by Karen Mehall Phillips - Tuesday, August 16, 2016
How's this for an abuse of the law—major environmental laws, to be exact? Since 2009, federal agencies have had to pay anti-hunting and environmental groups in excess of $49 million to reimburse them for legal fees racked up while suing—and beating—the federal government 512 times.
As cited in a recent Daily Caller News Foundation (TheDCNF) analysis, the compensation, which is specifically provided for through the Department of the Treasury’s Judgement Fund, accounts for 512 "citizen suits"—and quite a chunk of our hard-earned tax dollars. NRAHLF.org first shed light on how reimbursements are regularly handed over in April as the antis continue to try and force federal agencies to increase regulations on businesses and landowners and further their own agendas.
TheDCNF analysis explains there are three environmental laws that permit groups to sue federal agencies: the Endangered Species Act (ESA), the Clean Air Act (CAA) and the Clean Water Act (CWA), with the $49 million in federal payments accounted for as follows:
So which federal agencies paid the most to the groups that sued them? First place goes to the Department of the Interior (DOI) at $14 million. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) took second with more than $12 million, and the Department of Commerce was third, paying more than $12 million. Unfortunately, the list doesn't even include the many times that multiple departments were listed in a single suit. As Utah Republican Rep. Rob Bishop told the DCNF, "The settlements happen behind closed doors, with little or no input from affected states, local entities or stakeholders.” For example, when a federal agency misses a regulatory deadline under the ESA, it gets sued, settles quickly, then works with the environmentalists to issue new regulations that may cost millions in compliance costs.
A 2013 study by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce found that from 2009-2012, 71 lawsuits fell under the “sue-and-settle” category. It's no shock to hunters and other wildlife conservationists that the category leader was the anti-hunting Sierra Club, which sued the government 34 times just in those three years. Eager to assist was its litigation group, Earthjustice, which, by the way, has been paid $4 million after suing federal agencies 39 times since 2009.
But there may be a light at the end of the tunnel. Because tax payers foot the bill—and there is no conservation benefit—the House recently passed legislation to prevent agencies from using the sue-and-settle approach with environmental groups as part of a DOI appropriations bill.
Here's the kicker, though: The Judgment Fund files are incomplete and inconsistent. While each of the 512 citizen suits paid an average of $96,000 in attorney fees, the largest payout was a $5.6 million settlement in 2010 under the ESA. Because of the Privacy Act, it is not clear who took in that $5.6 million or where the full $49 million went as the database conceals the names of the plaintiffs, law firms and attorneys who fight the government—though they are paid with public funds.
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