This bill — known as the Sunshine Act — would restrict the ability of federal agencies to participate in so-called “sue and settle arrangements” by changing the process for developing consent decrees and settlement agreements that require agencies to take specific regulatory actions. Consent decrees allow agencies to take regulatory action without public notice or comment periods. They’re reached after an advocacy group files suit against a company or municipality for violating a law or an agency for missing a rulemaking deadline, causing regulators to pursue a settlement that dismisses the suit in exchange for regulatory action.
The bill would require that proposed consent decrees and settlement arrangements be published in the Federal Register for public comment 60 days before a court filing is made, and the federal agency would have to respond to all public comments. The head of a federal agency or the Attorney General (if the Dept. of Justice is involved) would be required to certify approval of certain types of settlement agreements and consent decrees. The same-day filing of complaints and pre-negotiated consent decrees and settlement agreements in cases looking to compel agency action would be prohibited.
A court would be prohibited from approving a consent decree or settlement agreement unless it incorporates adequate time and procedures for agencies to comply with statutes governing rulemaking. Courts would be required to closely scrutinize consent decrees and settlement agreements when agencies try to modify them, but modifications would be allowed if circumstances have changed.
The bill’s full title is the Sunshine for Regulations and Regulatory Decrees and Settlements Act of 2017.