Hearing Focuses on Reform Legislation

House subcommittee hears testimony on Government Savings Litigation Act.

Published on: Oct 13, 2011

Organizations representing livestock producers told the U.S. House Committee on the Judiciary's Subcommittee on Courts, Commercial and Administrative Law that H.R. 1966, the Government Savings Litigation Act, will bring transparency and accountability to the Equal Access to Justice Act. EAJA allows plaintiffs to recover attorney fees and other expenses from the federal government when they prevail in a case against the government.

During the hearing, Dustin Van Liew, Public Lands Council executive director and director of federal lands for the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, said environmental extremist groups have made a hobby of suing the federal government on minor process-related decisions. Wyoming attorney Karen Budd Falen estimates that over the past decade, 12 environmental groups alone have filed more than 3,300 lawsuits, recovering more than $37 million in EAJA funds.

Specifically, H.R. 1966 would prohibit non-profit organizations with a net worth exceeding 7-million dollars from filing for EAJA funds; require that EAJA filers show a "direct and personal monetary interest" in the action to be eligible for payment; and cap the attorney fees environmental activists claim to be owed. Van Liew said the legislation does not affect the ability of individual citizens and small businesses to utilize EAJA when defending themselves against the federal government.

Jeffrey Axelrad, a professor at the George Washington University Law School and a former attorney at the Department of Justice, supports the bill, as does America's oldest conservation group, the Boone and Crockett Club.

"We are concerned, and our research supports this concern, that the unlimited availability of EAJA fees to interest groups has particularly degraded the effectiveness of land management, wildlife, and environmental agencies," said Boone and Crockett Club President Emeritus Lowell Baier.

Another witness that testified during the hearing was Idaho cattle rancher Jennifer Ellis who says the EAJA has become a mechanism by which some special interest groups have been able to force and fund the implementation of their political and social agendas with regards to environmental, natural resource and public land management.