According to an article from the Washington Times, the Environmental Protection Agency has given itself the power to unilaterally garnish wages of persons accused of violating EPA rules. this was accomplished by putting a notice in the Federal Register stating that the EPA can garnish non-Federal wages to collect delinquent non-tax debts owed the United States without first obtaining a court order.
This rule change was fast tracked and not subject to review because the EPA classified the changes as not as “significant regulatory action.” The EPA does say that it will give the debtor prior notice and give the debtor the opportunity to “review, contest or enter into a repayment agreement.”
The process being used by the EPA is an “Administrative Wage Garnishment” under the Administrative Procedure Act. There appear to be a number of legitimate criticisms of this process. One criticism of this new rule is that it shifts the burden of proof on the alleged debtor to prove by a preponderance of the evidence of the correctness of the debtor’s position. Another is that the rule lets the EPA decide if the debtor will actually get a chance to appear in person or have the case decided on a paper record. A third criticism is that the EPA gets to chose the site of the hearing.
Perhaps the biggest cause for concern is that if the debtor gets a hearing at all it will be before a hearing officer hand picked and paid for by the EPA. As with most administrative hearings, the ability of one side to select and pay for the hearing officer unquestionably undermines the fairness of the process.
To put this power into some further context, according to the Washington Times article, the “amount of fines raked in by the agency has jumped from $96 million in 2009 to $252 million in 2012.” While the EPA, like all government agencies, should diligently protect the public interest by pursuing recovery of legitimate debts where the debtor fails to make payments when they have the ability to do so, from my view the new EPA rule is another infringement on the due process rights of individual citizens.