Friday, January 18, 2013

Bill to add transparency in federal judgments

Cattlemen's and public-lands advocacy groups are applauding a bill in Congress that seeks to add transparency in federal judgments paid out to plaintiffs in environmental and other lawsuits.

As the Capital Press' Mateusz Perkowski has reported, neither the USDA nor the Interior Department has fully tracked plaintiffs who sought and received such compensation between 2000 and 2010, according to the Government Accountability Office.

From the Public Lands Council:
The Public Lands Council (PLC) and the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) voiced their support of the Judgment Fund Transparency Act, introduced today in the House of Representatives. The bill, introduced by Rep. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), seeks to provide increased oversight and transparency of the Treasury Department Judgment Fund.

The fund, established in 1956, is used to pay court judgments and settlements in cases brought against the federal government, if those costs are not otherwise covered by appropriated agency budgets. Currently, the Treasury has no reporting requirements or accountability to Congress or taxpayers, despite payouts having totaled more than $5 billion over the past three years. The transfer of funds is not currently subject to the approval of members of Congress or the public, and is not part of public record.

The legislation would require the Treasury to issue a public report describing funds allocated, a brief description of facts surrounding the agency request and an identification of the recipient of those funds. The legislation targets abuse of the fund by groups that consistently challenge the federal government in court and receive reimbursement.

“The livestock industry fully supports Rep. Gardner’s introduction of the Judgment Fund Transparency Act, a good-governance transparency bill which will serve as a major step forward in the effort to track currently unaccounted-for tax dollars being used to put our producers out of business,” said PLC Executive Director and NCBA Federal Lands Director Dustin Van Liew.

Van Liew asserted the bill would have a significant impact on the pervasive anti-agriculture lawsuits facing the government and livestock producers.

“Predatory litigators have made a cottage industry of bringing process-based lawsuits against the federal government in cases that affect livestock producers, which allows them to advance their anti-livestock agenda at taxpayers’ expense,” he said. “Our members, in order to defend their businesses, often end up paying out-of-pocket for personal attorneys at the same time that their tax dollars are being funneled to their opponents.”

PLC has represented livestock ranchers who use public lands since 1968, preserving the natural resources and unique heritage of the West. Public land ranchers own nearly 120 million acres of the most productive private land and manage vast areas of public land, accounting for critical wildlife habitat and the nation’s natural resources. PLC works to maintain a stable business environment in which livestock producers can conserve the West and feed the nation and world.
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