Wednesday, June 28, 2017
Excessive Litigation Diverts Interior from Core Mission, Congressional Mandates
Washington, D.C.– Today, the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations held a hearing examining how excessive litigation is draining taxpayer resources and preventing the Department of the Interior (DOI) from fulfilling its core statutory functions and responsibilities.
“Special interests repeatedly exploit our legal system to further their own agendas and sidestep the legislative and regulatory processes,” Vice Chairman Mike Johnson (R-LA) said.
Mark Barron, an attorney focused on natural resources litigation and environmental law, testified to the frequency with which special interest groups abuse both administrative and legal appeal processes to prevent DOI from fulfilling those requirements.
“These lawsuits divert already limited resources away from the core functions of the agency, [but] they also have significant implications for energy producers and the communities in which the producers operate,” Barron stated. “Oil and gas producers are unable to rely on statutorily prescribed timelines when planning projects and committing investment capital. Projects instead are held in limbo for indeterminate amounts of time until BLM can commit the necessary personnel and resources required to perform essential functions.”
The Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA) is a decades-old law designed to allow individuals with limited resources to sue the government on a level playing field. However, in practice, EAJA has been consistently exploited by national special interest groups to delay and encumber all types of government actions and reap taxpayer-financed attorney fees, regardless of the outcome.
“EAJA is a taxpayer funded meal ticket for environmental groups to collect attorney’s fees at enhanced rates,” Executive Director of the Western Resources Legal Center Caroline Lobdell claimed. “[It] is an incentive to sue the Department of Interior and other agencies and is a funding source for expansion of the staff and offices of groups that want to halt environmentally and economically beneficial natural resource projects.”
“Originally intended to ease the burden on individuals and small businesses that contest government actions, activist groups now leverage [litigation] as a weapon to paralyze agency actions, finance endless lawsuits, and drain taxpayer dollars away from important programs,” Rep Johnson added.
Many of the groups taking advantage of EAJA already boast multi-million dollar budgets and use their activism to raise even more money at taxpayers’ expense.
“[T]hey offer a fundraising request every time that there is a lawsuit filed,” Barron said. “It has been prevalent in the media that [these groups] intend to challenge every approval, every permit processing, every implementation of environmental policy under the new administration.”
“If one lawsuit does not succeed, there’s another outfit right around the corner to bring a similar one,” Lobdell added.
Click here to view full witness testimony.