The Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) was back at it last week filing numerous endangered species suits claiming the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has not adequately protected several species. CBD is a radical environmental group that makes their living suing the federal government. It’s becoming clear that we may need a new definition of what endangered species are because there is no end to the lawsuits these guys and others will file against the agency.
In 2012, CBD petitioned the FWS to list 53 species just after they and the group Wild Earth Guardians cut a deal with the Department of Interior to list 779 species in 85 lawsuits and legal actions, behind closed doors with no public input or transparency.
The settlement required FWS to take action on pending petitions for 757 species over the next seven years. In exchange, the environmental groups agreed to limit lawsuits so the agency could focus on protecting the 757 species. They had a gentlemen’s agreement to lay off the lawsuits.
The FWS is clearly fed up with these environmental groups because it’s a constant stream of petitions and suits and at the time, FWS’ Assistant Director for Endangered Species Gary Frazer said, “Time after time the CBD and other similar groups have undermined the goal of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) by litigating, obstructing and frustrating the FWS, while racking up hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxpayer-funded attorney’s fees that continue to feed their litigious strategies in detriment of species and people.”
Also, the House Natural Resources Committee (NRC) is getting a little fed up with the CBD. And I would have to say to the CBD: Get ready for some changes; everybody is on to your game.
When approached about their government attorney fees by the NRC, the CBD wrote a letter claiming that they have only received $553,000 in taxpayer funds related to ESA litigation. However, the Department of Justice points out that CBD has been paid $2,286,686 between 2009 and 2012. All the payments are made to the attorney of record; not the CBD directly.
Rep. Doc Hastings (R-WA), Chairman of the NRC, said American taxpayers have a right to know how much of their money is going to pay attorneys and settlement costs for lawsuit-happy organizations that make a living off the federal government. The numbers from the justice department speak for themselves. He also said that the CBD should reveal all their ESA-related government receipts for the past 20 years, just to be transparent to taxpayers.
Congress is trying to make it more difficult for this environmental activist group to do business and is working on legislation to monitor the Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA), the CBD’s favorite funding mechanism. The House passed legislation that would simply force the agencies to keep track of the EAJA expenditures and recipients. It’s clear that these groups are gaming the system and getting taxpayers to foot the bill. Now this is in the Senate’s hands. These groups are also funded through grants from a multitude of environmentally-minded foundations.
Just recently, the FWS and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration have proposed some new regulations to help them define habitat viability and would more than likely expand their ability to designate habitat. The NRC has objections to the proposed regulations. The committee said, “As written, these rules could dramatically increase the amount of private and public lands designated for habitat, which in turn could result in blocking or slowing down an array of agricultural, grazing, energy transition and production, transportation and other activities on the more than 680 current habitat designations and hundreds more slated to be finalized in the next few years.”
The legislators are asking for a comment period extension to these rule changes. It seems pretty clear that if Congress and the agencies are frustrated with the ESA, they should change the law before the country is a patchwork of habitat designations. The CBD doesn’t seem to care how many suits they file because it’s their meal ticket. And I might suggest that they have become a civil problem. — PETE CROW