Monday, April 4, 2011
This unjust situation is a result of the Big Green environmental movement's discovery several decades ago that there was indeed "gold in them thar hills," thanks to an obscure federal law known as the Equal Access to Justice Act. Sunday's Examiner editorial detailed how a law intended to help small businesses get their day in court has been perverted into an unaccountable, tax-paid, cash cow worth hundreds of millions of dollars to groups like the Sierra Club, Center for Biodiversity, Environmental Defense Fund and Natural Resources Defense Council.
Payments under EAJA are made by the U.S. Treasury to its Judgment Fund, which is funded by a permanent congressional appropriation. The fund is not audited, agencies aren't required to account in their budgets for payments mandated by court decisions in their areas of jurisdiction, and courts often seal settlements to prevent public examination. It's an open invitation for Big Green groups to file suits, knowing that win or lose, most if not all of their legal expenses will be paid by the government. Best of all for them, it's all but impossible to track who gets how much from the taxpayers from these suits.
But there is enough evidence available to remove any doubt that Big Green litigators have hit the jackpot. Wyoming attorney Karen Fallen has spent many hours poring over court records to compile what she concedes is an incomplete list that includes 647 cases, including 299 in which nearly $18 million was paid under the EAJA to lawyers for 10 Big Green groups. If that amount seems insignificant, Sen. David Vitter, R-La., and Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, estimate that at least $4.7 billion has been paid out of the Judgment Fund under the EAJA since 2003, with much of it going to Big Green groups. Vitter and Bishop have introduced legislation to cap such payments and to mandate proper accounting of them. Such actions would be good first steps toward restoring balance to federal litigation costs and ensuring justice for Western farmers and ranchers.
at 4:57 AM