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 PRESS RELEASE by House Committee on Resources, 11/10/05

Witnesses Highlight Tactics Groups Use in
NEPA Lawsuits

Washington, DC - Today witnesses provided testimony on the trend and problems related to litigation under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Task Force Chairwoman Cathy McMorris (R-WA) and members heard testimony on two specific cases; one related to hurricane barriers in Louisiana and the other pertaining to grazing on public lands in the West.

"It has become increasingly clear to this Task Force that NEPA is the tool certain groups use to stall or even derail important projects, not on the basis of its merits or value, but on the mere fact they disagree with the project itself," said McMorris. "The increased number of lawsuits filed each year reflects the law's failure to bring parties to cooperation and demonstrates the loopholes special interest groups use to stop important projects."

McMorris and the Taskforce studied a 1977 lawsuit from Save Our Wetlands, an environmental organization whose legal action derailed an Army Corps of Engineers project that some believed could have prevented the flooding following Hurricane Katrina. Former Louisiana Democratic Senator J. Bennett Johnston, one of the chief sponsors of the hurricane barrier project, testified at the hearing and noted, "Despite the achievements of the legislation, litigants and dissenting bureaucrats have exploited the bill to kill projects by vexatious, expensive delay, and unnecessary administrative requirements. These unintended consequences within the legislation are bad for our nation and should be remedied."

Robert Winn, a lawyer from New Orleans, LA and one of the thousands of displaced residents who lost their homes in the flooding recalled the Save Our Wetlands lawsuit that derailed the Corps planned project: "Somehow the environmentalists prevailed, and the lock and dam project with the floodgates was abandoned . . . The court specifically found in its concluding paragraph, highlighted no less, that its opinion enjoining further work on the Corps' project 'should in no way be construed as precluding the Lake Pontchartrain Project as proposed or reflecting on its advisability in any manner.'"

"The district judge continued," Winn said. "'Upon proper compliance with the law with regard to the impact statement this injunction will be dissolved and any hurricane plan thus properly presented will be allowed to proceed.' For some reason the Corps, even after the injunction, failed to remedy the deficiencies in the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS). What is clear is that the high barrier plan implemented by the Corps in lieu of the lock and dam plan did not work, resulting in the horrendous consequences to the City of New Orleans and its people."

The Task Force also studied NEPA lawsuits environmental groups file in order to displace ranchers and cattle from grazing allotments. "It is my understanding that NEPA was and is intended to cause federal agencies to take a step back and look at the potential consequences on the environment of their contemplated 'major federal actions,' to involve the public in decision making and to mitigate potential consequences of actions," said Caren Cowan, the executive director of the New Mexico Cattle Growers Association. "I do not believe that NEPA was ever intended to halt natural resource use, sometimes to the detriment of natural resources, or to deprive families and rural economies of livelihoods."

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