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Highlights

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) faces numerous legal challenges as it implements the nation's environmental laws. Several statutes, such as the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts, allow citizens to file suit against EPA to challenge certain agency actions. Where EPA is named as a defendant, the Department of Justice provides EPA's legal defense. If successful, plaintiffs may be paid for certain attorney fees and costs. Payments are made from the Department of the Treasury's Judgment Fund--a permanent fund available to pay judgments against the government, as well as settlements resulting from lawsuits--or EPA's appropriations. For this review, GAO was asked to examine (1) the trends in and factors affecting environmental litigation for fiscal years 1995 through 2010 and (2) Justice's recent costs and recent plaintiff payments from the Judgment Fund and EPA. To conduct this review, GAO obtained and analyzed data from two Justice databases on cases filed under 10 key environmental statutes. To gain stakeholder views on any trends and factors that might affect them, GAO interviewed representatives of environmental and industry groups, state attorneys general, and other experts. GAO estimated the costs of litigation handled by Justice attorneys and payments made for attorney fees and court costs from the Judgment Fund and EPA funds.

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