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Government Accounting Office Report Shows Limited Cost of Environmental Litigation
WASHINGTON— A report released on March 26 by the Government Accountability Office (see PDF) demonstrates that litigation brought by environmental groups is not the calamity-inducing threat to the National Forest system that House Republicans have repeatedly claimed for the past three years. The GAO’s analysis shows that from 2001 to 2010, fees awarded in 16 successful lawsuits brought because of violations of the Endangered Species Act amounted to $1.6 million. By contrast, the U.S. Department of Agriculture paid $13.5 million in attorney’s fees to citizen plaintiffs for violations related to the Civil Rights Act and the Equal Credit Opportunity Act. The GAO report noted that the USDA needed to keep better track of fee awards, but did not identify environmental litigation as a problem.
“Once again, the facts show that environmental litigation is neither frivolous nor costly to the taxpayer,” said Brett Hartl, endangered species policy director with the Center. “Citizen suits brought by citizens, environmental organizations and industry fulfill an important mission — ensuring that the federal government complies with the law. It’s an extremely cost-effective way of making sure endangered species are protected on Forest Service lands.”
Similar data released by the Department of Justice in 2012 demonstrate that Endangered Species Act litigation is a benefit to taxpayers. The Department of Justice data show the actual number of cases filed under the Act have been declining with 119 lawsuits filed in 2009, 111 in 2010, 57 in 2011, and only 23 through April 2012.
“We go to court when the government fails to follow the Endangered Species Act, because the Act is the best safety net we have to protect endangered species and that net does not work if the law isn’t being followed,” said Hartl. “If we want to reduce the number of lawsuits and attorney’s fees, the best solution is for the government to comply with the law and stop bending to political and industry pressure. Pretending that environmental litigation is the problem is not helpful.”
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 675,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.