WASHINGTON -- February 17 -- The U.S. Forest Service lost 44 court cases during the past two years in which the agency was found guilty of violating environmental laws by a federal court, according to an internal memo released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The rate of adverse court findings has been steadily growing with each passing year of the Bush Administration.
The list of 44 cases, covering the period 2003 and 2004 fiscal years, is limited to cases where the court found both that the Forest Service violated the law and that its position could not be substantially justified. In those instances, the agency was ordered to pay the attorney fees of the environmental group bringing the lawsuit. As a result, the Forest Service made payments to environmental groups totaling $2.2 million over the last two years.
More than once every two weeks, the Forest Service is found by a federal judge to be violating the very laws it is supposed to be enforcing, stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch. The Forest Service is becoming a rogue agency.
The agency figures point to a growing rate of court rulings against the agency, with 27 adverse rulings in FY 04 and 17 adverse rulings in FY 03. An online search of federal court decisions in cases where the Forest Service was a defendant showed 10 adverse rulings in 2002 and only 4 in 2001. The totals for prior years were even smaller with the highest total for any year back to 1994 being 3 adverse rulings.
More disturbing than the rulings is the fact that not a single Forest Service manager has been disciplined or suffered any negative career consequences for committing environmental violations, added Ruch, noting that these cases involve deliberate violations where a federal court has found that the agency acted in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. In other words, the Forest Service rewards its line managers for breaking the law a posture not that distinct from the Mafias.
The cases grow out of illegal logging operations, over-grazing violations and mining claims within national forests. Every region in the country, except the southeast, reported cases, with the most coming out of the region covering Idaho and Montana, and the region covering Oregon and Washington.
The list of 44 cases understates the extent of violations by the Forest Service in that it does not include cases that were settled by the agency in order to avoid adverse rulings. Nor does it include cases that were thrown out on technical grounds even though substantive environmental violations occurred.