For Immediate Release, June 14, 2012
Contact: Bill Snape, (202) 536-9351
Attorney Fees for Landmark Settlement to Save 757 Imperiled Plants and Animals: $168.29 per Species
TUCSON, Ariz.— The Center for Biological Diversity today provided Rep. Doc Hastings (R-Wash.) with its attorney fees figures ($128,158) related to last year’s historic agreement with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to speed up protection decisions for 757 of the country’s rarest and least-protected plants and animals.
Hastings requested the total as part of his latest attack on the Endangered Species Act and his outlandish claims that conservation groups are getting rich from attorney fees from last summer’s historic settlement and other environmental actions. The 2011 agreement settled five lawsuits lasting more than five years, reduced future litigation and conflict, and provided important assurances that hundreds of imperiled species — from wolverines and walruses to turtles and trout — will be considered for protection.
“That works out to about $168.29 per species. That’s an incredible bargain for wildlife and American taxpayers,” said Bill Snape, senior counsel at the Center. “Under the agreement, species get the help they need, years of conflict are avoided and the Endangered Species Act works like it’s supposed to.”
All told, the Center has received less than 4 percent of the money the federal government has paid out in attorney fees to all parties, including environmental groups and industry, connected with Endangered Species Act cases dating back to 2008, according to Department of Justice figures. The typical fee award to the Center was less than $20,000.
Hastings and others in Congress have also criticized the Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA), a federal law allowing attorney fees to be awarded to qualified groups or individuals who win lawsuits challenging a government action and show that the government’s position was not “substantially justified.”
Environmental groups collect a small portion of overall EAJA fees. The Center for Biological Diversity receives only a tiny fraction — about half of 1 percent, on average — of its total annual income from attorney fees recovered through EAJA. Those suits were filed to ensure that federal agencies comply with laws that protect imperiled species and their habitat.
“No one’s getting rich off of attorney fees when it comes to saving endangered species,” Snape said. “The biggest benefit goes to plants and animals facing extinction. We bring these cases so species get the protection they need. Species that aren’t protected are much more likely to go extinct.”
Despite Hastings’ claims, expenses associated with Endangered Species Act litigation are a very small portion of the Fish and Wildlife Service’s budget. In a Sept. 11, 2011 letter to the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, the Service disclosed that in 2010 it spent $1.24 million to “manage, coordinate, track, and support ESA litigation” brought by environmental and industry groups. This amounts to one half of 1 percent of the endangered species budget, which was more than $275 million in 2010. According to the letter, the amount the Service spent on litigation has remained relatively constant over the past 10 years.
Two recent studies provide important new insight on attorney-fee awards.
One study published in 2011 in the Journal of Forestry (“The Equal Access to Justice Act and U.S. Forest Service Land Management: Incentives to Litigate?” by M.J. Mortimer and R.W. Malmsheimer) found that barely half of fee payments from cases involving the U.S. Forest Service went to environmental groups over a seven-year study period.
Another study released last year by the U.S. Government Accountability Office found that businesses and trade groups, not environmentalists, file the most lawsuits against the Environmental Protection Agency. Industry groups filed 48 percent of those suits while environmental groups filed 30 percent.