U.S. Rep. Tom Rice says environmentalists are blocking critical projects including International Drive by filing frivolous lawsuits, and that legislation is needed to avert the constant court delays.
His proposal comes as International Drive opponents say they are ready to take their case to the state Supreme Court.
“It’s absurd and out of balance,” Rice said of the current law.
A bill introduced Friday by the Myrtle Beach Republican would penalize environmental groups that file frivolous lawsuits to hold up multimillion-dollar infrastructure projects for years.
If the environmental groups lost the lawsuit after all the delays, they would be forced to pay all court and legal fees.
The way the law is currently structured, Rice said environmentalists “with no skin in the game” can pay a $300 filing fee to block projects through endless court appeals.
“I’m all about protecting the environment and making sure there are reasonable protections,” Rice told The Sun News.
But, he says special-interest groups are abusing the process, which in turn costs taxpayers more dollars through legal fees and rising construction costs.
The International Drive project to link Carolina Forest and Highway 90 with a five-mile paved road has been tied up in litigation since 2015 through lawsuits filed in state and federal courts by the Coastal Conservation League and S.C. Wildlife Federation.
Dana Beach, executive director of the Coastal Conservation League, confirmed Friday night they have asked the S.C. Supreme Court to hear the case.
As for Rice’s legislation, Beach says the proposal that losing parties pay legal fees violates due process and the basic rights of citizens to participate in the decision-making process of government.
“It would severely restrict the ability citizens have to defend themselves against capricious government actions,” Beach said.
Environmentalists are opposed to the construction of International Drive for numerous reasons, including the impact it would have on wildlife. The groups also argue that the route will encourage more development near the Lewis Ocean Bays Heritage Preserve.
The legislation, Discouraging Frivolous Lawsuits Act (H.R. 1179), has 30 cosponsors, and the confidence of its author that if it passes the House and Senate, President Donald Trump would sign the bill into law.