On Wednesday, U.S. Representative Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.), vice chairman of the Congressional Western Caucus, and Senator John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), chairman of the Senate Western Caucus jointly introduced the Government Litigation Savings Act, legislation that they say prevents abuse of the Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA) by large environmental groups and others who frequently challenge the federal government in court.
The legislation has the backing of 37 livestock-related groups, who sent a letter of strong support to Lummis just prior to the act’s introduction.
“Farmers and ranchers pay to defend themselves against these frivolous lawsuits and at the same time their tax dollars are paying the attorney fees for the environmental activists attacking them. In what world can this be construed as being right and just? Rep. Lummis’ and Senator Barrasso’s legislation will finally shed light onto these abuses and reform EAJA,” says Public Lands Council President John Falen.
The legislators say the act, authored by Lummis, will reduce the taxpayer’s burden to pay for attorney’s fees. The legislation is designed to return EAJA to its original intent by instituting targeted reforms on who is eligible to receive EAJA reimbursements, limiting repeated lawsuits, and reinstating tracking and reporting requirements to make EAJA more transparent. Under the act, veterans, social security claimants, individuals and small businesses will still obtain full access to EAJA funds.
For example, the act would:
- Prohibit organizations with a net worth that exceeds $7 million from filing for EAJA funds.
- Require that EAJA filers show a “direct and personal monetary interest” in the action to be eligible for payment.
- Cap attorney fees.
- Limit the number of annual reimbursements and amount a filer may receive.
According to information from Sen. Barrasso’s office, EAJA was passed as a permanent appropriation in 1980 in order to help individuals, small businesses and non-profit organizations with limited access to financial resources defend themselves against harmful government actions. EAJA allows for the reimbursement of attorney’s fees and costs associated with suing the federal government. When operating correctly, EAJA allows plaintiffs who sue the federal government to recover part of their attorney’s fees and costs if they “prevail” in the case.
Congress and the agencies halted tracking and reporting of payments made through EAJA in 1995.
Barrasso’s office also says that, according to research by a Wyoming law firm, 14 environmental groups have brought over 1,200 federal cases in 19 states and the District of Columbia, and have collected over $37 million in taxpayer dollars through EAJA or other similar laws. Those numbers do not include settlements, and fees sealed from public view. An independent study from Virginia Tech University discovered similar findings as a result of a comprehensive Freedom of Information Act request of five Federal agencies. The Virginia Tech study also revealed that two of these agencies could provide absolutely no data on EAJA payments.
“When the government stopped tracking EAJA payments in 1995, it was a dream come true for radical environmental groups,” Lummis said in a statement.” Lack of oversight has fueled the fire for these groups to grind the work of land management and other federal agencies to a halt — and it does so on the taxpayer’s dime. Americans have unwittingly funded these obstructionist political agendas for far too long at the expense of individuals, small businesses, energy producers, farmers and ranchers who must pay out of their own pocket to defend the federal government against relentless litigation. This common-sense legislation would help restore integrity to EAJA and return the program to the original intent of Congress.”