WASHINGTON – Republicans on a House environmental subcommittee Wednesday criticized the dozen of lawsuits filed against Trump administration environmental policies as “frivolous” obstacles to needed policy changes, while Democrats said they are a needed check to abuses.
Democrats on the House Natural Resources oversight subcommittee also questioned the premise of the hearing.
“Judges are already empowered to deal with litigation that is without merit or frivolous, including the authority to punish attorneys for pursuing abusive litigation,” said Arizona Rep. Raúl Grijalva, a senior Democrat on the committee. “The number of cases where courts use that authority is small, and it happens no more often with environmental litigation than in other kinds of cases.”
Republicans, meanwhile, called many of the lawsuits filed against the Interior Department excessive and politically motivated.
“Special interests repeatedly exploit our legal system to further their own agendas and sidestep the legislative and regulatory processes,” Louisiana Rep. Mike Johnson, the vice chairman of the subcommittee, said in his opening statement. “Excessively litigious organizations constantly abuse opportunities to impede agency actions, simply because they generally oppose a particular land use, species management, or trust activity.”
The committee noted that the Center of Biological Diversity’s “Trump Lawsuit Tracker,” which lists the suits the group has filed against the federal government, is an example of how groups are increasing their use of litigation for politically motivated reasons.
Brett Hartl, government affairs director at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a telephone interview that the lawsuits are a necessary check on the executive branch.
“The reality is that the Trump administration is acting fairly crudely when it comes to a lot of their environmental policies,” said Hartl. “There is such an enormous spectrum of frankly illegal actions in the first 100 days of the Trump administration that carry a need to go to court more often than we would normally do so. But again we are doing so because they are breaking the law.”
In its budget justifications for fiscal year 2018 budget proposal, the Office of the Solicitor cited an expected increase in lawsuits “as the department implements the President’s Executive Orders, works to increase energy production on federal lands, undergoes reorganization, and revises or rescinds regulations to streamline permitting and other administrative actions.”
Mike Barron, a partner at BakerHostetler law firm, which focuses on natural resources litigation, told the subcommittee that “the experience of our clients suggests that certain parties have abused aspects of the current system to exacerbate the challenges that the agencies face under the best of circumstances.”