On March 31, Senator Vitter (R-LA) and Congressman Bishop (R-UT) introduced 2 companion bills that, among other harmful policies, would prevent environmental non-governmental organizations from recovering legal fees for successful lawsuits under the Equal Access to Justice Act and other environmental statutes including the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, the Endangered Species Act, and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. In February, Rep. Lummis (R-WY) introduced similar language in an amendment to H.R. 1 (amendment no. 195).
This bill would broadly bar environmental groups from recovering attorney’s fees, thus hindering their ability to bring cases protecting our nation’s environmental laws—laws that ensure we have clean water to drink, clean air to breathe, and protected public lands on which to hunt and fish, among other benefits.
The right to challenge harmful actions by the federal government is as fundamental to our democracy as our right to vote and freedom of speech. Indeed, in our system of checks and balances, review by the courts is one of the most important ways to ensure government accountability. These principals are even central to the Tea Party philosophy – in its pledge, the GOP promised to fight for a more accountable government and “serve as a check and a balance against any schemes that are inconsistent with the priorities and rights of the American people.”
However, when it comes to environmental groups, Republicans will apparently break their own promises in order to protect the industries that fund their campaigns. While we would like to think that the government never breaks the law, sometimes it does act illegally in ways that harm the public. When this happens, individuals and organizations should be able to enforce the law without paying for representation from their own pockets.