Attorney General Scott Pruitt, joined by 11 other attorneys general, filed a lawsuit Tuesday in federal court requesting access to documents related to the U.S. 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. “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, which was filed in 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.” 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 the special interest group, suggesting prior knowledge.

The agreements between the EPA 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.

“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,” Pruitt 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 backdoor deals with environmental groups to push their agenda on the American people while bypassing the states and Congress, we need to know.”

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. One EPA consent decree led to the EPA’s costliest regulation ever – the Mercury Air Toxics Standards (MATS).

The 12 states (Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Kansas, Michigan, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Carolina, Texas, Utah and Wyoming) led by Oklahoma, filed a FOIA request in February, seeking communications between EPA officials and specific special interest groups concerning consent decrees that dictate how EPA is to implement the Clean Air Act’s Regional Haze program in various states. Under the Clean Air Act, the states – not the EPA – design and implement plans for compliance with the Regional Haze program. States’ also requested a fee waiver.

“Ninety-two percent of the time EPA grants fee waiver requests from noncommercial requesters who are supportive of EPA’s policies and agendas, but denies a majority of fee waiver requests from noncommercial requesters who are critical of EPA,” the complaint states. “States properly asked for specific records ... (and) EPA violated FOIA’s mandate.”

Once the documents are received, the requesting states will analyze the data and evaluate the prevalence of EPA’s “sue and settle” strategy to determine further action.