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Report: Enviro Lawsuits Enrich Greens, Hurt Endangered Species

An increasing number of lawsuits from environmental groups under the Endangered Species Act have been used to bilk taxpayers for millions of dollars in attorneys fees and made it harder for federal officials to fund species recovery programs.

A report by the pro-oil and gas Western Energy Alliance (WEA) details how two prominent environmental groups have used increasing amounts of litigation to get more animals put on the endangered species list — a tactic that is costing taxpayers money and diverting federal officials from developing programs to get animals off the endangered list.

“Lawsuits are a lucrative business for environmental groups since the federal government often reimburses attorney fees at taxpayer expense,” said Jack Ekstrom, chairman of Western Energy Alliance. “Attorneys for the environmental lobby line their pockets and organizations flood the agency with listing petitions for species that are not truly endangered to boost their fundraising.”

WEA found that since 2011, environmental groups have petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to “list more than three species per month on average and more than 38 per year.” A good chunk of these petitions came from the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) and WildEarth Guardians (WEG) — both of which agreed with the government in 2011 to limit future ESA petitions.

“In a flippant disregard for the spirit of the agreements, CBD delivered a large 53-species petition to FWS less than a year after the settlements were approved,” WEA noted in its report. “Between them, WEG and CBD have been plaintiffs on 14 different lawsuits challenging listing decisions on 35 different species, or nearly 40% of those filed since the settlement agreements.”

Getting an animal listed under the Endangered Species Act is no small matter. A listing can thwart economic development over vast swaths of land in the name of conservation. The western U.S. has been hit particularly hard by ESA listings, as environmentalists and some politicians have tried to use litigation to put huge tracts of land off-limits to oil, gas and coal extraction.

The ultimate goal of an ESA listing is to recover the species, but so far only 2 percent of listed species have been recovered. WEA says this is because the ESA has been abused by green groups to push their agenda and get reimbursed by taxpayers.

While WEA gives no exact figure on how much in attorneys fees CBD and WEG have gotten, they note that the Equal Access to Justice Act allows green groups to be reimbursed for suing the government.

“Environmental groups overload the government with far too many listing petitions and then sue for missing deadlines,” said Kathleen Sgamma, WEA’s head of government and public affairs. “This diverts resources away from actual species recovery and into litigation and bureaucratic process.”

Recently, western states have been battling environmentalists and federal officials over the potential listing of the sage grouse under the ESA. The sage grouse is basically a prairie chicken that lives in sagebrush country in the western U.S. and southern parts of Canada.

For years, federal agents and states have been working on agreements to prevent the sage grouse from being listed under the ESA, but that tacit agreement has been threatened by environmentalists who want to see the grouse listed and development stopped in its habitats.

Both CBD and WEG are pushing to have the sage grouse listed under the ESA.

“WildEarth Guardians has redoubled efforts to protect sage-grouse and the Sagebrush Sea so that future generations might continue to enjoy this spectacular species,” the group says on its website. “We are party to litigation to expedite listing under the ESA; we challenge destructive land uses in sage-grouse range; we advocate voluntary grazing permit retirement in sagebrush steppe; and we will formally request designation of sagebrush reserves on [Bureau of Land Management] land to conserve sage-grouse and other sagebrush-dependent species.”

WEA has opposed efforts to have the sage grouse listed under the ESA, saying such a listing would hurt local sage grouse conservation efforts and stymie economic development in the west.

“Never before has such a wide-ranging and numerous species been seriously considered for listing under the ESA,” said WEA’s Ekstrom. “Given the sizable range of the sage grouse’s habitat, a listing would be devastating across the West. Vast energy resources would be off limits and jobs lost.

FWS has until September 2015 to decide whether or not it will list the sage grouse under the ESA.

Neither CBD nor WEG responded to The Daily Caller News Foundation’s request for comment.

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