Thursday, October 16, 2014
Equal Access to Justice Act
In 1980, Congress passed the Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA) to protect the "little man" from government agencies that break their own rules. Under EAJA, if the courts find that the government violated its own policies, the government pays the litigation costs to the winners.
According to some critics, a loophole in the law has enabled "Big Green" environmental groups to broker a self-serving bargain with the government. Wealthy nonprofits receive millions in EAJA reimbursements, no matter how much money those organizations are worth, completely defeating the original intention of the law.
This is ironic since small environmental justice groups do not have the capability to utilize this law. And you can bet the Big Green groups aren't going to share this cash cow with the smaller EJ groups. There are many such government subsidies that the large groups get that are not really available to the smaller groups. EAJA was a good idea when it passed Congress. It remains a good idea today so long as it is operating as Congress intended.
After Congress passed the Sunset Act in 1995, reporting provisions for EAJA payouts disappeared. Currently, EAJA lacks any sort of recordkeeping, which means no government agency knows which organizations are receiving payouts or how much they are receiving. With no records, nonprofit groups are taking advantage of the fact that no one would know how much money the groups are making by suing federal agencies.
The multimillion-dollar Sierra Club Foundation is one of many organizations using the EAJA loophole. In the 55 trials linked between the Sierra Club and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), $2.4 million was given to cover lawyer fees and court costs. From 2000 to 2009, the Sierra Club requested fees in 194 cases and was awarded more than $19 million. No one knows the exact amount because in two of the cases, the reimbursement amount remains totally unreported. (The Hill, 10/16/2014)