Ms. JACKSON LEE. Mr. Chairman, I yield myself 3 minutes.
I again thank the managers, Mr. Holt and Mr. Hastings.
Mr. Chairman, I again make the same comment about what I have heard on this floor from Members on both sides of the aisle: that they are pro-energy policy, pro-environment, pro-jobs, pro-sustainable environment. They simply want an opportunity to work on legislation to activate or to ensure that that occurs.
There is a prohibition contained in section 1147 of this legislation with respect to the recovery of attorney fees and costs by a prevailing party pursuant to the Equal Access to Justice Act. My amendment removes the prohibition, a prohibition that has been established law for a very long time.
This amendment is needed to level the playing field and conform the bill to current law and practice. I think that if we listen to each other, it will be a simple answer of ``yes'' if we ask any citizen should they have a right to sue, and if they prevail under the Equal Access to Justice Act, that they are able to get attorney fees.
I think the answer, when clear heads would respond, is not whether it is an energy bill or not, or who the defendant is; they would say, Why shouldn't this bill be subjected to the law that exists?
The Equal Access to Justice Act allows individuals, small businesses, and nonprofits to recover attorney fees from the Federal Government. This act is used to vindicate a variety of Federal rights, including access to Veterans Affairs and Social Security disability benefits, as well as to secure statutory environmental protections.
Therefore, to eliminate that is again to cut into--to cut into--the very Bill of Rights of your right to petition, to the right to counsel, all of that, because it indicates that you have a right to prevail in attorney fees.
It is a simple process that does not undermine, if you will, the question of the energy policy in the United States.
If we look at the first poster, we will acknowledge the fact that, interestingly enough, the average amount of money under these cases was $1.8 million annually over the last 8 years. The EPA only paid out $280,000 annually over the last 5 years. I venture to say with the average payment of $100,000 this is not busting the bank. This is allowing citizens who prevail to be able to have attorney fees. I clearly believe that the legislation that we have warrants a fix, a fair fix, to be able to
ensure that anyone that has a disagreement post the administrative process and goes into court can, in fact, utilize.
This is one that shows that, in fact, local environmental groups and national environmental groups are no more than others. The largest amount goes to various State governments, individuals, various unions and workers that got a minimal amount or may not have even prevailed.
So I think it is important to recognize that this is not one that is going to destroy this bill, it is going to enhance the bill.
With that, I reserve the balance of my time.
Mr. HASTINGS of Washington. Mr. Chairman, I yield myself such time as I may consume.
Mr. Chairman, as I say, I rise to oppose this amendment.
The Equal Access to Justice Act, or the EAJA, was created, rightfully so, to level the playing field between citizens seeking to do the right thing and a well-funded Federal Government. Unfortunately, wealthy activist groups have been able to distort the intended purpose of the EAJA by exploiting the program as a cash register to file thousands of lawsuits, many based on frivolous technicalities.
Further, Federal payments to lawyers fighting lawsuits come out of each agency's budgets, which, of course, hinders the agency's ability to do their job and forces tighter budgets on the agencies working on behalf of Americans.
Every year, numerous energy projects are held up by burdensome legal challenges by activist groups whose aim is to hold up or simply stop energy production in this country.
Under the guise of ``responsible development,'' these groups file lawsuit after lawsuit that force the government to use Federal resources and millions of dollars in taxpayer funds to litigate these lengthy and burdensome lawsuits. These well-funded activist groups have the resources to hire, in some cases, multiple lawyers to sue the Federal Government.
These unnecessary delays in energy projects result in a domino effect of delays in economic development, of delays, obviously, in job creation, of delays in income generation for local, State, and, indeed, the Federal Government, and delays in making the United States becoming energy independent.
Further, many small communities depend on a robust energy sector to provide jobs for its residents and generate income for their local schools and for their communities. These well-funded activist organizations should not be rewarded, Mr. Chairman, with taxpayer dollars for delaying American job creation and the generation of funds for our local communities.
I urge my colleagues to vote ``no'' on the amendment, and I reserve the balance of my time.
Ms. JACKSON LEE. Mr. Chairman, let me be very clear that the awards under the EAJA are not available for any and every case. Only when the plaintiff prevails. Is that not fair?
When an individual, a nonprofit, who has sought to even the playing field, who wants to make sure that we have a strong energy policy but they are praying that you listen to them as to how it is destroying their property, their house, their quality of life, they have a right to petition.
So I want to correct the gentleman's interpretation. I heard on the floor of the House that he mentioned the word ``frivolous.'' As a lawyer, and one who adheres to the Constitution, I would like to not think that if you are concerned about an issue, that you cannot get into the court of justice and that you cannot make your case. You may not win, but I want to surprise him with the fact that the large number of cases that went under this act and sued the EPA were trade associations--622; private
companies--556. There are a variety of others, not collectively together. State territories and municipalities--297. Should they not recover if they prevail? Should environmental groups not recover if they prevail--only at 388? Should individuals at 185 cases not prevail if they win? Should workers groups and universities and tribes not prevail if they should win?
I think that we are wrongheaded if we simply do not adhere to the existing law; not use the terminology ``frivolous'' but applaud Americans who are willing to stand up for their rights. [Page: H7228]
My example was correct. It was an analogy. These homeowners are fighting Big Business, but what they decided to do is, after they were ruled against by every administrative local body, they have gone into the courthouse. They happen to be more prosperous than someone else, but why would you fault an individual who is using their meager pennies with an attorney to try and prevail on something that they believe will harm them?
My amendment is very simple. It just indicates, if you prevail, you should not be denied the attorney fees that anyone else would get and, if you will, debunks and rebuts the proposition that only those groups that we might not enjoy their position--trade associations, private big companies--I ask my colleagues to support the Jackson Lee amendment for fairness and justice in America.
I yield back the balance of my time.