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 Another box car in the environmental gravy train?   Environmental groups rake in bucks, better spent elsewhere, suing the government

Herald and News Guest Commentary by Dan Keppen, Executive Director Family Farm Alliance 3/11/11

     The Herald and News has provided good recent coverage on the petition submitted by four environmental groups to the National Marine Fisheries Service asking for protection of the “spring-run” Upper Klamath chinook salmon under the Endangered Species Act.

   What has not been covered to date is the known track record and motives of one of the groups who submitted the petition — the Center for Biological Diversity.

   There are many unknowns swirling around the mysterious “spring-run” chinook, including questions about reliable DNA data that would justify separating the spring-run from the overall chinook run on the Klamath River.  

   What is known, however, is that this latest attempt to add yet another single “distinct species” to the Endangered Species Act is nothing new for Center for Biological Diversity. Unfortunately, the organization’s petition on the Klamath is just another in a long series   of actions that suggests money — and not a desire to protect fish — is the real reason behind their latest action.

   Two years ago, Budd-Falen law offices of Cheyenne, Wyo., set out to determine the amount of litigation filed by environmental organizations and the amount of attorneys’ fees these groups have received from the federal government for these cases.

   The results are shocking, and they only include federal district court cases.

   Between 2000 and 2009, eight environmental groups led by the Center for Biological Diversity — filed at least 1,596 federal court cases against the federal government. Every one of the groups is a tax-exempt, nonprofit organization that receives attorney fees from the federal government ... for suing the federal government. These same environmental groups are receiving billions of tax dollars in attorney fees for settling or “winning” cases against the federal government.

   What was found

   Based on the limited information that was available, Budd-Falen found that over $4.7 billion in total payments were paid in taxpayer dollars from 2003 through July 2007 for attorney fees and costs in cases against the federal government. The Center for Biological Diversity alone has filed 149 cases in the four federal district courts in California, all of which have been decided in a nine-year period ending in 2009.  

   Of those cases, the federal government stipulated to payment of attorneys fees in 74 cases. Of the 59 cases where fees were disclosed, the Center for Biological Diversity was   awarded over $3.6 million in attorney’s fees and costs.

   According to data collected by the Congressional Research Service, the Center for Biological Diversity also seems to have spearheaded the effort to use the ESA to enforce its global warming beliefs.

   The organization has a list of 350 species it believes should be listed and critical habitat designated under the ESA to protect them from greenhouse gases and global warming. Just between five states and the District of Columbia, the Center for Biological Diversity has amassed over $6.7 million in attorneys fees, all paid by taxpayers.  

   The vast majority of these cases were suits over the failure of the federal government to “timely” respond to the Center for Biological Diversity’s ESA listing petitions. The real rub is that these types of litigious environmental groups are not asking the federal court to decide whether a species is scientifically threatened or endangered or whether greenhouse gases adversely impact the species; the majority litigation   is only over the timing of the federal government’s decisions or the process used to make the decisions.

   Funds awarded to the “prevailing” litigants are taken from the “losing” federal agencies’ budget. There is no oversight in spending this money, which could otherwise be funding on-the-ground programs to protect public lands, national forests, wildlife, other land uses — and yes, farmers and ranchers. Instead, nonprofit, tax exempt groups are making billions of dollars, while ranchers and other citizens are being forced to expend millions of their own money to intervene or participate in these lawsuits to protect their way of life when they have no chance of the same attorney fee recovery if they prevail.  

   So — don’t be swayed by the alarmist message coming out of the Center for Biological Diversity, Oregon Wild and other groups who claim to be looking out for “species who cannot talk.”

   The real motivation here may be one of raking in clams instead of protecting fish.  


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