Over a three-year period, 2009 to 2012, Department of Justice data shows American taxpayers footed the bill for nearly $53 million in so-called environmental groups' legal fees.
On May 7, I spoke at the Four Corners Oil and Gas Conference in Farmington, New Mexico. During the two-day event, I sat in on many of the other sessions and had conversations with dozens of attendees. I left the event with the distinct impression that the current implementation of the Endangered Species Act is a major impediment to the economic growth, tax revenue, and job creation that comes with oil-and-gas development.
While at the conference, I received an email announcing that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has asked a federal court for a six-month delay in making a final determination on whether to list the Gunnison sage grouse as an endangered species — moving the decision past the November elections. Up for re-election, Senator Mark Udall, D-Colo., "cheered" the extension request. The E & E report states: Colorado elected leaders "fear the listing could have significant economic impacts."
The report continues: "WildEarth Guardians is not opposing the latest extension after Fish and Wildlife agreed to some extensive new mitigation measures that will be made in the interim, including increasing buffer zones around sage grouse breeding grounds, called "leks," and deferring coal, oil and gas leasing, said Erik Molvar, a wildlife biologist with WildEarth Guardians." It goes on to say: "But the Center for Biological Diversity, which is a party to the settlement agreements with WildEarth Guardians, said the latest extension is a bad move for the grouse, which it says has needed Endangered Species Act protections for years."
Two important items to notice in the Gunnison sage grouse story. One, the power the environmental groups wield. Two, part of appeasing the environmental groups involves "deferring coal, oil and gas leasing."
It is widely known that these groups despise fossil fuels. The Center for Biological Diversity brags about its use of lawsuits to block development — but it is not just oil and gas they block, it is virtually all human activity.
In researching for this week's column, I have talked to people from a variety of industry and conservation efforts. The conversations started because I read something they'd written about the Center for Biological Diversity. Whether I was talking to someone interested in protecting big horn sheep, a fishing enthusiast, a rancher, or an attorney representing ranching or extractive industries, the center seems to be a thorn in everyone's side. All made comments similar to what Amos Eno, who has been involved in conservation for more than forty years, told me: the Center for Biological Diversity "doesn't care about the critters. They are creating a listing pipeline and then making money off of it." Environmental writer Ted Williams called the center: "perennial plaintiffs."
On the Society for Bighorn Sheep website, board member Gary Thomas states: "The Center ranks people second. By their accounting, all human endeavors, agriculture, clean water, energy, development, recreation, materials extraction, and all human access to any space, are subordinate to the habitat requirements of all the world's obscure animals and plants. But these selfish people don't care about any person, plant, or animal. The Center collects obscure and unstudied species for a single purpose, specifically for use in their own genre of lawsuits. They measure their successes not by quality of life for man nor beast, but by counting wins in court like notches in the handle of a gun."
In an April 8, 2014, hearing before the House Committee on Natural Resources, fifth-generation rancher and attorney specializing in environmental litigation, Karen Budd-Falen talked about the need for Endangered Species Act reform, as four different House bills currently propose: "Public information regarding payment of attorney's fees for ESA litigation is equally difficult to access." Addressing HR 4316 — which requires a report on attorney's fees and costs for act-related litigation — she says: "It should not be a radical notion for the public to know how much is being paid by the federal government and to whom the check is written."
As she reports in her testimony, Budd-Falen's staff did an analysis of the 276-page spreadsheet run released by the Department of Justice listing litigation summaries in cases defended by the Environment and Natural Resources Division, Wildlife Section. She explains: "The spreadsheets are titled 'Endangered Species Defensive Cases Active at some point during FY09-FY12 (through April 2012).' Although the DOJ release itself contained no analysis, my legal staff calculated the following statistics." Budd-Falen then shows how she came up with the nearly $53 million figure of taxpayer money paid out over an approximate three-year period. However, she then shows how her own Freedom of Information Act requests have proven "that the DOJ does not keep an accurate account of the cases it defends" — making the actual dollar figure much higher.
Budd-Falen has stated: "We believe when the curtain is raised we'll be talking about radical environmental groups bilking the taxpayer for hundreds of millions of dollars, allegedly for 'reimbursement for attorney fees.'
"Despite numerous attempts, the Endangered Species Act has not had any major revisions in more than 25 years. The Wall Street Journal states: "The ESA's mixed record on wildlife restoration and its impact on business have made the law vulnerable to critics." Groups like the Center for Biological Diversity have twisted the intent of the law. Reform is now essential — not just to save taxpayer dollars, but to put the focus back on actually saving the species."
The author of Energy Freedom, Marita Noon serves as the executive director for Energy Makes America Great Inc. and the companion educational organization, the Citizens' Alliance for Responsible Energy (CARE). Combining energy, news, politics, and, the environment through public events, speaking engagements, and media, the organizations' combined efforts serve as America's voice for energy.