Budd-Falen Law Offices (located here in Cheyenne), working with the Western Legacy Alliance, has exposed abuse by the “non-profit” environmental litigation machine. Using a law called the Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA), which reimburses certain plaintiffs for legal fees in successful lawsuits against the federal government, environmental groups found a lucrative way to fund their operations and thereby continue their mission of stopping all progress. According to memos from the Budd-Falen offices (all of which are available at the WLA website), here are just a few facts about the tax dollars that are going to the pockets of self-proclaimed defenders of Mother Nature:
- Although EAJA caps attorney fees at $125 per hour, a loophole in the law has allowed widespread abuse. In one case, environmental attorneys in California collected $650 per hour.
- EAJA was intended to restore indigent or lower-income individuals, businesses and other groups to their original, pre-litigation financial position by paying legal fees; the proponents of EAJA meant to make everyone able to fight Uncle Sam. But groups like the Sierra Club (which reported a net worth of over $56 million in 2007) can claim EAJA fees, even though they are already in a better position to litigate than even wealthy Americans.
- 14 environmental groups have recovered at least $37 million of legal fees in 1,200 lawsuits, and the full extent of payouts is unknown. Too often, the fees are part of a sealed settlement agreement or are otherwise kept from public disclosure through laws like the Paperwork Reduction Act.
Even if one agrees with certain objectives of environment groups such as adding an animal to the endangered species list, many of the suits in question are merely the result of technicalities, or shady lawyering. For example, the federal government is required by law to respond to a request for classifying a species as endangered within 90 days. At least one environmental group has filed hundreds of requests at the same time and then sued when the government failed to respond, which it could not possibly do given the number of requests.
Fortunately, this nonsense is not being ignored. Last month, Wyoming Representative Cynthia Lummis introduced the Government Litigation Savings Act (GLSA) to the House of Representatives. If passed into law, the GLSA would amend EAJA to close the attorney fees loophole and strictly cap attorney fees at $175 an hour. It would also cap fees awards at $200,000 per case, and limit the number of EAJA cases a party can collect on to three per year. Furthermore, the GLSA requires the government to “issue an annual, online report to Congress on the amount of fees and other expenses awarded during the preceding fiscal year pursuant to [EAJA].”
The GLSA strikes directly at the heart of the matter, introducing transparency and combatting abuse while restoring EAJA to its original purpose. We will continue to follow its progress in the coming weeks.