Western Republican lawmakers offered a bill today to tackle what they believe is abuse of a legal process that allows environmental groups to win attorneys' fees in certain cases against the government.
The bill, called the "Government Litigation Savings Act," would make changes to the way the Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA) is implemented.
Wyoming colleagues Sen. John Barrasso and Rep. Cynthia Lummis are the lead sponsors.
EAJA requires the government to pay attorneys' fees when it loses cases under statutes that do not specifically call for such fees to be paid by the government.
Republican critics say that environmental groups have taken advantage of a lack of oversight on what payments are made, filing numerous lawsuits they know they can win on procedural grounds.
"We have seen for years radical environmental groups abusing EAJA," Barrasso said.
Lummis made it clear that the legislation is aimed primarily at "deep-pocketed environmental organizations" that have used the funds to push "obstructionist political agendas."
The Center for Biological Diversity, known for its active litigation shop, was mentioned by name.
One of the group's lawyers, William Snape, described the bill as a "horrendous idea" that misses a key point: that the government is only required to pay attorneys' fees if it loses a case.
"If the government was following the law, the issue would be moot," Snape said.
Fees obtained via EAJA constitute no more than 5 percent of CBD's budget, Snape added.
The legislation has so far attracted six co-sponsors in the Senate and 15 in the House, all of whom are members of the GOP-only Congressional Western Caucus. Various recreational and industry groups have also voiced support.
The bill would restrict EAJA reimbursements for each entity to no more than three in a calendar year and would prevent payments to any group that has a net worth of more than $7 million.
The maximum payment for each case would be $200,000.
Those seeking EAJA payments would also have to show that they have a "direct and monetary interest" in the outcome of the case.
The bill would require the Administrative Conference of the United States to consolidate reports from all the relevant government agencies that make EAJA payments and set up a searchable online database. Each agency would be required to explain the reasons for each payment.
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