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Radical Environmental Groups Extorting Federal Money with Lawsuit Threats

A federal project comes up, radical groups threaten to entangle it in litigation, the government pays them to go away. Fundraising!

by
Karen Budd Falen

Bio

September 22, 2010 - 12:00 am
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To avoid lawsuits, American tax dollars are being used to pay off radical environmental groups. The groups are using the money to threaten more lawsuits.

Research provided to the Western Legacy Alliance has documented payments of at least $4,697,978 in taxpayer dollars to 14 environmental groups in 19 states and the District of Columbia. These payments are not being made because the radical groups won a legal battle or proved that the federal government was destroying the environment. Instead, they are being made to get environmental groups to go away — supposedly, a better option than forcing these groups to prove their case in court.

And now these same radical groups are extorting millions from major corporations and local governments using the same tactics.

On July 15, 2010, it was announced that the Western Watersheds Project (WWP) and the Oregon Natural Desert Association (ONDA) extorted $22 million from El Paso Corporation to drop their legal protests of the Ruby Pipeline project. Ruby Pipeline is a 680-mile pipeline being constructed across four Western states to bring natural gas from Wyoming to Oregon. As part of the deal, El Paso did not change the route or any other aspect of the pipeline — it just paid ONDA and WWP to go away.

In another case, the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) extorted almost $1 million from Alameda County in California in exchange for dropping its protests to a city’s residential and commercial development project.

The general theme: money changes hands, development moves forward, and the taxpayers and consumers get stuck with the both the litigation bill and higher fuel, home, and other prices as corporations pass on the extortion payments to the consumer.

Under the Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA), attorneys are only supposed to be paid if they represent the prevailing parties in a lawsuit against the federal government. According to EAJA, a prevailing party must achieve a court-sanctioned change in the position of the federal agency through litigation.

Under other federal statutes with EAJA-like fee-shifting provisions whose funds come out of the Treasury Department’s Judgment Fund, attorneys’ fees are only to be paid if the attorney achieved some success in the litigation for the plaintiff. Thus, the plaintiffs had to achieve some benefit from the litigation through the courts.

All too often, however, radical environmental groups sue the federal government based on claims that the government engaged in a procedural violation of some federal statute or regulation. In just the last nine years, nine of the hundreds of radical environmental groups filed over 3500 lawsuits against the federal government. Most often, the statutes that the government is claimed to have violated are statutes that require a particular time frame, procedure, or process be followed. These statutes do not force the government to make a certain decision related to an environmental issue.

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