We’re Getting KickedWritten by Dennis Sun
Published: 29 January 2010
The issue of environmental groups receiving federal dollars to pay for their legal expenses after suing the government on environmental or natural resources matters has always been troubling to the agricultural and energy industries.
About four years ago the Roundup carried a guest editorial from John Ward, an attorney from Sheridan, about the issue. Lately it has really come out thanks to a newly formed group and Cheyenne attorney Karen Budd-Falen. Those involved in agriculture, energy and other commodities around the nation owe them a huge thank you.
So far the Western Legacy Alliance and Karen Budd-Falen have documented that the federal government has paid a handful of western environmental groups around $41 million since the year 2000, and this was only in parts of the Midwest and the western states, not the entire country. They also found that some of the payoffs were documented as happening, but the amounts were kept confidential.
The kick in the teeth is that our government paid them back their legal fees to sue or appeal government actions. The figures don’t even include all the legal fees paid to environmental groups for their BLM administrative permit appeals on ranches with federal allotments. The kick in the butt comes when you learn that the government sometimes pays them back at a rate of $650 an hour for their attorneys’ time. Why wouldn’t an environmental group want to sue the federal government, BLM, Forest Service or Fish and Wildlife Service with that kind of dollar return?
What the environmental groups are doing is legal under the “Judgment Fund,” a Congressional line-item appropriation used for Endangered Species Act cases, Clean Water Act cases and other statutes that directly allow a plaintiff to recover attorney fees. There is no central database for tracking the payment of these fees. Neither we as taxpayers, members of Congress, the federal government nor the judges whose courts the cases were in, know the total amount of taxpayer dollars spent from the Judgment Fund.
They do know a total of $4,716,264,730 in taxpayer dollars was paid from the Judgment Fund from 2003 through July 2007 for attorney fees and costs in cases against the federal government that in some cases affected the management of our ranches. WOW.
Another source of payments for environmental groups’ legal costs is the Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA). Again, there is no central data system to track any of these payments that come directly from the federal agencies’ budgets. This is money the Forest Service or BLM could be using for range improvements, range monitoring, timbering or any other management practices.
Take time to find out about them and, if you approve, send them $100 or whatever you can contribute, I did. This is important.