Red Squirrels and Green Dollars

The Mount Graham red squirrel is in the news again because environmental groups are suing the feds, again, alleging the telescope complex atop Mount Graham is endangering the squirrels. The Arizona Daily Star has two stories on this subject today (here and here). Fellow blogger Hugh Holub also discusses this issue and points out that the squirrel’s range might not be as restricted as alleged. [update note: this blog was lost when the Tucson Citizen site was discontinued.]

Rather than argue about squirrels and their habitat, today I will point out a practice the environmental groups use to enrich themselves with taxpayer money.

“Essentially, these environmental groups are being paid to sue the federal government,” said Wyoming attorney Karen Budd-Falen. “They file hundreds of lawsuits, and rather than fight the suits, the government often settles the case, agreeing to pay attorneys fees in the settlement.”

By law, the feds must respond to the lawsuits within 90 days, but the often overworked Fish & Wildlife Service just can’t get to them in time. Hence the payout. And even if the suits go to court, the environmentalist’s lawyers get paid whether they win or lose.

In an opinion piece in a Wyoming newspaper, Budd-Falen explains how environmental groups have scammed taxpayers our of nearly $5 billion.

Environmental litigation gravy train

Opinion piece by Karen Budd-Falen, Budd-Falen Law Offices

September 16, 2009

Consider these facts:

• Between 2000 and 2009, Western Watersheds Project (“WWP”) filed at least 91 lawsuits in the federal district courts and at least 31 appeals in the federal appellate courts;

• Between 2000 and 2009, Forest Guardians (now known as WildEarth Guardians) filed at least 180 lawsuits in the federal district courts and at least 61 appeals in the federal appellate courts;

• Between 2000 and 2009, Center for Biological Diversity (“CBD”) filed at least 409 lawsuits in the federal district courts and at least 165 appeals in the federal appellate courts.

• In addition, over the last 15 years, the Wilderness Society has filed 149 federal court lawsuits, the Idaho Conservation League has filed 69 federal court lawsuits, the Oregon Natural Desert Association has filed 58 lawsuits, the Southern Utah Wilderness Association has filed 88 lawsuits and the National Wildlife Federation has filed 427 lawsuits.

• In total, the eight environmental groups listed above have filed at least 1596 federal court cases against the federal government.

• Every one of the groups listed above are tax exempt, non-profit organizations. Every one of those groups listed above receives attorney fees for suing the federal government from the federal government.

• These statistics do not include cases filed in the administrative courts, such as BLM administrative permit appeals before the Office of Hearings and Appeals or Forest Service administrative appeals. These statistics only include federal district court cases.

On the other end, these same environmental groups are receiving billions of federal tax payer dollars in attorney fees for settling or “winning” cases against the federal government. Accurate statistics have not been kept by the Justice Department or the federal agencies, thus there is no accounting for the total amount of tax dollars paid, however, we were able to uncover these facts:

There are two major sources for attorney fees that can be paid to plaintiffs that “prevail” in litigation either by winning a case on the merits or by the Justice Department agreeing that the group “prevailed” in a settlement by achieving the purpose of the litigation. One source of funding is called the “Judgment Fund.” The Judgment Fund is a Congressional line-item appropriation and is used for Endangered Species Act cases, Clean Water Act cases, and with other statutes that directly allow a plaintiff to recover attorney fees. There is no central data base for tracking the payment of these fees, thus neither the taxpayers, members of Congress nor the federal government knows the total amount of taxpayer dollars spent from the Judgment Fund on individual cases. The only information regarding these fees that is available is:

• In fiscal year 2003, the federal government made 10,595 individual payments from the Judgment Fund to federal court plaintiffs for a price tag of $1,081,328,420.

• In 2004, the federal government made 8,161 payments from the Judgment Fund for $800,450,029.

• In 2005, 7,794 payments were made from the Judgment Fund for a total of $1,074,131,007.

• In 2006, the federal government made 8,736 payments from the Judgment Fund for $697,968,132.

• In only the first half of fiscal year 2007, the federal government made 6,595 payments from the Judgment Fund for $1,062,387,142.

• In total, $4,716,264,730.00 (that is billion with a “b”) in total payments were paid in taxpayer dollars from the Judgment Fund from 2003 through July 2007 for attorney fees and costs in cases against the federal government.

The second major source of payments to “winning” litigants against the federal government is the Equal Access to Justice Act (“EAJA”). EAJA funds are taken from the “losing” federal agencies’ budget. Thus, for example, the attorneys fees paid under EAJA come from the “losing” BLM office’s budget. That is money that could be used for range monitoring, NEPA compliance, timber projects, archeology and cultural clearances and other agency programs. Within the federal government, there is no central data system or tracking of these payments from the agency’s budgets. The only statistics we were able to compile are as follows:

• Between 2003 to 2005, Region 1 of the Forest Service (Montana, North Dakota, northern Idaho) paid $383,094 in EAJA fees.

• Between 2003 to 2005, Region 2 of the Forest Service (Wyoming, South Dakota, Colorado, Nebraska, Oklahoma) paid $97,750 in EAJA fees.

• Between 2003 to 2005, Region 3 of the Forest Service (Arizona, New Mexico) paid $261,289.85 in EAJA fees.

• Between 2003 to 2005, Region 4 of the Forest Service (southern Idaho, Utah, Nevada) paid $297,705 in EAJA fees.

• Between 2003 to 2005, Region 5 (California) of the Forest Service paid $357, 023 in EAJA fees.

• Between 2003 to 2005, Region 6 (Washington state, Oregon) of the Forest Service paid $282,302 in EAJA fees.

• Out of the 44 total cases in which the Forest Service paid EAJA fees between 2003 and 2005, nine plaintiffs were NOT environmental groups and 35 payments went to environmental group plaintiffs.

We also tried to track the fees paid to environmental groups in certain federal courts. For example, in the Federal District Court for the District of Idaho, over the last 10 years, WWP received a total of $999,190 in tax dollars for “reimbursement” for attorney fees and costs. Of the total cases filed by WWP in the Federal Court in Idaho, 19 were before Judge Winmill; eight of those cases resulted in a decision on the merits with WWP prevailing and with the total attorney fees being awarded of $746,184; six of the cases were settled by the federal government with a total attorney fees still being awarded of $118,000. WWP won one case but attorney fees were not paid. WWP lost six cases. There were two cases in which the documents indicated that the federal government agreed to pay attorney fees, but the payment amount was kept confidential from the public.

In my opinion, there are a lot of things wrong with this picture. The federal government is spending billions in tax payer dollars without any accounting of where the money is going or to whom it is going. There is no oversight in spending this money, especially the money that is coming out of agency budgets that should be funding on the ground programs to protect public lands, national forests, ranchers, recreationists, wildlife and other land uses.

Nonprofit, tax exempt groups are making billions of dollars in funding; the majority of that funding is not going into programs to protect people, wildlife, plants, and animals, but to fund more law suits. Ranchers and other citizens are being forced to expend millions of their own money to intervene or participate in these lawsuits to protect their way of life when they have no chance of the same attorney fee recovery if they prevail. In fact, they are paying for both sides of the case–for their defense of their ranch and for the attorney fees environmental groups receive to sue the federal government to get them off their land. There are also numerous cases where the federal government agrees to pay attorney fees, but the amount paid is hidden from public view. This has to stop and the government has to be held accountable for the money it’s spending. (Source )

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29 comments

  1. Right on!

     One of the best examples of bias in the media…especially locally… is you will never see the Arizona Daily Star dig into how many petitions for an endangered species or habitat conservation plan that has been filed by groups like Center for Biological Diversity or Western Watershed Project….and how much taxpayer money they have gotten. Nor will you see a story in the Star  that has federal agency officials talking about being buried in the litigation and having no money left to do any science. Nor will you see a story about how many initial decisions forced by radical groups have subsequently been overturned because the science argued by radical groups was bogus. 

    The amount of taxpayer money being soaked up in this process will be another reason Congress is going to end up taking a real serious look at the Endangered Species Act, and removing the abuse and legal fee racket from it.

    1. Hugh:  I hope y0u’re right!  Eisenhower certainly was when he warned against federal funding of the sciences.  Now we are dealing with politics, parading as “science,” just as he warned.  The ESA is a prime example. This article describes how it has happened and why we need to change course.  Karen Budd-Falen, and what she has to say, deserves our (the US taxpayer’s and independent scientists’) full attention.  Dr. Bob Zybach, PhD. (Environmental Sciences, Oregon State University).

  2. I guess another alternative for environmental groups would be to go the corporate route and buy lawmakers instead of lawyers.   Sadly, environmental groups don’t always have the economic resources required to bend things to their will the way that business interests do.   

    The possibility exists in the future that the government could be made responsive to citizens as well as to the wealthy and powerful by means other than the lawsuit.  In the meantime, however, as much as I hate the idea of enriching lawyers, I’m afraid it must go on.

    1. The communists gave us the arrogance we used to hang the Democrats with this past November.  (Electorally, of course…not actually).  I see that Leftfield is still in a giving mood.  Ah, 2012…

      the attorneys fees paid under EAJA come from the “losing” BLM office’s budget. That is money that could be used for range monitoring, NEPA compliance, timber projects, archeology and cultural clearances and other agency programs.

      Nonprofit, tax exempt groups are making billions of dollars in funding; the majority of that funding is not going into programs to protect people, wildlife, plants, and animals, but to fund more law suits.

      Sounds like a great topic for some House committee hearings.

      1. BTW, thanks to Leftfield for using pictures of failed Communist notables on his blog comments.  Many people don’t remember what these fools looked like, because their statues and portraits were destroyed all over the world—-especially in Eastern Europe—once people achieved freedom and had the chance to show their true feelings toward Leftfield’s heroes.

        I’m still waiting for that revolution you keep promising, Left…do you have a date yet?  I want to put a reminder note in my PDA.

      2. Well, if you want to see Brother Leon’s house in Mexico City, it is still there.  Don’t bother to read anything he has written though (not that I think you would anyway).  It is very good stuff from a real thinker, but far too involved for a beginner. 

        To wit:

        Let us note in justice that the most sincere and at the same time the most limited petty bourgeois moralists still live even today in the idealized memories of yesterday and hope for its return. They do not understand that morality is a function of the class struggle; that democratic morality corresponds to the epoch of liberal and progressive capitalism; that the sharpening of the class struggle in passing through its latest phase definitively and irrevocably destroyed this morality; that in its place came the morality of fascism on one side, on the other the morality of proletarian revolution.

        To help you out a little, the part about the morality of facsim; that’s you.  The part about the morality of proletarian revolution; them’s the good guys.

      3. A Xmas message from your Brother Leon:For forty-three years of my conscious life I have remained a revolutionist; for forty-two of them I have fought under the banner of Marxism. If I had to begin all over again I would of course try to avoid this or that mistake, but the main course of my life would remain unchanged. I shall die a proletarian revolutionist, a Marxist, a dialectical materialist, and, consequently, an irreconcilable atheist. My faith in the communist future of mankind is not less ardent, indeed it is firmer today, than it was in the days of my youth.

        And my faith remains, too.

  3. Here is some information you likely would see in a similar piece in the MSM:

    We represent industry clients in BLM and Forest Service appeals. We also represent clients in litigation arising under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), the Federal Lands Policy and Management Act (FLPMA), the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the Clean Water Act (CWA) and other environmental statutes. We represent property owners in land use and zoning issues and in preparing wind leases.

    Here are some of our clients:
    Coalition of Arizona and New Mexico Counties for Stable Economic Growth
    New Mexico Cattle Growers Association
    Private Property Owners in Zoning and Land Use Cases

    This information came from the Bud-Fallen Law Firm website. 

    1. At least Budd-Falen’s clients pay for their legal services with their money, instead of ours (the taxpayers).

      To what extent is the information Ms. Budd-Falen cites above incorrect? 

      1. At least Budd-Falen’s clients pay for their legal services with their money, instead of ours (the taxpayers).

        That is my point, too.  She is a shill for corporate/landowner interests, which are incompatible with justice and/or environmental welfare.  Now, the interesting conflict/contradiction comes into play here (which from your study of dialectics I’m sure you foresaw as inevitable): it’s not really their money at all.  It is money stolen from the worker.  Come on, Don, you haven’t forgotten the law of surplus value, have you?  Surely you remember that wealth only comes from labor, never from capital.

  4. At least Budd-Falen’s clients pay for their legal services with their money, instead of ours (the taxpayers).

    I think it telling that you bring this up, Don.  It points out that in your idealized world, only the wealthy have access to the legal system.

  5. If environmental groups are, in fact, using the resources available to them to fight our common enemy, then bully for them.  Sadly though, I suspect they do not perceive their opponent as an implacable enemy bent on their destruction, removing all impediment to the interests of capital. 

    I do appreciate the highlight given to the lawsuit as a means of struggle.  In these times, it could be an even more effective way of sabotage than previously known. 

  6. I would very much appreciate a coherent response to Mr. Leftfield’s original claim that a lack of “economic resources” preclude environmentalists from participating in the traditional policy-making process.  This is a compelling argument — made all the more relevant, I think, because of the recession — that so far has not been addressed by Don, Mr. Holub or the author, Mr. DuHamel.
    So… what of the American privilege imbalance?  What of elite money interests buying our democracy?!
     

    1. Communist theory was summed up by Karl Marx: “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.” This presupposed that an idea communist society would produce enough goods and services produced to satisfy everyone’s need. History shows, however, that this assumption fails in practice precisely because, the laborers that Leftfield cherishes so, realized that they do not receive the full fruits and reward of their labor. The workers are still ruled by an elite class that decides how much everyone needs, and the elites seem to need more than anyone.

      1. This is no response to the question asked, just a condemnation of communism based on conflating bureacratic Stalinism with communism.  The question asked was not about communism, but specifically about the relationship between money, power and influence in America. 

    2. Mr. Shane-Armstrong, if you wish to swallow Leftfield’s assertion about the poverty of the environmental movement hook, line and sinker, you are free to do so. 

      What makes Leftfield’s argument, in your words, “compelling?”  More to the point, what makes it right?

      1. Mr. Shane-Armstrong:  you and I will both be an awful lot older before you will ever get an answer to your question from these two. 

  7. The workers are still ruled by an elite class that decides how much everyone needs, and the elites seem to need more than anyone.

    It sounds like you are using this phrase to describe the current state of capitalism, while at the same time saying this is the best of all possible arrangements. 

  8. In all seriousness now, there is clearly a struggle going on between environmentalists and those whose economic interests lie in exploiting natural resources.  The outcome of this struggle has serious consequences.  Ms Bud-Fallen is clearly on one side of this struggle and uses what tools she has available to her.  I hope the people on the other side of the struggle do not allow their opponents to decide what tactics and tools are morally acceptable.

  9. Enviro groups “poor”  LOL

    One of Sierra Clubs major benefactors is David Gelbaum,  he has donated over 100 million dollars to their cause…….and oddly enough the Sierra Club now has to ignore the enviromental destruction caused by illegal aliens….

    In 2001, Gelbaum gave the Sierra Club a $101.5 million donation; although their Carl Pope said it didn’t affect their advocacy, Gelbaum admitted thos: “I did tell Carl Pope in 1994 or 1995 that if they ever came out anti-immigration, they would never get a dollar from me…”

    1. …now has to ignore the enviromental destruction caused by illegal aliens….

      There’s an easy way to fix this: just stop forcing them to walk through the desert.  In the meantime, you could always volunteer to pick up some of the trash.  Tell ’em “Lefty” sent you.

      1. Haha…  I have filed upmteen trucks loads my lil’ Lefty friend.

        And the wall will serve to both funnel them into managable areas and slow the flow to a trickle.   But thanks for holding the enviroment hostage for your agenda.

      2. Haha…  I have filed upmteen trucks loads my lil’ Lefty friend.

        Good for you.  It’s a productive thing to do.

        But thanks for holding the enviroment hostage for your agenda.

        Not within my power.

  10. While some enviro groups struggle along with just a few hundred thousand per year, the majors are a different story, you can check their 990 forms filed with the IRS.
    For instance, in 2009 The Nature Conservancy had revenue of $856 million and assets of $4.6 billion.
    Our local Center for Biological diversity had revenue of $7.3 million and assets of $8.1 million.

  11. The practice of enviro groups filing hundreds of lawsuits just games the system. It does nothing for the environment nor the species they allege concern about. It also makes the feds take time away from devising and implementing recovery plans.

  12. For instance, in 2009 The Nature Conservancy had revenue of $856 million and assets of $4.6 billion.

    Gee, almost enough to fund the war machine for a week.  Where’s the priorities? 

    Personally, I like The Nature Conservancy’s approach: buy the land and forever keep it out of reach. 

    1. “Personally, I like The Nature Conservancy’s approach: buy the land and forever keep it out of reach. “

      Unfotunately due to the Kelo decision where the LIBERAL justices decided it is OK to take your property and give it to CORPORATIONS to further economic growth,   you should picture what a Wal Mart is going to look like at some point on the NC property.

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