To: Interested Parties
From: Western Legacy Alliance
Re: Inequitable Treatment
As you know, it is Western Legacy Alliance=s (“WLA”) contention that radical environmental groups are reaping millions of American taxpayer attorneys’ fees from the federal government B but the same fees do not seem to be available to Aour side.@ While WLA does not contend that attorneys’ fees are not given to small businesses, ranchers, property owners and others, it is certainly a question of scale, degree and equal treatment. Look at a concrete example:
During the Clinton Administration, there was a determination that snowmobiling should be substantially curbed (i.e. eliminated) in Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. When the litigation dust settled, several facts became clear:
First, although numerous cases were filed in both the Federal District Courts for the District of Columbia and the District of Wyoming and in some cases the environmental groups Awon,@ and in some cases, Wyoming small business and the State of Wyoming Awon,@ only the environmental groups recovered attorneys fees. The total amount of attorneys’ fees recovered by the environmental groups is AT LEAST $321,996.69. The court records do not indicate why Wyoming small businesses and organizations did not recover fees, although as a technical matter, it appears that they would also have been eligible for fee recovery.
Second, although the environmental groups, initiating this litigation did so over an alleged concern that snowmobile use in the Parks was harming wildlife and other National Park qualities, none of the litigation dealt with the science related to these claims. Every case filed by any party was over the procedures used by the National Park Service (ANPS@) to decide how many and under what conditions snowmobiles would be used in the Park, not with whether snowmobiles harmed the Parks’ values. In my opinion, the environmental groups were using procedural arguments as a guise to force changes in NPS substantive decisions. There is no indication that procedural statutes should be used for a substantive result (i.e. the significant limitation and elimination of snowmobiles in the Park and the related economic harm to winter use businesses in Wyoming and Montana.)
The specific cases are as follows:
- Fund for Animals, Biodiversity Legal Foundation, Predator Project, Ecology Center et al. v. Babbitt, 97-cv-1126. This case was filed in the Federal District Court for the District of Columbia and alleged that the NPS failed to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act (ANEPA@), the Endangered Species Act (AESA@), and other federal laws and regulations in connection with winter use, predominately snowmobiling, in the National Parks. The NPS subsequently settled the suit, in part, by an agreement to prepare a comprehensive environmental impact statement (AEIS@) addressing a full range of alternatives for all types of winter use in the Parks. The federal government paid attorney fees to the environmental groups in this case of $11,000.
- International Snowmobile Manufacturers= Association (AISMA@) et al. v. Norton, No. 00BcvB0229. This case was filed in the Federal District Court for the District of Wyoming, challenging the decision to ban snowmobiles, as reflected in the NPS 2000 Record of Decision (AROD@). The 2000 ROD was prepared pursuant to the settlement agreement in case 97-cv-1126 described above. The Department of the Interior settled with ISMA on June 29, 2001, with an agreement that the NPS would prepare a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (ASEIS@). No attorney fees were paid to the plaintiffs although there were small business and individuals who would have qualified.
- Fund for Animals v. Norton, 02-cv-2367. This case was filed in the Federal District Court for the District of Columbia challenging the NPS March 25, 2003 ROD which was the result of the settlement agreement in 00-cv-0229. On December 16, 2003, five days after the Final Rule was promulgated, the D.C. Court vacated the new regulation and effectively reinstated the January 22, 2001 rule phasing out the recreational use of snowmobiles in the Parks. The federal government settled the attorney fees request and paid $160,000 in attorneys’ fees to the plaintiffs.
- National Parks Conservation Association v. United States Department of the Interior, Civ. No. 07-cv-2112. The case was filed in Washington D.C. in 2007 challenging the National Park Service=s 2007 Winter Use Plan for Yellowstone National Park. The District Court for the District of Columbia vacated the NPS Winter Use Plan. The federal government stipulated and settled for payment of $150,996.00 on April 23, 2010.
- Greater Yellowstone Coalition et al. v. Kempthorne, Civ. No. 07-cv-2111. This case was filed in Washington D.C. in 2007 also challenging the National Park Service=s 2007 Winter Use Plan for Yellowstone National Park; it was consolidated with case number 07-cv-2112. The GYC has requested an attorney fees payment of $254,800.69. The parties are currently discussing settlement of the amount of attorney fees that will be paid to the GYC. Final settlement has not been reached at this time.
- ISMA v. Norton, 00-cv-229. Following the D.C. District Court=s decision, ISMA and the State of Wyoming re-opened their lawsuit against the NPS in the United States District Court for the District of Wyoming. No final ruling has been made in that case, although nothing has been filed in this case since December of 2007.
In addition to these fees paid to environmental groups, small Wyoming and Montana businesses have lost thousands of dollars and invested significant amounts of their own money in litigation and have even prevailed, yet received no attorney fees from the federal government.
Western Legacy Alliance does not believe this to be an isolated instance. There is no indication that those who seek to decrease the power of the federal government receive anywhere near the amount of money as those who litigate for more government control. This is another example of why Congress needs to act to bring transparency and accountability to the attorney fee shifting statutes. WLA encourages you to keep this issue before your Congressional delegations and support its effort for open government.
Also, if you like the type of information provided by WLA, please consider a monetary contribution to our cause.
Activist ‘Green’ Lawyers Billing U.S. Millions in Fraudulent Attorney Fees
Excerpted from: Pajamas Media
by Richard Pollock
Radical environmental groups have ripped off taxpayers to the tune of $37 million.
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).
Otter Support for HR 4717
As the Governor of Idaho I have had to make incredibly tough decisions with regards to budgets in the last two years. Many important projects and structures have fallen under the chopping block as we have to ensure fiscal responsibility to our constituency while attempting to maintain critical services for all. In Idaho we strive to continually improve and streamline our accountability and transparency to our citizenry, while this may be difficult to institute it is critical to involve the people who’s money we are spending. In these tough economic times our citizens must be assured that their hard earned dollars are being administered not only responsibly but with the oversight necessary to ensure abuses of taxpayer dollars are not allowed.
The Equal Access to Justice Act was enacted in 1980 to allow small entities, individuals, private property owners, businesses etc. an avenue for redress should the Federal government become Goliath and overuse or abuse it’s powers against a citizen. If said individuals sue the Government and prove that the government did not substantially justify their position then the individuals would be allowed recompense of their attorney’s fees. Small individuals and entities were defined as not having more than a 7 million dollar net worth. Over the years though it appears that the intent of the EAJA has been corrupted and is now being used as a cudgel to enforce a radical political agenda and use tax-payer dollars to fund it. The EAJA funds are now being siphoned by groups who state their mission is to “overload the system” with ESA petitions to list. (Center for Biodiversity March 2010), or promoting an “ambitious litigation stratgegy to end public lands grazing”(WWP homepage WWP website).
Rep. Lummis and Western Legacy Alliance Work to Expose Flaws in EAJA
Fox News Highlights the Western Legacy Alliance’s Efforts to Expose Flaws in Equal Access to Justice Act [EAJA.] EAJA, an act intended to give all Americans the ability to seek redress from their government,…