Easy Money, Enviro funds targetedWritten by Christy Martinez
Relating to what Wyoming Stock Growers Executive Vice President Jim Magagna refers to as “ridiculous fees paid to environmental attorneys,” the Western Legacy Alliance (WLA) has formed to address the enviros’ use of taxpayer dollars to sue the federal government.
Based in Gooding, Idaho, WLA President Jeff Faulkner says the organization took root during a 2007 meeting of the Idaho Cattlemen’s Association. A presentation was given to the group, informing them of how the Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA) has been abused, allowing environmental groups to access the funds to “put ranchers out of business,” says Faulkner.
“Folks gave us $30,000 toward our effort in five minutes, and we decided this was important to them also,” he continues. The group at the Idaho Cattlemen’s Association joined with Farm Bureau’s Idaho Rangeland Coalition, and thus began the WLA.
“We knew we wanted to de-fund environmental groups, but we didn’t know what was going on,” says Faulkner. “We hired an opposition research attorney and a P.R. firm and through the research everything related to their funding came back to EAJA.”
EAJA entitles non-profits that litigate against the federal government to reimbursement by the feds for attorney’s fees.
“It’s amazing,” says Faulkner. “Everybody’s talked about EAJA, but didn’t know what it was or how it was funding these groups.”
After the finding Faulkner says WLA decided the abuse of EAJA would be its main focus.
“In 1980 EAJA was a well-intended law that was passed, and until 1995 each agency had to report to Congress the dollars they were spending on it,” explains Faulkner. “But, because of the Paper Reduction Act of 1993, that requirement was lifted.”
Faulkner says another loophole in EAJA is there are no limits on gross assets of a litigating non-profit organization.
The group had an eight-member steering committee, including people from Nevada, Idaho and Magagna from Wyoming. Now New Mexico, Oregon, Arizona, Utah, Idaho, Montana and Washington have joined as states. Now WLA is guided by an eight-member executive committee composed of founding members and representation from key stakeholders.
Also from Wyoming, Cheyenne attorney Karen Budd-Falen has been instrumental in gathering information on the EAJA and its use by environmental groups.
“From 2000 to 2009, in one court in Idaho, Western Watersheds Project has applied for and received $1.15 million under EAJA,” says Faulkner. “We’ve had folks tell us if we do away with EAJA we’ll lose funding ourselves. Karen pulled the same numbers for the Idaho court to see how much our side had garnered through EAJA, and it was zero.”
He says after reaching back to 1989 Budd-Falen found two cases where the public grazing lands side received $150,000 total. “It’s slanted in their favor, and it’s harder for our side to get even when we do apply,” he says.
Faulkner says the goals of WLA are accountability, transparency and equality between non-profit and for-profit groups.
In addition to research in the western states Faulkner said WLA will look into cases in the Midwest and East Coast states.
In addition to publicity efforts through print media and public speaking, WLA is working on a mini series that Faulkner hopes will air on the Discovery channel.
“As tax payers you’re affected,” says Faulkner. “And anybody that uses public lands in the West, from ranchers to recreators. We need support, and we need funding.”