MISSOULA, Mont. (May 25, 2011) -- Legislation to be introduced today in Congress could axe what has amounted to federal subsidies for environmental extremist and animal rights groups making big business out of suing the U.S. government.
The legislation, a House Resolution and companion version in the Senate titled Government Litigation Savings Act, would amend the existing Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA). Though well intended, abuses of EAJA have escalated into a serious conservation issue with long-term consequences. Costs of defending unnecessary lawsuits against federal agencies such as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are an increasing drain on conservation funding and agency personnel today.
The Government Litigation Savings Act was prompted by a coalition (member list below) of wildlife, agriculture, energy, mining and other resource-based groups led by Boone and Crockett Club.
Club President Ben Wallace said, "We take very seriously the fact that taxpayer money and sportsmen-generated funding intended to support conservation are being wasted. We thank Senator John Barrasso (R-WY) and Representative Cynthia Lummis (R-WY) for introducing a bill that offers hope for reforming EAJA back to its original purpose--and relief for the most successful wildlife conservation system in the world."
Lawmakers will hold a press conference today at noon (ET) to announce the legislation.
The coalition formed following a Boone and Crockett Club investigation of federal statutes that enable ongoing litigation at a high cost to wildlife and the American taxpayer. Club President Emeritus Lowell E. Baier, a Maryland-based attorney, led the effort over the past year. His preliminary findings are reported in two articles available free at www.boone-crockett.org. Baier also employed two full-time attorneys to research EAJA’s initial Congressional intent, its judicial interpretation and application, abuses, loopholes and possible remedies by Congress.
EAJA was written to reimburse legal costs incurred by private citizens and small business that successfully sue federal agencies for non-compliance with federal law and regulation. Recipients were to include private citizens whose net worth was less than $2 million, and for-profit organizations with net worth of less than $7 million. Non-profit 501(c)(3) organizations were totally exempt from these limits. However, America’s two largest animal rights groups, with 2009 combined net assets exceeding $209.6 million and cash balances exceeding $44.5 million, now enjoy significant subsidies through EAJA by taking advantage of their exemption loophole.
For example: In 2008, an animal rights group won a legal ruling regarding wolves and petitioned a federal court in Missoula, Mont., for $388,370 in attorney fees. The judge awarded $263,099, which was based on an hourly rate of $300—even though the EAJA limit is $125 per hour.
In 2007, the same plaintiff was awarded $280,000 following a similar case in the Great Lakes area.
The defendant in both cases was the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, whose budget--regardless of whether it's spent on wildlife or lawyers--is financed by a combination of sportsmen fees and tax dollars.
Taxpayers bear all EAJA reimbursements to plaintiffs.
Indirect costs are considerable, too. Nearly all resource management proposals are now subject to ever-higher hidden fees as federal agencies spend more and more time and resources on elaborate environmental impact statements and other attempts to "suit proof" their decision-making processes. In some cases, where the intent of the lawsuit is to stop a proposed federal action, the delays and costs to a federal agency can derail time sensitive projects even if the eventual court ruling goes against the plaintiffs.
Coalition members (to date) endorsing the Government Litigation Savings Act:
- American Farm Bureau Federation
- American Sheep Industry
- Archery Trade Association
- Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies
- Bighorn Mountain Coalition
- Boone and Crockett Club
- Bowhunting Preservation Alliance
- Campfire Club of America
- Catch-a-Dream Foundation
- Coalition of Arizona/New Mexico Counties
- Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation
- Dairy Producers of New Mexico
- Dallas Safari Club
- Delta Waterfowl Foundation
- Family Farm Alliance
- Hawaii Cattlemen's Association
- Houston Safari Club
- Idaho Farm Bureau
- Idaho State ATV Association
- Intermountain Forest Association
- Masters of Foxhounds Association of America
- Montana Logging Association
- Montana Wood Products Association
- Mule Deer Foundation
- National Association of Conservation Districts
- National Association of Forest Service Retirees
- National Cattlemen’s Beef Association
- National Farmers Union
- National Rifle Association
- National Shooting Sports Foundation
- National Trappers Association
- National Union of Land and Water Rights
- New Mexico Cattlegrowers Association
- New Mexico Federal Lands Council
- New Mexico Wool Growers Inc.
- North American Bear Foundation
- North American Grouse Partnership
- Oregon Cattlemen’s Association
- Orion-the-Hunters’ Institute
- Pheasants Forever/Quail Forever
- Pope and Young Club
- Public Lands Council
- Quality Deer Management Association
- Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation
- Ruffed Grouse Society
- Safari Club International
- Sixtieth Legislature of the State of Wyoming
- South Dakota Department of Agriculture
- Stewards of the Sequoia
- Sustainable Forest Action Coalition
- Texas Wildlife Association
- The Society of American Foresters
- Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership
- Tread Lightly!
- U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance
- United States Cattlemen Association
- Utah Cattlemen’s Association
- Western Business Roundtable
- Western Institute for the Study of the Environment
- Western Legacy Alliance
- Wild Sheep Foundation
- Wildlife Forever
- Wildlife Management Institute
- Women in Timber
- Wyoming Association of Conservation Districts
- Wyoming Farm Bureau