New Legislation Would Axe Subsidies for Activist Groups
Legislation that was introduced 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."
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.