Suiting Up Against The Department Of The Interior
In addition to managing federal lands, the Department of the Interior (DOI) “supports stewardship and collaborative conservation and management” of the U.S. ocean, Great Lakes, and coastal resources. The House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations hosted a hearing to examine the policy impacts of litigation against the department.
The hearing memo from the majority staff pointed to favorable settlements and attorney’s fee awards as factors that “feed a cycle of lawsuits that burden the agency” and can come from that agency’s appropriations, limiting their already-stretched resources. Ms. Lois Schiffer (Retired General Counsel, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) stressed that lawsuits against the federal government “are brought to challenge agency action or failure to act under specific statutes or regulations.” She went on to say that those suing must meet requirements ensuring they are “making non-frivolous claims.” All witnesses agreed that the current system is imperfect; however, some felt litigation can be a useful democratic tool, while others felt the broken system has led to a detrimental excess of lawsuits.