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Guest Opinions

Putting a Stop to Radical Environmentalists’ Best-Kept Secret

Written by Cynthia Lummis

By U.S. Representative Cynthia Lummis

They say there’s no such thing as a free lunch.

Unfortunately, that notion is news to environmentalist groups who, for years, have dipped into a bottomless, untraceable money pit to push their political agendas in court and grind the work of land management and other federal agencies to a halt. It may come as a surprise that you and I, as American taxpayers, are funding the endless money hole these groups use to pay their army of lawyers in court – win, lose or draw.

The enabling of special interest groups’ endless cycle of taxpayer-funded litigation was never the original intent of Congress. In 1980, Congress passed a little-known law called the Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA), which allowed folks to be reimbursed by the federal government, via the taxpayer, for the costs of fighting the federal government in court.

The idea was to allow farmers, ranchers and small businesses with limited means the ability to defend themselves or their businesses against an unjust action from the federal government. EAJA reimburses attorney’s fees and costs in court battles with the government.

It is a good idea, and it helps protect Americans from government wrongdoing. But for 16 years, the program has existed without any oversight at all, and does not have any requirement to keep track of the money that has been spent.

During this period of complete unaccountability, large environmental organizations discovered the Act, and began to twist it into a subsidy for lawsuits aimed at advancing their own specific issues. A study of open court documents and tax returns reveal that a small sample of environmental litigants have sued the federal government over 1,200 times in the last few years and have walked away with more than $37 million of hard-working Americans’ taxpayer dollars for their efforts.

While the original intent of Congress was for EAJA to assist people with a once-in-a-lifetime need, these groups have hijacked the program into a means to perpetually fund a cottage industry based on suing the federal government over and over again.

Federal agencies spend an untold amount of money and manpower to defend against these lawsuits. By the agencies’ own admission, these repeated lawsuits are a significant drain on resources at precisely the time when agencies are trying to find every efficiency they can.

I am fighting to put a stop to the radical environmental communities’ best-kept secret. I recently wrote and introduced the Government Litigation Savings Act (GLSA) in the U.S. House of Representatives. GLSA returns transparency to EAJA, and relieves taxpayers of the burden of paying for the litigation machines of deep-pocketed environmental organizations.

My legislation will allow EAJA to continue to work the way it was intended – veterans, seniors trying access social security and the small business around the corner will not see EAJA change for them – but it will end the abuses that have led to such significant waste of resources and tax dollars.

Correcting the problem of repeated lawsuits is a clear money-saver for the taxpayer – but it also frees federal land managers to do the work they are supposed to do. Rather than scurrying around to meet the never-ending demands of the perpetual lawsuit crowd, the GLSA will free land managers to do the job they sign up to do: ushering through the regulatory process the types of activity on federal lands that will help our economy grow and get Americans back to work.