This was a vote on an amendment by Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-FL) that would have allowed litigators who successfully challenged federal oil drilling policies in court to collect attorneys’ fees.
The Equal Access to Justice Act awards fees up to $125 per hour (plus expenses) to litigators who sue the federal government and prevail in court. The underlying bill prohibited those suing the federal government over oil drilling projects from collecting such fees. Hastings’ amendment would have eliminated that prohibition.
Hastings urged support for his amendment: “Eliminating the awarding of attorneys' fees means the traditional groups that bring lawsuits on environmental or safety grounds, such as fishermen, small business owners and environmental groups, will no longer be reimbursed for the cost of successfully litigating these kinds of claims. The idea that the bill will somehow eliminate an excess of lawsuits is ridiculous. Since litigation is by its nature so expensive, these cash-strapped plaintiffs usually only bring those lawsuits with the most likelihood of success. Without the possibility of receiving attorneys' fees, legal challenges will effectively become impossible.”
Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-CO) opposed the amendment: “The Equal Access to Justice Act provisions in this bill are necessary to avoid costly delays to domestic energy development based on the extreme anti-energy agenda of a few groups. The Equal Access to Justice Act was intended to allow people and small businesses with limited financial means the ability to challenge the actions of the federal government. However, it is now being abused by deep-pocketed special interest organizations. For example, in 2005, the Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council received nearly $200,000 in taxpayer dollars after suing the Federal Government in an offshore energy project in California. The Sierra Club has annual revenues of $85 million, and the Natural Resources Defense Council has annual revenues of over $100 million. There is no justification for forcing the American taxpayer to pay the attorneys' fees of special interest groups that have ample funds of their own.”
The House rejected this amendment by a vote of 185-239. Voting “yea” were 183 Democrats and 2 Republicans. 231 Republicans and 8 Democrats voted “nay.” As a result, the House rejected an amendment that would have allowed litigators who successfully challenged federal oil drilling policies in court to collect attorneys’ fees.