Montana Congressman Greg Gianforte says balance needs to be restored to environmental litigation.
Gianforte, the chair of the House Subcommittee on Interior, Energy and Environment, made that assertion during a hearing Thursday in Washington D.C.
He singles out the Equal Access to Justice Act, or EAJA, as one law in particular need of reform.
“Congress passed EAJA to enable small businesses and individuals to challenge wrongful government action despite a disparity in resources. Today, however, wealthy environmental organizations take advantage of the law’s loopholes and exemptions to obtain large fee awards from our federal agencies.”
The Equal Access to Justice Act requires the federal government to pay attorneys fees under certain circumstances.
Gianforte is one of several Republicans pushing to reform EAJA and laws like it, saying they’re frequently abused by environmental groups.
Not everyone who attended Thursday's hearing agreed. Georgetown University Law Center professor Sara Colangelo says laws like EAJA help keep the government in check when it cannot legally and factually justify its decisions.
“The unsupported rhetoric of abuse and frivolous lawsuits is a threat to these goals. It’s a threat to all citizens and groups for whom EAJA is their only hope of fee recovery. Of note, more than 90 percent of these petitions are brought by veterans’ groups and social security disability claimants.”
Colangelo said there’s no evidence that EAJA incentivizes groups to pursue environmental lawsuits. The oversight committee took no action on Thursday.