The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and the Public Lands Council applaud the House passage of H.R. 3279 Open Book on Equal Access to Justice Act. The legislation, sponsored by Rep. Doug Collins (R-GA), requires oversight and transparency of funds awarded under EAJA. Philip Ellis, NCBA president and Wyoming rancher, said the bill is critical to leveling the playing field between private citizens, for which the law was intended, and the vast resources of groups who repeatedly abuse the system.
“The lack of oversight and accountability has led to rampant abuse by well-funded radical environmental groups who use EAJA to advance their agendas,” said Ellis. “The simple fact that millions of dollars in taxpayer funds have been awarded, with virtually no accounting of who received the payments is unacceptable.”
EAJA was originally passed in 1980 to allow plaintiffs to recover legal fees when they prevail against the federal government in court. However, it has repeatedly been exploited by environmental activist groups which target federal-lands agencies, and ultimately the ranching families who use the lands, at the expense of the taxpayer. From 2001 to 2011, environmental activist groups, some worth in excess of $50 million, have been awarded an estimated $37 million. During the same time period, more than 3,300 cases have been filed by just 12 groups, many of which were frivolous or filed on technicalities.
“When these groups file suit, farmers and ranchers are often forced to pay crippling legal fees to fight these unfounded attacks and defend their land, business and way of life,” said Brenda Richards, PLC president and Idaho rancher. “To add insult to injury, it’s their own hard-earned money that pays the legal fees of groups seeking to take them off the land.”
The Act, as originally passed, required the Department of Justice to report to Congress where and how EAJA funds were being spent. However, in 1995, through passage of the paperwork reduction act, the reporting requirement for EAJA payments was removed. For nearly 20 years the government has not been tracking how much money has been paid out through EAJA.
H.R. 3279 restores much-needed accountability by requiring an accounting of all attorney fees spent under the Act; an annual report to Congress detailing the use of EAJA funds; and a Government Accountability Office audit of EAJA funding over the past 15 years.