EAJA Reform Welcome News for New Mexico Agriculture Groups

EAJA Reform Welcome News for New Mexico Agriculture Groups

Legislation that would bring oversight and accountability to payments made under the Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA) is gaining broad support in New Mexico and across the country.

The New Mexico Cattle Growers Association (NMCGA), New Mexico Wool Growers, Inc. (NMWGI), New Mexico Federal Lands Council (NMFLC), Dairy Producers of New Mexico (DPNM) and AZ/NM Coalition of Counties (Coalition) are joining producers nationwide in support of the Open EAJA Act of 2010 (H.R. 4717), introduced by Representative Cynthia Lummis (R-WY) and co-sponsored by Representatives Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (D-SD) and Rob Bishop (R-UT).

The EAJA was passed by Congress in the 1980s as means to protect the rights of non-profits, small businesses and individual citizens from unreasonable government actions. Along the way, however, it has been co-opted by special interest and environmental groups, who use the law to get paid after suing the federal government.

“When the EAJA was passed, it was meant to protect people like family ranchers and others from the federal government,” said Bert Ancell, NMCGA President, Bell ranch. “Today, these activist groups are using our tax dollars to sue the federal government and try to put us out of business. According to the only research to date, activist environmental groups have gotten paid $42 million dollars to sue the federal government in the last decade.”The Open EAJA Act of 2010 would bring accountability and transparency to payments made under the EAJA. Specifically, the bill requires an accounting of how attorneys’ fees are being awarded under EAJA, an annual report to Congress outlining the number, stature and amount of the awards, and a Government Accounting Office (GAO) audit of the uses of EAJA funds over the past 15 years.Every year, activist groups file thousands of motions and petitions with various government agencies across the country. The resulting paperwork keeps the agencies from actually getting any on the ground work done, and guarantees that a deadline will eventually be missed by the agency, opening the door for a lawsuit. Rather than go to court, the federal agencies settle the suit with the activist group, and typically agree to pay them for their attorneys’ fees under EAJA.“These lawsuits keep the agencies in turmoil, and have a big impact on our operations,” said Jim Cooper, NMWGI President, Arabela. “Our tax dollars fund the government agencies and their attorneys. To make sure our rights as landowners and producers are protected, we have to intervene in the lawsuit, spending our own money on attorneys and court costs. Then, the government pays these groups’ attorneys’ fees – using our tax dollars again – giving them money for the next lawsuit.” New Mexicans have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars over the past 15 years in an attempt to protect natural resources users who make up the custom, culture and economy of the state, according to Louis Peterson, Hatchita, President of the Arizona/New Mexico Coalition of Counties.“On rare occasions we have been reimbursed for some of the actual expenses incurred in protecting New Mexico families,” she said. “But it is shocking to see that $300,000 was paid on a single case — that was not even decided in favor of the Forest Guardians and the Center for Biological Diversity.”What the public doesn’t know is that not only are these suits keeping federal agencies from doing their jobs in terms of conserving wildlife and lands, but they are driving at the heart of the nation’s food supply, notes Al Squire, Hagerman, DPNM President.“Americans pay less than ten percent of their disposable income for the most abundant and safest food supply in the world,” says Squire. “While we are producing that cheap and wholesome food under government controlled caps, so that we cannot pass along increased production costs, we are paying up to three times for litigation that is aimed at eliminating us.”Congresswomen Lummis and Herseth Sandlin and Congressman Bishop deserve the support, praise and heartfelt appreciation of nature resources users —which every member of the public who eats, drives a car, and uses utilities like water and electricity, points out Don L. “Bebo” Lee, Alamogordo, NMFLC President.“As a nation we have come to expect that electricity is automatic when we flip a switch, that water is magically in the tap when we turn it and that our grocery stores will always be stocked with all the food we want or need,” Lee comments. “Many don’t realize that the production of these necessities of life are the fruits of the land — and that someone has to have the ability to work that land.”The DPNM, Coalition, NMCGA, NMFLC, and NMWGI are asking the New Mexico Congressmen Ben Lujan, Harry Teague and Martin Heinrich to co-sponsor and support H.B. 4717. They are also asking for other groups and individuals to join with them in this effort.For further information call 505.247.0584, 575.622.1646, or 505.379.9243.