Feds Hiding Lawsuit Payoffs Made to Environmental Groups

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By Michael McGrady

Since 2009 more than $49 million has been paid by federal agencies to environmental groups and lawyers engaged in “citizen lawsuits” against the Obama administration, with the identities of the recipients of the payouts being kept secret.

A recent analysis conducted by The Daily Caller shows since 2009, more than $49 million has been paid by federal agencies to environmental groups that have engaged in “citizen lawsuits” against the Obama administration.

About $25 million went to lawyers and firms whose names have been redacted from publicly available records.

Many of the lawsuits examined also resulted in federal agencies expanding environmental regulations through “sue-and-settle” agreements. Sue-and-settle is an increasingly common strategy used by environmental groups. Groups that use sue-and-settle file a lawsuit against the federal government for allegedly not enforcing environmental rules or not issuing regulations as quickly as they should be under certain statutes. Rather than fighting many of these claims, agencies have settled the lawsuits, resulting in new rules being enacted without consultation from the states and without public input, which are required by federal law.

Lack of Transparency

The names of most of the lawyers and firms involved in the environmental litigation were either redacted or not named in the settlements made from 2009 through 2015.

The Department of Treasury maintains a Judgement Fund to pay court judgements and settlements of lawsuits against the federal government. Records in the Judgement Fund databases should identify the parties to the lawsuits and their attorneys. According to The Daily Caller analysis, more than half, 57 percent, of the plaintiffs’ lawyers in the citizen lawsuits are unnamed in the records. Only 24 percent of the law firms are named, 16.6 percent of the employers of the lawyers remain “unclear,” and 2.3 percent of the names of plaintiffs listed in the lawsuits are partially redacted.

“The bureaucracy isn’t interested in transparency here, because it doesn’t want the public to know what is going on,” said Amy Ridenour, chairman of the National Center for Public Policy Research. “Congress should smack down the secrecy by mandating disclosure of all settled suits and all payouts, to the smallest detail.

“These are lawsuits about public policy, not personal matters, so there’s no need for privacy,” Ridenour said.

‘Bypassing Democracy’

Marc Morano, publisher of Climate Depot and a former senior staffer to the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, says sue-and-settle ultimately bypasses the legislative process.

“Environmental laws used to be passed by Congress with the consent of the governed,” said Morano. “Now, we can add sue-and-settle lawsuits as yet another means by which to bypass democracy, along with EPA executive orders and presidential self-ratifying U.N. agreements.

“[Do you] want to legislate your own environmental regulations? It’s easy,” said Morano. “Just sue the feds and your identity will be protected and your legal fees covered.”

Ridenour says citizen lawsuits resulting in settlement agreements are “anti-democratic.”

“These co-called ‘citizen lawsuits’ are a hypocritical, anti-democratic scam,” said Ridenour. “They aren’t ‘citizen suits’ at all, but special interest lawsuits designed to expand regulations and affect policy without the citizenry having any say.

“Laws should be written by members of Congress, who are elected by and are theoretically accountable to the people,” Ridenour said. “Instead, through these lawsuits, special interests—typically left-wing environmental organizations—band together with unelected bureaucrats to sue for a desired outcome and then settle the suit in a manner desired by the special interests and by the bureaucrats. Public opinion doesn’t matter.

Michael McGrady (mmcgrady@uccs.edu) writes from Colorado Springs, Colorado. This article was reprinted with permission from heartland.org, a product of The Heartland Institute (https://www.heartland.org/news-opinion/news/feds-hiding-lawsuit-payoffs-made-to-environmental-groups).

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