Western lawmakers introduced legislation aimed at reducing environmental litigation by limiting the ability of plaintiffs to recover taxpayer-funded attorneys’ fees. The legislation, offered by Rep. Lummis, R-Wyo., and Sen. Barrasso, R-Wyo., would overhaul the Equal Access to Justice Act -- a 1980 law that allows plaintiffs to recover attorney’s fees when they successfully sue the federal government.
Sen. Barrasso contended that by letting environmental groups recover fees for legal challenges against energy projects and other uses of public land they oppose, the law effectively “pays outside groups to repeatedly sue our federal government.”
The legislation, which is supported by a coalition of more than 85 industry and recreational groups, would amend the law to limit the recovery of attorneys’ fees by non-profit groups with a net worth of more than $7 million. Lummis said the change would end the ability of “giant environmental groups with litigation shops” to recover fees.
The bill also would require plaintiffs to have a “direct and personal monetary interest” in the matter being litigated, which would limit parties without a direct commercial link to the litigation from qualifying for the fees. Lummis said the provision, which reflects language included in the House-passed version of the original bill, would allow for veterans, social security claimants and other plaintiffs the law was “designed” for to continue to employ it. The measure would require judges to reduce attorneys’ fees if parties acted in a “dilatory” manner, or in bad faith. It also would cap the total number and amount of awards an entity may be awarded, the hourly rate of attorneys, and the number of applications an entity can seek in a single year.