Two Studies Show Environmental Lawsuits Paid For By Program For Seniors, Veterans And Small Business

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(SnoWest ED-Basically, what the following press release is saying-and something we've known for years now-is that many environmental groups are suing various agencies and then getting reimbursed for those legal costs. That means, an environmental group can just sue while incurring little cost. Ever wondered why there are so many environmental lawsuits? Now you know.)

Studies released independently by Notre Dame Law School and the Government Accountability Office show that environmental groups pad their claims for reimbursed legal fees using a social program entitled the Equal Access to Justice Act and the U.S. is not keeping track of expenditures.

A Notre Dame law review article shows that a 1980 law intended for seniors, veterans, and small businesses is utilized by environmental groups to get pay-backs for their lawsuits as well. A GAO study shows that no one really knows how much money has been spent, but the amounts are at least several million dollars a year.

"This study made me a strong supporter of the Equal Access to Justice Act for its intended beneficiaries," Lowell E. Baier, the author of the law review article and President Emeritus of the Boone and Crockett Club, said. "This law is for seniors, veterans and small businesses that have trouble getting their legal fees reimbursed, yet many environmental lawsuits are reimbursed without ever showing a violation of environmental law. Environmental law is clear about which lawsuits should be repaid under environmental statutes; we should stick to that clear direction and follow the intent of Congress."

"Litigation has become a routine step in environmental policy because much of it is about lobbying against decisions and forcing do-overs," Jennifer Ellis, president of the Western

Legacy Alliance, said. "It's not that so many environmental policies are wrong, it's that people disagree over them. Businesses protect themselves-especially against those who admit they want to destroy us-and activists try to get their way instead. Whoever files that kind of lawsuit should pay their own way."

Western Legacy Alliance and Boone and Crockett lead a coalition of more than 100 groups that together both support H.R. 1996, the Government Litigation Savings Act, which will reform the 1980 Equal Access to Justice Act.

The bill improves legal fee reimbursements to seniors, veterans and small businesses, enforces attorney fee reimbursement under environmental law and requires full accounting of payments authorized by the Equal Access to Justice Act.

The GAO report confirms the obvious need to resume accounting, which stopped in 1995.

  • GAO asked 75 bureaus and agencies at USDA and the Department of Interior for records on payments, but only 10 of these 75 could provide data on cases and attorney fee reimbursements. Even the records provided were incomplete and unreliable, based on manual calculations from older files and the memory of career employees. Moreover, some records may overlap, so GAO is not even certain of their totals.
  • Even these sparse records show that millions of dollars are going out the door. GAO identified $4.4 million per year of EAJA payments to environmental groups during the period of 2000-2010 from suits against the 10 units of USDA and DOI that had any records at all.
  • GAO's minimum numbers do not add up to totals available from public court records and tax returns over the same period. Public federal court records from just 13 federal courts revealed $5.2 million in legal fees per year, compared to GAO's estimate of $4.4 million, as tabulated by legal staff for the Western Legacy Alliance. A broader analysis including additional federal court records and public tax returns from just 20 environmental organizations showed $9.1 million reimbursed during FY2010 alone, as demonstrated by attorneys for the Boone and Crockett Club.

"Clearly, the more you look the more money you find," said Baier.

Ellis said, "There are two problems here: getting the money to the right people for the right reasons and keeping track of the money."

The House-Senate request for this GAO report is the 10th Congressional directive or proposal introduced since 2010 on EAJA payments. Some of these measures address only accounting for funds HR 1996 as reported from the House Judiciary Committee is now the latest most comprehensive proposal on both use of and accounting for EAJA payments.

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