Environmental Litigation at Taxpayer Expense

Taxpayers Pay People to Sue the U.S.

By Elizabeth MacDonald

Published June 06, 2011 | FOXBusiness

Ever hear of the Equal Access to Justice Act? Well, you should, because you’re paying to let others take your money.

The EAJA covers legal fees for plaintiffs who successfully sue the federal government and is meant to help people and organizations that cannot afford lawyers to challenge government actions in court, for things like fights over Social Security checks or, if you’re a private contractor, a lost paycheck.

Since the act was passed in 1980, taxpayer money has been used to pay to reimburse attorneys fees for lawsuits against the government, the awards for which come from taxpayer cash.

But now Congressional critics contend special-interest groups, notably environmentalists, have abused the law. What’s worse, there are complaints that no good records have been kept on the program since 1995, and potentially hundreds of millions of dollars have gone to outfits like the Natural Resources Defense Council or the Sierra Club to refund their costs for attorneys fees for lawsuits against the government. Even though these groups operate on a tax-exempt basis, and even though they raise tens of millions of dollars every year, which could go toward paying their own legal fees in lawsuits they themselves bring. Instead of you.

And now Rep. Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.) and Sen. John Barrasso, (R-Wyo.), have introduced the Government Litigation Savings Act. If approved, it would cap attorneys’ fees and block groups whose net worth exceeds $7 million from filing for payment under the 1980 Equal Access to Justice Act.

“When the government stopped tracking (Equal Access to Justice Act) payments in 1995, it was a dream come true for radical environmental groups,” Rep. Lummis said in a statement. “Lack of oversight has fueled the fire for these groups to grind the work of land management and other federal agencies to a halt — and it does so on the taxpayers’ dime.”

Lummis points to two private studies, one done by a Cheyenne, Wyoming, law firm and another by Virginia Tech University, which show that despite Congress’s original intent to help out the little guy in fighting the federal government for its allegedly wrongful actions, the big business of large environmental groups now are potentially the biggest beneficiaries of EAJA payments.

Moreover, Rep. Lummis says, a number of environment groups have purposely flooded this lawsuit reimbursement system, in order to overwhelm the government to simply rubberstamp the refunds. Many government agencies have 90 days to respond to suits, and if they blow past that deadline, then the government ponies up.

For example, Lummis says, the Dept. of the Interior must answer petitions to list species as protected wildlife. The Interior Department must respond within 90 days to petitions to list species under the Endangered Species Act. If they don’t, environmentalists turn around and sue to get the listing and collect attorney fees from the Justice Department.

Many environmentalists purposely ram through hundreds and hundreds of petitions, knowing overwhelmed government officials can’t get to them within the allotted 90 days. They then sue and get their money back, at taxpayer expense.

“When the government stopped tracking EAJA payments in 1995, it was a dream come true for radical environmental groups,” says Lummis in a statement. “Lack of oversight has fueled the fire for these groups to grind the work of land management and other federal agencies to a halt — and it does so on the taxpayer’s dime. Americans have unwittingly funded these obstructionist political agendas for far too long at the expense of individuals, small businesses, energy producers, farmers and ranchers who must pay out of their own pocket to defend the federal government against relentless litigation,” said Lummis. “This common sense legislation would help restore integrity to EAJA and return the program to the original intent of Congress.”

Yes, protect wild life. Yes, protect endangered species. Yes, protect public lands.

But this shows environmentalists at their worst, both living already off the taxpayer nickel, then abusing taxpayer funds again by getting their lawsuits covered by taxpayers.

The bill has been endorsed by over 85 agriculture, sportsmen, recreation, and energy groups, Lummis says.
*************************************************

Karen Budd-Falen was also a special guest on KJNO’s Action Line.  Click on the links below to listen to the hour-long program where she talks about other abuses by environmental organizations and the federal government.