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NCBA, PLC support bill to restore oversight of federal funds under EAJA

The National Cattlemen's Beef Association and Public Lands Council are urging members of Congress to support the Open EAJA Act of 2010 (H.R. 4717) introduced by Reps. Cynthia Lummis (R-WY), Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (D-SD) and Rob Bishop (R-UT). H.R. 4717 would require oversight of federal funds awarded under the Equal Access to Justice Act.

"Because the government has neglected to provide oversight, EAJA has become a breeding ground for abuse by radical environmental groups," said Steve Foglesong, NCBA president. "The fact that millions of dollars in taxpayer funds have been awarded with virtually no accounting of who received the payments is unacceptable."

Although EAJA was originally intended by Congress to help private citizens seek judicial redress from unreasonable government actions, it has been manipulated by environmental activist groups as a means to use taxpayer dollars to target federal-lands agencies, and ultimately the family farmers and ranchers who use the lands. Any nonprofit, regardless of its net worth, is eligible for reimbursement. Environmental activist groups (some worth in excess of $50 million) have used EAJA to fund more than 1,500 cases in a recent six-year period.

When environmental activist groups file suit against a government agency, farmers and ranchers impacted by the suit are often forced to join the government case simply to defend their land, business, or way of life.

"Farmers and ranchers are often forced to pay crippling legal fees to fight these special interest attacks. And at the same time, their own, hard-earned tax dollars are being used to help pay the attorney fees for the very groups that are attacking them," said Skye Krebs, PLC president.

While the Act as originally passed required the Department of Justice to report to Congress where and how EAJA funds were being spent, those requirements ended with the passage of the Federal Paperwork Reduction Act of 1995. H.R. 4717 would restore much-needed accountability by requiring an accounting of all attorney fees spent under the Act; an annual report to Congress detailing the use of EAJA funds; and a Government Accountability Office audit of EAJA funding over the past 15 years.

"H.R. 4717 will help close the loopholes to ensure EAJA is serving its intended purpose: leveling the playing field between private citizens and the vast resources of the federal government, not furthering the political agendas of special interest groups," Foglesong continued.

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