The U.S. Forest Service recently agreed to pay $530,000 to the Pennsylvania Oil and Gas Association for attorneys’ fees it incurred in a lawsuit challenging an agreement between the Forest Service and two environmental groups. The agreement banned drilling while the Forest Service conducted an environmental impact statement (EIS) pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act. The industry group successfully demonstrated that the ban on drilling exceeded the Forest Service’s authority and a federal judge overturned the agreement.
The Association recovered attorneys’ fees pursuant to the Equal Access to Justice Act, which allows eligible entities, based on their size and net value, to recover attorneys’ fees if the government’s position was not substantially justified. Attorneys’ fees are limited to maximum hourly rates set under the statute. The court action was initially filed in 2009 and also involved an appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, which upheld the district court’s ruling in January of 2015.