EPA feeding the hands that bite it?

The EPA gets sued on a regular basis by environmental groups complaining about a lack of enforcement, a process that routinely requires legal settlements and significant taxpayer expense.  Investors Business Daily’s report today suggests that taxpayers may be funding more of the process than they know.  Among the recipients of grants from the EPA are some of the same groups it faces in courtrooms:

One organization involved in the suit, the Environmental Defense Fund, has a long history of taking the EPA to court. In fact, a cursory review finds almost half a dozen cases in the past 10 years.

The odd thing is that the EPA, in turn, has handed EDF $2.76 million in grants over that same period, according to an IBD review of the agency’s grant database.

This strange relationship goes well beyond EDF. Indeed, several environmental groups that have received millions in EPA grants regularly file suit against that same agency. A dozen green groups were responsible for more than 3,000 suits against the EPA and other government agencies over the past decade, according to a study by the Wyoming-based Budd-Falen Law Offices.

Surprised?  Probably not, and for good reason.  The EPA doesn’t exactly discourage such lawsuits; in fact, the agency funded a handy guide instructing people how to go about suing them over ennvironmental enforcement.  And, as IBD notes, the group that publishes the guide has received nearly $10 million in EPA grants over the past decade.

Here’s another unsurprising surprise: the EPA usually winds up paying the legal fees associated with these suits.  The Equal Access to Justice Act created what a former Bush official calls “sweetheart suits,” a lucrative business that ends up transferring funds from the federal government to activist groups … and their lawyers.  It’s a free ride for plaintiff attorneys, since the EPA doesn’t get damaged by the process.  In fact, the suits generally force the EPA to do what they want to do anyway, using the courts to grant them jurisdiction and authority that Congress withholds.  It’s not for nothing that the EPA funds guides on how to sue them most effectively.

It’s a win-win for regulators.  They get more power, make themselves less accountable to Congress, and fund groups they like outside of Congressional appropriations, especially now that pork-barrel spending has fallen out of favor.  Trial lawyers get rich, too, a particular benefit for Democrats, who rely on that lobby for heavy political donations.  The only people who lose are the taxpayers getting their pockets picked and the businesses that end up on the wrong end of the expanding regulatory state.