Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Congress on Western Rangelands

Jake Putnam photo

Feds Spend More Money On Legal Fees than Endangered Species: Budd-Falen

Boise--Legal eagle Karen Budd-Falen is emerging as a western superstar in the world of cowboys, the range and enviornmental lawsuits. She addressed the Congress on Western Rangelands this afternoon at the Boise Centre on the Grove to a large, appreciative audience.

Falen told the range Congress that new federal reporting requirements allow her to trace the money the feds have payed out in legal fees to environmental group lawyers. She says her findings are astounding. She told the crowd that the federal government paid enviro-groups more than $4.7 billion in taxpayer money between 2003 and 2007.

What's even more astounding is that more money was paid out in legal fees than the endangered species budget. She says legal fees averaged $940 million a year , compared to $922 million spent directly on the 986 endangered and threatened species, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s annual report.

Falen's research found that three environmental groups—Western Watersheds Council, Forest Guardians and the Center for Biological Diversity—filed more than 700 lawsuits against the U.S. government between 2000 and 2009.

“That money is not going into programs to protect people, wildlife, plants and animals,” Budd-Falen said, “but to fund more lawsuits.”

Budd-Falen says environmental groups are eligible for government funds under the Equal Access to Justice Act, which pays attorney fees to “prevailing parties” in cases against the government. Firms can also get government funds through the Judgment Fund, which is a line-item appropriation in the federal budget used for paying claims against the government.

Budd-Falen told the group that she is now able to track fees paid to these enviro groups in federal court. "These guys are charging between $350 and $450 an hour in legal fees.” Falen says her defense fees are a fraction of that while her clients struggle to pay their bills.

Budd-Falen went on to say that in one 15-month-long case that Earthjustice Legal Foundation and the Western Environmental Law Center filed for $479,242 in attorneys’ fees.

The Wyoming lawyer-rancher says the only way to stop this legal gravy train is to urge congress to cap legal fees. She says a Wyoming Congressmen is looking into the issue but says its all about money. “Why would you stop filing litigation when you can get that kind of money? They are not filing these suits to try and protect the environment. They are filing these suits to make money.”

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