Casper — Attorney Karen Budd-Falen’s recent editorial, “Federal ‘Gravy Train’ Funds Environmental Litigation,” which appeared in publications across the region including the Roundup, has earned the attention of Congressional leaders. The editorial revealed just how much money environmental groups are receiving from the federally funded Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA) and the Judgment Fund.
Among them is Wyoming Congresswoman Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.). As Vice-Chairwoman of the Congressional Western Caucus, Lummis recently co-wrote an editorial on the subject with caucus chairman and Utah Congressman Rob Bishop (R-Utah). The editorial appeared in the Nov. 7, 2009 edition of the Billings Gazette.
“Without improved oversight,” says the editorial, “the blank checkbook will continue to provide billions of hard-earned tax dollars to support environmental lawyers, and advance the narrow, public lands agenda of no use. The abuse of this system is cause for great concern. A bicameral group of members of Congress has called on Attorney General Eric H. Holder and the U.S. Department of Justice to conduct a thorough review of this matter and provide suggestions to address any concerns that are identified.”
Budd-Falen revealed that over the course of the last 10 years Western Watersheds Project, a group committed to ending domestic livestock grazing on federal lands, received nearly a million dollars in reimbursed legal expenses as a result of the EAJA. Of the 44 cases drawing upon the act’s funds between 2003 and 2005, Budd-Falen says only nine payments were made to plaintiffs other than environmental groups.
As the congressional leaders point out in their editorial, “The EAJA was established by Congress to ensure individuals, small businesses or public-interest groups with limited financial resources could seek judicial redress from unreasonable government actions. Through a permanent appropriation, and without Congressional oversight, EAJA allows prevailing plaintiffs to recover attorney fees and other costs from the federal government itself.”
Based on Budd-Falen’s research, Lummis and Bishop conclude, “…it appears that many environmental groups have created a virtual litigation industry using this government-funded program to bankroll their lawsuits against the federal government.”
Budd-Falen’s editorial appeared in the Oct. 3, 2009 edition of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Jennifer Womack is staff writer for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.