New GAO report details effects of environmental lawsuits on government agencies

New environmental justice deal signifies progress, experts say.
Lawsuits against the government by environmental groups are not as big a deal as Republicans claim.

‘The real story is that Republicans are angered by the success of environmental groups in enforcing environmental laws and ensuring public health and safety …’

FRISCO — Claims by Republican leaders in Congress that environmental lawsuits prevent federal agencies from doing their job are unfounded, according to a new report from the Government Accountability Office.

In fact, industry groups seeking to undermine environmental protections have filed many more lawsuits that environmental organizations in recent years, the report found.

Findings from the GAO report were presented in testimony to the Senate Environment and Public Works subcommittee, where Alfredo Gómez testified that lawsuits from environmental groups have a limited impact on the EPA’s funding and priorities, but do force the agency to meet legal deadlines to take actions such as, among other things, setting air-quality standards that protect public health.

The testimony directly contradicted politically driven assertions by congressional Republicans that environmental lawsuits are impeding the work of EPA and other federal agencies.

The Center for Biological Diversity, which has filed numerous lawsuits against government agencies, highlighted the report and testimony in a press release.

“Republicans have complained for years that lawsuits brought by environmental groups impede the ability of agency’s like the EPA to do their jobs,” said Jamie Pang, endangered species campaigner at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The GAO’s testimony and report shows this is false and that industries seeking to undermine protections for clean air and water file the most lawsuits. The real story is that Republicans are angered by the success of environmental groups in enforcing environmental laws and ensuring public health and safety.”

Major federal environmental laws like the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act and Endangered Species Act include provisions that enable environmental groups and others to force agencies to implement more stringent standards to clean our air and water and otherwise protect the environment. These provisions have allowed citizens to repeatedly enforce deadlines in the environmental statutes, actions that result in environmental protections.

“Citizens and nonprofits can, and should, hold the government accountable to protect clean air and water and endangered species,” said Pang. “Environmental lawsuits tip the scales of justice away from deep pocketed and well-connected industries back towards environmental protections that benefit us all.”

EPA officials, in their official response to the GAO report, said they hoped it would finally end these “unfounded allegations.”

The new GAO report can be read here.

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