Attorney's Fees and Costs To Be Made Available to the American People Thanks To Interior Action 

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Washington, May 16, 2019 | Emilio Navarrete | comments
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Members of the Western Caucus released statements applauding the Department of the Interior’s action to increase transparency and accountability in attorney’s fees and costs.
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For Immediate Release

Date: May 15, 2019

Contact: Emilio Navarrete

Emilio.Navarrete@mail.house.gov



 Attorney's Fees and Costs Finally To Be Made Available to the American People Thanks To Interior Action 



WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Members of the Western Caucus released statements applauding the Department of the Interior’s action to increase transparency and accountability in attorney’s fees and costs by requiring important information be published on a publicly available website:

Chairman Paul Gosar (AZ-04): "For years, extremist organizations filing frivolous litigation have milked taxpayers for tens of millions of dollars. Federal agencies didn’t even track EAJA payments for more than two decades and could not provide Congress with amounts or even the names of parties that were receiving taxpayer-funded payouts. Environmentalist groups consistently abused this broken system as a way to generate revenue for their misguided priorities and organizations. I applaud the Trump Administration, in particular, Secretary Bernhardt, Acting Deputy Secretary MacGregor and Principal Deputy Solicitor Jorjani for their leadership and taking action to reform this broken process. DOI’s directives will prevent sue-and-settle abuse and bring much needed accountability in relation to consent decrees and settlement payments. At minimum, the American people have a right to know the amount of attorney’s fees and costs paid out by the federal government and who these payments are being received by."

Senate Western Caucus Chairman Steve Daines (MT): "For too long, our public lands, wildlife and natural resources have been managed by the court room and in the dark. I applaud this action by the Department of the Interior to bring transparency to these activities and look forward to continuing to work together to promote western priorities."

House Natural Resources Republican Leader Rob Bishop (UT-01): "For too long, many so-called environmentalist groups have treated the taxpayer’s money like an open piggy bank. Behind the guise of conservation, bogus lawsuits have been filed for years and the taxpayer has been picking up the tab. This wise move by the Department of the Interior builds upon the successes included in the Natural Resources Management Act which requires tracking and disclosure of attorney fees paid out from environmental lawsuits.  It’s time now for daylight to shine on the patterns of abuse by faceless parasites. My thanks to Secretary David Bernhardt, Acting Deputy Secretary Kate MacGregor and Principal Deputy Solicitor Daniel Jorjani."

House Republican Conference Chair Liz Cheney (WY-At Large):  "The memo issued by the Department of the Interior builds upon the Open Book on Equal Access to Justice Act, which I was proud to cosponsor and saw signed into law earlier this year. The Equal Access to Justice Act was originally intended to help every day citizens seek justice, but instead has become a slush fund for serial litigators at the expense of taxpayers. This action by the Department of the Interior will bring the necessary transparency and oversight that lawsuits and settlements at the Department have lacked, while still affording citizens, organizations, and other affected parties the same right to financial awards in a prevailing lawsuit. The American people have a right to know how their hard-earned money is spent, and this action by the Department does just that." 

Chief Rules Officer Dan Newhouse (WA-04): "For years, our nation’s public lands—particularly in the West—have been held captive by misguided interest groups. Instead of managing these lands, our federal agencies spend an inordinate amount of time and resources defending litigation at the expense of taxpayers. I applaud the Department of Interior for shedding light on this costly practice and increasing transparency for all Americans."

Chief Infrastructure and Forestry Officer Bruce Westerman (AR-04): "Unnecessary, frivolous litigation is impeding everything from wildfire prevention to infrastructure development. Moreover, it costs American taxpayers millions of dollars annually to defend our own progress from these suits. I believe we should make every effort to reduce red tape and streamline bureaucratic processes, so this Memorandum by Principal Deputy Solicitor Jorjani is welcome news. Further, I just reintroduced the Resilient Federal Forests Act, a bipartisan bill which shields some of the most needed wildfire protection measures from this unnecessary litigation. Combined with the continued efforts from the Trump administration, I hope that my bill can reduce the threat of catastrophic wildfire."

Chief Defense and Interior Officer Chris Stewart (UT-02): "Interest groups have been stalling and killing land management improvements through systematically filing lawsuits – lawsuits that are funded on both sides by taxpayers. If American taxpayers are going to be forced to pay to defend federal agency decisions and also reimburse the interest groups bringing the suits, the very least we can do is be transparent about how much this insanity is costing them. I applaud this administration for disclosing to the public how much money interest groups are making by being in the business of impeding multiple use land management."

Chief Regulatory Reform Officer Andy Biggs (AZ-05): "Radical environmentalist groups too frequently sue-and-settle under the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Endangered Species Act to fill up their coffers.  Arizonans have been tremendously hurt by these legal abuses, and I applaud President Trump and his administration for championing this transparency reform."

Rep. Greg Gianforte (MT-At Large): "I welcome the Department of the Interior’s efforts to end sue-and-settle practices and bring transparency to the taxpayer-funded fees paid to trial lawyers under the Equal Access to Justice Act. This move helps hold the federal government accountable and builds upon the Open Book on Equal Access to Justice Act, a part of the public lands package signed into law in March. We must ensure that frivolous lawsuits from serial litigants aren’t constantly blocking public lands management."

Rep. Russ Fulcher (ID-01): "In Idaho, hundreds of thousands of acres of timber burn every year-- decimating wildlife and pumping tons of carbon into the atmosphere. Ironically, many of those responsible for legal action that prevents proper forest management, call themselves 'environmentalists.' Our environment doesn’t need those kinds of 'environmentalists.' I look forward to seeing who we can thank for some of our wildfires."

Rep. Jason Smith (MO-08): "Using hard-earned taxpayer dollars to pay attorney fees for frivolous lawsuits behind closed doors is an insult to taxpayers everywhere and a massive waste of valuable resources. Radical environmental groups use this loophole to profit off of taxpayers, and I am proud that the Republican-led House passed my legislation to end this practice last year. I applaud the Department of the Interior for taking a step in the right direction to increase transparency, because at the very minimum taxpayers deserve to know how their money is being spent. When more of the American people realize attorneys are profiting off of their tax dollars, we’ll be one step closer to ending ‘sue and settle’ practices entirely."

Background:

Principal Deputy Solicitor of the Department of the Interior (DOI) Daniel Jorjani recently issued an important Department-wide Memorandum requiring the creation of a publicly accessible litigation webpage that will track and disclose important information in relation to attorney’s fees and costs paid as a result of consent decrees and settlement payments entered into on behalf of the Department of the Interior.
Specifically, the Memorandum directs the Associate Solicitor for the Administration to work with the Office of the Chief Information Officer to create within 30 days, update and maintain a section of the Office of the Solicitor Litigation webpage entitled "Attorney’s Fees" that specifically includes the following information:
  • The case name and citation (including a link to the complaint or amended complaint) to all litigation in which attorney's fees and costs are paid from any source, including money paid pursuant to the Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA) or from the Judgement Fund;
  • The total amount of attorney’s fees and costs paid (including all payment of interim costs and fees;
  • The name of the party(ies) to whom the payment is made.
To view the Memorandum, click HERE

The memorandum does not apply to attorney’s fees paid pursuant to personal matters, tort claims or contract disputes, including but not limited to, bid protests or to de minimis fees or cost payments of less than $10,000.

The Memorandum is consistent with the goals of Secretarial Order 3368 issued in September of 2018 which directed the Solicitor to take a number of steps to inform the American people of Department litigation costs associated with settlement agreements and consent decrees.

In March of 2019, S. 47, the Natural Resources Management Act, was signed into law. This lands package included H.R. 752, the Open Book on Equal Access to Justice Act, a bill which requires tracking and disclosure of attorney fees paid out from environmental lawsuits in an online, searchable database. Prior to 1995, EAJA payments were approximately $3 million dollars annually.  Unfortunately, EAJA operated in the dark for more than 20 years and payments skyrocketed.  At one point, the Government Accountability Office confirmed that we did not even know the totality of these costs as most federal agencies didn’t even bother trying to compile this information. 

Ryan Yates of the American Farm Bureau Federation testified that although EAJA has a "fixed hourly rate of $125" this cap is often waived as "courts uniformly recognize that environmental law requires "special skill.'" Shockingly, special-interest lawyers have been allowed to bill federal agencies for exorbitant rates as high as $750 an hour as a result.

Yates also testified, "Only recently has the Judgment Fund begun posting information regarding how much money it pays out each year, including attorneys’ fees. This is a first step, and has provided important information—including, for example, that in fiscal year 2016 alone the Judgment Fund paid out over $3.8 million in attorneys’ fees just for environmental litigation." 

A Daily Caller News Foundation investigation revealed "federal agencies paid out $49 million for 512 citizen suits filed under three major environmental laws during the Obama Administration." Marita Noon reported, "Over a three-year period, 2009-2012…American taxpayers footed the bill for more than $53 million in so-called environmental groups' legal fees—and the actual number could be much higher." The Washington Examiner reported in February that the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) had already sued the Trump Administration more than 100 times. CBD has been awarded attorney's fees despite having nearly $20 million in net assets.
 


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