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Hearing of the House Natural Resources Committee - Tax-Payer Funded Lawsuits and the Endangered Species Act


Location: Washington, DC

U.S. Representative Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo) testified before the House Natural Resources Committee, Tuesday, at a hearing evaluating what role tax-payer funded lawsuits authorized under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) play in species conservation and protection. Rep. Lummis' own legislation, the Government Litigation and Savings Act (GLSA), seeks to prevent a separate but similar tax-payer funded litigation fund from being misused by agenda-driven environmental groups. The GLSA amends the Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA) to return it to its legitimate users: seniors, veterans and small businesses. Rep. Lummis released the following testimony:

"Understanding the types of litigation and the source of tax-payer funds is a critical first step to fixing any problems associated with litigation.

"Lawsuits filed pursuant to the Endangered Species Act itself are awarded fees and expenses through the Judgment Fund -- a permanently appropriated bottomless pot of money established for the purpose of paying judgments in suits against the federal government. Congress has clearly spoken about what types of litigation are appropriate under the Endangered Species Act.

"By contrast, EAJA is a social safety net program -- not an environmental one.

"Contrary to lawsuits filed pursuant to the Endangered Species Act itself, litigious environmental groups are paid through EAJA not because they have found an environmental violation, but because they dispute the paperwork or procedure by which the government reached a decision the environmental group opposed in the first place.

"In essence, these groups use EAJA as a tax-payer funded, backdoor approach to protesting agency decisions, and altering the ESA's operation without ever having to prove a violation of environmental law.

"Litigious environmental groups like to say that EAJA reimbursements are a small part of their budget. If that is true then they won't miss the subsidy when it's gone, but either way that weak argument entirely misses the point: environmental laws exist for environmentalists; EAJA is for seniors, veterans and small businesses in need.

"Because EAJA payments are supposed to come from agency budgets, every single dollar paid to support court battles over procedural grievances is a dollar not spent on actual species recovery. We have lost sight of that, and we have let litigious environmental groups exploit our lack of vigilance.

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