11 Mar 2010, 11:24pm
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Montana Wood Products Association backs effort to stop using EAJA funds for litigation

Clark Fork Chronicle, March 09 2010 [here]

Montana Rep. Denny Rehberg is a cosponsor of the Open Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA) of 2010, with bipartisan supporters from other Western states. The legislation reinstates oversight and transparency measures for taxpayer payments made to organizations through the Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA).

“I think Montanans would be outraged to learn that huge national special interest groups with multi-million dollar endowments are bankrolling thousands of lawsuits with tax dollars meant for small businesses, individuals and non-profits,” said Rehberg a member of the House Western Caucus. “It’s one thing to have access to the courts, but it’s another to force taxpayers to pay for it. Since 1995, the federal government has inexplicably stopped tracking how it spends these funds, and it’s time to restore the transparency and accountability.”

Originally passed in 1980, EAJA was meant to help provide fair access to legal remedies for individuals, small businesses and non-profits with limited means. It does this by reimbursing attorney’s fees for plaintiffs who sue the federal government if they win the case or settle out of court. The original legislation required annual reports to Congress on the amount and nature of EAJA payments, but those reports ended in 1995.

Two private studies, one by a Wyoming law firm and another by Virginia Tech University, have shown that despite congressional intent to assist small organizations, some large environmental obstructionist groups appear to be the biggest beneficiaries of EAJA payments. The Wyoming study, for example, found that more than 1,200 federal cases were filed in 19 states and the District of Columbia by just 14 environmental groups. The cost to the taxpayer was $37 million.

The Open EAJA Act reinstates and consolidates tracking and reporting requirements under the Department of Justice (DOJ), and requires the DOJ to publish a public online, searchable database of EAJA payments. It would also authorize an audit of the last 15 years, during which the fund has operated with absolutely no oversight.

“The hard working folks of the Montana Wood Products Association appreciate Rep. Rehberg signing on to the Open EAJA Act of 2010,” said Ellen Simpson, the Executive Vice President of the Montana Wood Products Association. “Changes in EAJA are sorely needed to shine a bright light on obstructionists who have made a cottage industry out of suing the Forest Service to stop active management on Montana’s national forests. The taxpayers have a right to know how their money is being spent and who benefits while the forests die. The Open EAJA Act of 2010 will provide that information.”



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