OKLAHOMA CITY (Legal Newsline) -- Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, joined by 11 other attorneys general, filed a lawsuit Tuesday in federal court requesting access to documents related to the federal Environmental Protection Agency's "sue and settle" strategy with environmental groups.

"The EPA is picking winners and losers, exhibiting favoritism, at the expense of due process and transparency," Pruitt said in a statement.

"They are manipulating our legal system to achieve what they cannot through our representative democracy. The outcomes of their actions affect every one of us by sticking states with the bill and unnecessarily raising utility rates by as much as 20 percent."

The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma, comes after the states filed a request under the Freedom of Information Act seeking documents related to a strategy called "sue and settle."

According to Pruitt's office, the agency employs the tactic as a way to settle lawsuits with environmental organizations, including Greenpeace, Defenders of Wildlife, WildEarth Guardians and the Sierra Club, without allowing state involvement.

In some instances, the EPA entered a consent decree the same day a lawsuit was filed by a special interest group, suggesting prior knowledge, the attorney general noted.

The agreements between the agency and environmental groups have led to new rules and regulations for states without allowing attorneys general to enter the process to defend the interest of states, businesses and consumers, Pruitt said.

"This appears to be a blatant strategy by the EPA to go around the process and bend the rules to create environmental regulations that have failed in Congress," the attorney general said.

"As part of our investigation into the pervasiveness of this tactic, we requested documents that the EPA has refused to produce.

"If the EPA is making back-door deals with environmental groups to push their agenda on the American people while bypassing the states and Congress, we need to know."

According to Pruitt's office, out of the 45 settlements made public, the EPA has paid nearly $1 million in attorneys' fees to the environmental groups, while also committing to develop sweeping new regulations.

The 11 other states include Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Kansas, Michigan, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Carolina, Texas, Utah and Wyoming.

From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by email at jessica@legalnewsline.com.

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