Pursuing the activists

Opinion
Mar 12, 2010

The past few weeks, there has been some encouraging news about the assault on animal agriculture. The operators of Barnum and Baily Circus filed a racketeering suit against the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). The suit claims that HSUS had paid a witness in a humane treatment case $190,000 to embellish his testimony about how the circus treated elephants. This is one case you might think the animal agriculture industry would like to help fund.

Last week, several members of Congress offered a bill that would expose just how many environmental groups have been using the Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA) to finance their legal operations. Several months ago, a story came out of the Budd-Falen Law Office in Cheyenne, WY, which does a lot of work for the ranching community, that showed how a multitude of environmental activist groups were suing federal agencies over their management of environmental issues. These groups file suit against federal agencies and then have their legal fees reimbursed under the EAJA if they win. EAJA was passed in order to help individuals, small business, and nonprofits with limited funds seek judicial recourse against the federal government. It appears to me that most of these environmental groups don’t have funding problems.

Activist groups have been filing cases under the Endangered Species Act, National Environmental Policy Act, Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act and just about any other law that would allow them to tie up resource use. The ironic part is that they are using taxpayer money to sue taxpayers. It’s kinda like an ATM for environmental activists. The Budd-Falen research showed that 14 environmental groups have filed over 1,200 cases in 19 states and have collected more that $37 million in taxpayer funds. This doesn’t include any funds received from out-of-court settlements, or cases sealed from public view, so nobody seems to know who got what.

Apparently, the recordkeeping under EAJA hasn’t been very good either since the Paperwork Reduction Act was passed in 1995. Since that time, no one has been minding the store. I suppose it’s another one of those stories about a well-intended law which has run amok in a sea of undocumented expense and limited government oversight.

The Western Legacy Alliance, a coalition of individuals and organizations that work to preserve western landscapes and lifestyles, jumped on this story a couple months ago. Many of the folks involved have felt the direct threat from several activist groups and have been bringing the issue to light. They, and others, now have the attention of several members of congress who have proposed a bill—H.R.4717—which will make the law more transparent. H.R. 4717 will force the Justice Department to reinstate reporting and tracking requirements and require them to publish all EAJA payments on a searchable public database.

Congresswoman Cynthia Lummis, R-WY, authored the bill and said, "It’s time to shine some light on the hijacking of the equal justice law by some groups and the environmental litigation industry that supports their ‘stop everything agenda.’" The bill appears to have quite a bit of support from other members of Congress.

Just to give you an idea of what’s going on, we’ll pick on our friends at the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD), perhaps the most prolific of the environmental legal activist groups. In just the past few months, they have filed suit against the state of California for approving 15 logging plans, on private property, based on greenhouse gas emissions that the state is to manage. CBD has also filed suit against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for "incompetence" over an Arizona wolf recovery plan after the agency failed to respond to an endangered species petition in the allowed time limit. CBD is also suing the Environmental Protection Agency for not analyzing the effects of pesticides on hundreds of imperiled species.

For this group, the list of lawsuits goes on and on. They file suits with reckless abandon, and this is just one outfit. There are hundreds of nonprofit groups and foundations funding this environmental assault on America.

This proposed legislation may not stop the flow of EAJA funds to these activist organizations, but it will certainly provide transparency to where the funds are going and it might even show that they aren’t qualified for funding under EAJA. After all, not all nonprofit organizations are poor. — PETE CROW

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