Henry Lamb
Corruption, collusion, or legal thievery
By Henry Lamb
February 3, 2010

In 2008, the Forest Service issued a land use plan that environmental organizations didn't like. The Earthjustice Legal Foundation filed a lawsuit on behalf of four environmental groups. The suit took 15 months. The bill to the federal government from Earthjustice was $279,711.40. The Western Environmental Law Center filed another lawsuit challenging the same land use plan. They represented 15 environmental groups and sent the government a bill for $199,830.65. These two outfits claim that seven attorneys spent more than 930 hours (working full time, that's 116 days), at rates between $300 and $650 per hour.

That's good work if you can get it.

Think that's bad? Read on.

In September of last year, the Wildearth Guardians sued the Federal Emergency Management Agency, asking the court to prohibit FEMA from issuing flood insurance to private citizens on 52,535 structures that may lie within the range of an endangered species. The group could not sue individual land owners unless they could prove that the structure caused the death or "harm" to any endangered species. This suit is designed to block the use of privately owned land, and to collect a handsome fee from the government for doing it.

The government keeps no record of these "environmental" lawsuits. Payments, however, are made from a single budget line item called the "Judgment Fund." The Budd-Falen Law firm in Cheyenne, Wyoming has done a yeoman's job in researching payments made from this fund to environmental organizations. They include:

    2003: 10,595 payments made — Total paid: $1, 081,328,420
    2004: 8,161 payments made — Total paid: $800,450,029
    2005: 7,794 payments made — Total paid: $1,074,131,007
    2006: 8.736 Payments made — Total Paid: $697,968,132
    2007: 6,595 Payments made — Total paid: 1,062,387,142
During these five years, tax dollars have funded environmental groups to the tune of $4.7 billion dollars in attorney fees alone. Another $1.6 million was paid between 2003 and 2005 from the Equal Access to Justice Act. These funds come directly from the agency that loses the suit. This doesn't begin to include all the direct grants and contracts that are awarded to dozens of environmental groups.

A closer look at the nature of these lawsuits is also instructive. Between 2000 and 2009, the Western Watershed Project filed at least 91 lawsuits and 31 appeals. They were awarded more than $1,150,528 for such things as failing to list certain grass species as "endangered," and failure to waive photocopy fees for mass document requests.

During the same period, the Center for Biological Diversity filed at least 409 lawsuits and 165 appeals. They didn't win all the cases, of course, they just cluttered the courts and walked away with $941,332, for such things as Endangered Species Act (ESA) challenges for failure to list the killer whale, a butterfly and an earthworm as "endangered."

These lawsuits are not confined to western environmental organizations. The Sierra Club, the Wilderness Society, the Environmental Defense Fund, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and the National Wildlife Federation have filed a total of 2,034 cases. These lawsuits are often based on alleged procedural wrong doing, rather than on substance. An example of what the greens call "strategic litigation" is the petition entered by the Wildearth Guardians to list 206 species as endangered. At the same time, the Center for Biological Diversity entered a petition for 225 species to be listed as endangered. There is no earthly way the EPA can issue a finding on 431 species within the 90 days required by law.

This is another classic example of the Cloward-Pivin strategy that seeks to demolish a system by overwhelming it. In this case, it is an extremely profitable enterprise for environmental organizations.

It is way past time that Congress put an end to this corporate welfare. Many of these environmental organizations boast assets and income in multiple millions, and pay their executives salaries greater than the CEOs of most for-profit corporations. The president of the Environmental Defense Fund, for example, takes home a total of $496,000 per year. The president of the World Wildlife Fund takes home $486,000.

These organizations represent what appears to be the worst kind of corruption or collusion, but apparently, it is legal. To the people who pay the taxes, it looks a lot like legal thievery. The people who believe that environmental groups can do no wrong — are wrong; flat wrong. Environmental groups are the worst kind of corporate welfare, feeding at the government trough while doing everything possible to put brakes on economic development. These groups then have the audacity to beg for public donations, claiming to be the only salvation for the future of the planet. Hogwash!

Congress should immediately launch a thorough investigation of every environmental organization that has applied for legal fees or federal payments of any kind, to assure the tax payers that their money is not being frittered away just to line the pockets of those who run the wealthy green groups.

© Henry Lamb


The views expressed by RenewAmerica columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of RenewAmerica or its affiliates.
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