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For Immediate Release, June 27, 2012

Contact: Bill Snape, (202) 536-9351

Hastings Relies on False Information in Attacks on Endangered Species Cases

WASHINGTON, D.C.— The Center for Biological Diversity today called on Rep. Doc Hastings (R-Wash.) to correct false information about attorney fees collected in cases involving the Endangered Species Act. A June 19 statement posted on the House Natural Resources Committee’s website incorrectly claims that U.S. Department of Justice documents showed the Center had collected more than $2 million in attorney fees from fiscal year 2009 to present. In fact, the amount the Center received was $553,000 — about 3.6 percent of the total attorney fees paid out by the government on Endangered Species Act cases, according to the Justice Department figures.

In his latest attack on the Endangered Species Act, Hastings is trying to claim that environmental groups are getting rich from lawsuits designed to protect our most imperiled plants and animals from extinction.

“The government’s own figures simply don’t bear out the tired, debunked story that Representative Hastings is peddling,” said Bill Snape, senior counsel with the Center. “In this case, Hastings’ calculations are just plain wrong. If we’re going to have a real discussion about the best way to save endangered species, it has to be based on facts.”

Hastings, the chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, requested attorney fees figures from the Department of Justice for Endangered Species Act cases from fiscal year 2009 to present. The Justice Department documents show 24 payments to the Center during those years, for a total of $552,897. The typical fee was less than $20,000, often for work on cases that stretched over several years. Many of the cases originated during the Bush administration, which the Interior Department’s own inspector general found was guilty of political interference in forcing science-based decisions to be overturned by Republican appointees.  

Among the cases the Center worked on during that period:

  • A historic agreement to speed up protection decisions on 757 of the country’s most imperiled but least protected plants and animals;
  • Restoring critical habitat protection for species that had it curtailed due to political meddling by the Bush administration;
  • Winning a court order requiring the Fish and Wildlife Service to begin planning for the recovery of the jaguar, one of the most imperiled mammals in North America.

Importantly, the figures from Justice also show that industry groups collected a similar amount in attorney fees (about $550,000) during that same time period in lawsuits opposing Endangered Species Act protections.

“We go to court when the government fails to follow its own laws, meant to protect plants and animals from extinction,” Snape said. “When we prevail — that is, when a judge agrees the government must be held accountable — we’re eligible for attorney fees, at less than fair-market value. To inflate these numbers reeks of a cynical political ploy to gin up another misleading talking point. Unfortunately, it’s consistent with Chairman Hastings’ past rhetoric, which conveniently downplays the success of endangered species recovery efforts.”

The Center sent Hastings a letter today asking him to correct the errors on the House committee’s website.

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