11/19/2009: "Litigation: Lawsuit abuse charge by Western lawmakers enrages enviros" eenews.com, by Phil Taylor, reporter
"Poor government oversight has allowed advocacy groups to squander taxpayer money on frivolous lawsuits that drain the budgets of federal land management agencies without the knowledge of the public or Congress, a group of Western lawmakers told Attorney General Eric Holder in a letter released this week.
Specifically, members of the Congressional Western Caucus charge that environmental groups have used the Equal Access to Justice Act to win back millions of dollars in attorney fees for lawsuits filed against the Forest Service and other federal agencies.Well-intentioned law
Congress passed the Equal Access to Justice Act nearly 30 years ago to allow individuals, small businesses or public interest groups to be reimbursed for the cost of attorneys that represent them in cases of alleged wrongdoing by the federal government.
The law allows average citizens and nonprofit groups to hold federal agencies accountable
- for violations of environmental laws such as the Clean Water Act and Endangered Species Act,
but also to provide greater government accountability in a number of other policy spheres, including
- copyright and trademark infringement, disability and retirement pay, and fair housing.
But ever since Congress lifted reporting requirements for EAJA payments in 1995, the public has been left in the dark about
- how much money groups have received under the act and for which cases, the letter says.
"We have no clue as to what is actually being spent on this program," said Utah Rep. Rob Bishop (R), chairman of the CWC and ranking member of the Natural Resources Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands. "The sad part is
- this has become a cottage industry that groups use to fund further lawsuits against the government."
Under the guise of "public interest," groups intent on sealing off Western lands to ranchers and energy companies have
- abused EAJA to further their narrow political agendas, the letter states.
"EAJA is an important tool for protecting citizens' rights against the federal government," the letter says. "Sadly, its abuse undoubtedly has
- far reaching consequences on both public lands management decisions and for all American taxpayers.""...
- (If people stop being "sad" and get "angry" instead, maybe something positive will happen. Look how far Soros has gotten with his anger. ed)
(continuing, EENews): "Research cited by the letter found $4.7 billion was awarded from the U.S. Treasury's Justice Fund from 2003 to July 2007, though it is unclear how much of those funds went to environmental groups. The same memo identifies less than $1.7 million in EAJA payments to environmental groups from the Forest Service from 2003 to 2005.
- building a searchable public database listing the names of organizations that have
- received reimbursements for attorney fees and for which cases....
Environmental groups rejected charges that they have abused the act in order to siphon money from the federal government.
- "There is absolutely nothing abusive about the EAJA paying fees to attorneys who overturn illegal government decisions," said Suckling of CBD. "That is exactly what the law was created for."
EAJA reimbursements are awarded only if a group wins a lawsuit against the government, Suckling noted. The law stipulates that plaintiffs receive $125 per attorney hour from the government when they win a case.
Groups also receive money from the
- Treasury Department's Justice Fund
for cases in which DOJ finds they have "prevailed," or achieved the purpose of the litigation....
As for the Congressional Western Caucus, Bishop said in a statement that its members remain concerned "that there may be abuse, but no one can know the truth about how EAJA operates
- until we begin to shed light on a program that has operated without Congressional
- oversight since 1995.
Taxpayers deserve to know how their hard earned tax dollars are being spent.""...