Study: Barely Half of Attorney Fees in Forest Service Cases Go to Environmental Groups

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John Buse, (323) 533-4416

Study: Barely Half of Attorney Fees in Forest Service Cases Go to Environmental Groups

New Data Debunk Claim That Nonprofits Are Getting Rich From Fees Under Equal Access to Justice Act

TUSCON, AZ - A new study in the Journal of Forestry finds that barely half of attorney fee payments from cases involving the U.S. Forest Service went to environmental groups over a seven-year study period. The finding contradicts recent right-wing claims that environmental groups are getting rich under the Equal Access to Justice Act, which allows citizens, nonprofits and others to collect attorney fees when they prevail in court cases.

“It’s absurd to claim that environmental groups or anyone else are getting rich by making the government follow the law. This study gives hard evidence of that,” said John Buse, legal director at the Center for Biological Diversity.

The paper, The Equal Access to Justice Act and U.S. Forest Service Land Management: Incentives to Litigate?, was authored by M.J. Mortimer and R.W. Malmsheimer and published in the September 2011 issue of the Journal of Forestry. The researchers studied EAJA fees paid by the Forest Service between 1999 and 2005. According to the paper, the Service paid out $6,137,584 during that period, of which $3.2 million (52 percent) went to 14 environmental groups that prevailed in their cases. Other funds went to commodity groups, law firms, attorneys and individuals. The Forest Service didn’t list the recipients of about $1.5 million in fees, according to the study.

Equal Access to Justice Act fees can be awarded to qualified groups or individuals who win lawsuits challenging a government action and show that the government’s position was not “substantially justified.” Between 2002 and 2010, the Center for Biological Diversity has been awarded EAJA fees in several cases it has won, but these awards —from all sources, not just the Forest Service — account for less than half of 1 percent of the Center’s income during this period. Generally, the study indicates that the Forest Service paid on average about $32,000 per year to each of the prevailing 14 environmental groups — a tiny fraction of the total incomes reported by these groups.

“The Equal Access to Justice Act is meant to help level the playing field when individuals, small businesses and nonprofits go to court to get the government to follow the law,” Buse said. “It works: No one’s getting rich, and we have more government agencies being held accountable to the laws of the land, which helps us all.”

The authors of the study were also unable to conclude that the availability of EAJA fees has been the cause of more frequent lawsuits against the Forest Service.

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At the Center for Biological Diversity, we believe that the welfare of human beings is deeply linked to nature - to the existence in our world of a vast diversity of wild animals and plants. Because diversity has intrinsic value, and because its loss impoverishes society, we work to secure a future for all species, great and small, hovering on the brink of extinction. We do so through science, law, and creative media, with a focus on protecting the lands, waters, and climate that species need to survive.

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