Sparks flew during last week’s annual convention of the Petroleum Association of Wyoming, in Casper.
U.S. Rep. Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.), chastized conservation groups WildEarth Guardians, the Center for Biological Diversity, and Western Watersheds for excessive recourse to lawsuits, which she claimed are giving the environmental movement “a black eye.”
“These are three organizations that are filing constant litigation, that have cottage industries built up to fund their lawyers and their lawsuits against federal agencies and the federal government to stop certain activities,” she said, according to a report in The Casper Star-Tribune.
“If the environmental movement is unified around any one concept, it’s that Cynthia Lummis is a disaster for the environment,” Kieran Suckling, executive director of the Center for Biological Diversity, told the newspaper. “The idea that she wants to speak on behalf of the environmental movement is ludicrous to an absurd degree.”
Last May, Lummis and Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) jointly introduced the Government Litigation Savings Act, which would limit the fees recoverable by private citizens, small businesses and nonprofit organizations that win lawsuits against the federal government.
One of its provisions is that a party may not receive an award in fees and other expenses of more than $200,000 in a single adjudication, and for no more than three such cases in the same calendar year, unless an agency’s hearing officer determines that a higher amount is required “to avoid severe and unjust harm to the prevailing party.”
The bill has been referred to a committee for a report.
“When the government stopped tracking EAJA payments in 1995, it was a dream come true for radical environmental groups,” Lummis said last spring. “Lack of oversight has fueled the fire for these groups to grind the work of land management and other federal agencies to a halt, and it does so on the taxpayer’s dime.”
In turn, the conservation group Defenders of Wildlife released a statement that said, “We only recover those costs when we prevail in court, meaning a judge agrees that the law has been violated. Without the ability to recover those costs, the American people would lose their ability to challenge the federal government when it violates the law and fails to fulfill its duties.”
Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead’s speech at last week’s convention was less inflammatory, although it came down strongly on the side of oil and gas development.
“Do we want mineral development or preservation of the environment?” the governor asked, according to Wyoming Business Report. “We need to reject that question,” he answered himself. “We need energy, but we also need conservation of our natural resources.”
He said delays in the issuance of permits while awaiting environmental impact studies on six oil and gas developments have cost the state $160 million in lost revenue.