Without any oversight, accounting, or transparency, environmental activist groups have surreptitiously received at least $37 million from the federal government for questionable “attorney fees.” The lawsuits they received compensation for had nothing to do with environmental protection or improvement.
The activist groups have generated huge revenue streams via the obscure Equal Access to Justice Act. Congressional sources claim the groups are billing for “cookie cutter” lawsuits — they file the same petitions to multiple agencies on procedural grounds, and under the Act, they file for attorney fees even if they do not win the case. Since 1995, the federal government has neither tracked nor accounted for any of these attorney fee payments.
Nine national environmental activist groups alone have filed more than 3,300 suits, every single one seeking attorney fees. The groups have also charged as much as $650 per hour (a federal statutory cap usually limits attorney fees to $125 per hour).
In well over half of the cases, there was no court judgment in the environmental groups’ favor. In all cases, whether there was any possible environmental benefit from the litigation is highly questionable. Most cases were simply based upon an alleged failure to comply with a deadline or to follow a procedure.
A whistleblower who was employed for 30 years by the U.S. Forest Service told Pajamas Media:
Some organizations have built a business doing this and attacking the agencies on process, and then getting “reimbursed.”
This week a bipartisan group of congressional members introduced legislation to end the secrecy of the payments and force the government to open up the records to show exactly how much has been paid to the groups and the questionable attorney fees. The legislation was sponsored by Rep. Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyoming), Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (D-SD), and Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah).
Congressional sources have said the disclosure was necessary to determine the extent of fraud and abuse. The $37 million is considered only a fraction of what has been paid out to the activist groups.
“For too long, taxpayers have unwittingly served as the financiers of the environmental litigation industry,” Rep. Bishop, who also is the chairman of the Congressional Western Caucus, said.
Rep. Herseth Sandlin remarked: “Simply put, this legislation is about ensuring good and open government.”
“It’s time to shine some light [on the program],” explained Rep. Lummis, who said the groups have created an industry that “supports their ‘stop everything’ agenda.”
The $37 million figure is considered low. It includes less than a dozen groups and only accounts for cases in 19 states and the District of Columbia. There are hundreds of eco-activist groups in the United States.
According to the whistleblower who served in the U.S. Forest Service, environmental activist groups typically file identical lawsuits to multiple agencies on procedural grounds, such as a missed deadline.
The identity of the huge revenue stream was established by the Western Legacy Alliance (“WLA”), along with Wyoming-based attorney Karen Budd-Falen. Western Legacy Alliance was founded in 2008 by ranchers and resource providers who raise beef and lamb on public lands of the West. What they found was astounding.