Environmental Litigation: America's New Growth Industry
While the economy limps along, one industry is thriving: Environmental lawsuits against the federal government are moving ahead at a steady pace — and taxpayers are picking up the tab for the expensive litigation.
Fox News reports this week that left-wing environmental groups are using a little-known 1980 law called the Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA) to sue the federal government on a wide range of fronts and then collect millions of dollars in legal fees from the very federal agencies they are suing. Not only that but, according to a recent study by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the government is not even tracking in any organized fashion how much it’s paying out to these groups. For example, only 10 of 75 agencies with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Department of Interior could provide the GAO with data on attorney fee reimbursements. The government agencies that do keep track of their attorney fee reimbursements signed some $44.4 million worth of checks between 2001 and 2010.
Still, we have some clues about the amounts at stake. In an August 2011 study, the GAO reported that between 2003 and 2010, the Treasury Department paid $14.2 million in attorneys’ fees just to those plaintiffs suing the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). That means that the total for all federal agencies is in the tens of millions of dollars every year. EAJA thus serves as a hugely expensive vehicle of collusion between the government and environmental groups to advance the environmental movement’s political agenda on the taxpayer’s dime.