It also led to rules governing oil and natural gas exploration, regional haze, the Chesapeake Bay and heating boilers, which together cost billions per year for compliance.

Outside groups get legislative goals enacted without convincing lawmakers to vote for them, as Ebell and his allies must. Sympathetic officials inside government agencies get to enact policies their political masters could not convince their fellow citizens to support. Their adversaries in the climate debate — energy and development interests — pick up most of the tab.

And it’s all done behind closed doors with everyone involved being able to claim the court made them do it and compliance deadlines necessitate making changes with little or no opportunity for public input.

The game is off for now — President Trump and EPA administrator Scott Pruitt have ordered the agency not to enter into any sue-and-settle agreements, resurrecting the policy initiated by former President Ronald Reagan and his attorney general, Edwin Meese.

But if the Post and other mainstream media are concerned about energy and environmental policy being generated in back rooms by self-interested parties, it’s not Ebell they should be reporting on. It’s sue-and-settle.

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