MAC: Mines and Communities

Further articles on 'Bush the Destroyer'

Published by MAC on 2004-11-05

Bush: The second round

Corporate de-regulation, more coal mining and nuclear power, the plunder of Alaska's wilderness, bigger offence spending, costlier drugs and medical care, are just some of the predictable consequences of the second coming of George W Bush.

Bush win seen lifting drug, defense, oil, coal stocks

Story by Arindam Nag, Planet Ark

November 5, 2004

New York - It was a big bonanza this week for stocks seen benefiting most from a second term for President George W. Bush.

Winners included big oil companies, drillers and coal companies, which rode higher on confidence of four more years of Bush's fossil-fuel-friendly policies.

The Bush victory also boosted defense companies, which are expected to continue to benefit from the costly war in Iraq, which began in March 2003.

Pharmaceutical investors were encouraged by the prospect of the Bush win reducing the threat of government-imposed price cuts and pushed shares of drug stocks higher.

Utilities stocks rallied on the prospect that the president's dividend tax cut will be preserved. Gas and electric companies typically pay higher dividends.

On the downside, however, stocks seen most aligned to policies favored by Sen. John Kerry had a hard day as the Massachusetts Democrat conceded the race to Bush.

Those included a handful of biotechnology stocks focused on stem cell research, alternative energy companies and the government-backed mortgage finance companies Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

The combined muscle of Bush-friendly stocks boosted the Dow Jones industrial average more than 101 points, or just over 1 percent, to a close of 10,137.05.

"I expect this rally to stay at least in the short term, at least for a couple of weeks," said Som Dasgupta, head of equities trading, PNC Corporate Bank in Pittsburgh. "After that it depends on what President Bush says about fiscal policy going forward and how the market interprets what he says on the budget deficit."

The impact of the Bush victory was particularly felt in the pharma sector worldwide. For most global companies in this industry, the United States is still the biggest market and a Republican win reduces the risk of cut-price drug reimportation from Canada, industry analysts said.

"A Bush win will drive a relief rally in the (drug) sector," ABN Amro wrote in a note to clients. Pfizer rose nearly 3 percent to $29.50 while Bristol Myers Squibb rose 2.5 percent.

The oil industry is expected to benefit from Bush's ambition to increase America's own sources of oil.

"The Bush White House believes that high commodity prices would direct investment flow to supply and distribution infrastructure," said James Lucier, an energy policy analyst at Prudential Equity Group, earlier this week.

The defense sector rally was led by Boeing Co. Raytheon Co and Lockheed Martin Corp. Along with a couple of others, these three companies make the updated version of the "Star Wars" anti-missile defense system which Bush supports. Kerry had said he would slash the program.

"We expect defense spending trends to remain roughly unchanged, with risks of curtailed spending on missile defense much lower than before the election," said Jared Muroff, an analyst with Prudential Equity Group.

The banking sector took warmth on speculation that the administration would continue with current fiscal policies and would ease regulatory pressure on Wall Street.

That helped send shares of No. 2 U.S. bank J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. , brokerage giant Merrill Lynch & Co. and Wachovia Corp. up more than 2 percent. Bank of America Corp. the third-largest bank, advanced 1.6 percent, while the KBW Bank Index , a broad measure for large banks, gained 1.2 percent.

"The regulatory environment has been hostile for the past three or four years," said Dick Bove, veteran bank analyst at Punk, Ziegel & Co. "It was a convincing win by the GOP: they got the Senate, the House and the presidency. The speculation among investors is that regulators will back off."

Among the losers were companies involved in alternative energy like FuelCell Energy Inc. Ballard Power Systems and Plug Power Inc. as Kerry favored policies focused on energy conservation, use of alternative energy sources and cutting dependence on foreign oil.

(Additional reporting by Ben Hirschler in London, Dan Burns, Chelsea Emery, Anna Driver, Deepa Babington and Joseph Giannone in New York)

Policies Expected During Bush's Second Term


November 5, 2004

Washington - Following are some policies President Bush has said he will pursue in his second term in office:


- Continue training Iraqi security forces to double the current 98,000 by mid-2005.

- Continue six-party talks with North Korea but rule out direct bilateral negotiations.

- Support European efforts to get Iran to back away from developing nuclear weapons before bringing the matter to the U.N. Security Council.


- Create new office of national director of intelligence. Has submitted a plan to the U.S. Congress that would give the new director authority over much of the intelligence community but not the full budgetary powers sought by the independent Sept. 11 commission.

- Shift military forces from Cold War-era bases in Europe to outposts closer to countries on the frontline of the U.S.-led war on terror.

- Renew all provisions of the USA Patriot Act, some of which are set to expire in 2005.

- Increase the number of border-patrol agents and step up biometric identification - using machines that can read documents containing digital fingerprints or photos - at major border crossings.


- Has asked Congress to make permanent the tax cuts approved in 2001 and 2003, saying they will help create jobs.

- Set up $3,000 re-employment accounts to assist the unemployed in searching for jobs. The accounts would cover expenses such as transportation and child-care.


- Limit medical malpractice lawsuits, which some analysts say have spurred soaring health care costs.

- Establish health savings accounts system to help people pay for health insurance. The accounts would be funded by tax-free deductions from paychecks and businesses could deduct contributions from their taxes.

- Give tax credits to low-income workers who cannot afford health care.


- Move to require more standardized testing for high school students. Bush's "No Child Left Behind Act" ties federal funding for public schools to test scores.


- Divert some Social Security taxes to private investment accounts for younger workers.


- Mandate greater automobile fuel efficiency, build a natural gas pipeline to Alaska and encourage the use of alternative fuels.

- Open Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil exploration.

- Build new nuclear power plants and allow storage of nuclear waste in Nevada's Yucca Mountain.

- Increase funding to develop "clean-coal" energy plants.

The US Bureau of Land Management has sacked an environmental investigator who revealed dangerous levels of toxics at an abandoned mine site, formerly operated by Atlantic Richfield (itself now owned by BP)

Anaconda Mine Manager Files Whistleblower Complaint

Environmental News Service (ENS)

November 12, 2004

WASHINGTON, DC, - Earl Dixon's lawyer says he was too good at his job of pursuing environmental compliance at Nevada's Anaconda Mine, and that is why he was fired by his superior at the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM).

On Thursday, Dixon filed a whistleblower complaint under several federal laws including the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Clean Air Act, Superfund, the Toxic Substances Control Act and the Occupational Health and Safety Act.

"Earle Dixon's job was to solve the pollution problems, not disguise them," said attorney Richard Condit, general counsel for Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), whose organization will assist Dixon's lead counsel, Mick Harrison, in prosecuting the whistleblower claim. "From this record, it appears BLM removed Earle Dixon simply because he did environmental compliance too well," Condit said.

The Anaconda Mine is an abandoned copper mine covering more than 3,600 acres where acid run-off and waste rock containing low levels of uranium, thorium and other exposed metals have been disposed in unlined ponds. The mine has also had a succession of owners, including the Atlantic Richfield Company owned by British Petroleum. Today, half the site is located on public lands managed by the BLM.

Dixon's job was to coordinate the hazardous waste management and compliance at the site with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the State of Nevada, tribes and responsible private parties.

Dixon claims in his complaint that he was illegally dismissed for pursuing worker safety, as well as radiation, air and water pollution violations.

Dixon says his superior, BLM Nevada Director Bob Abbey, was unwilling to confront mounting evidence of contamination and worker exposure because dealing with them would drive up remediation costs.

Radiation readings were well above background levels that pose risks to the health of workers onsite, Dixon claims. He documented higher than expected contamination of soil, groundwater and drinking water wells; and non- compliance with a number of federal pollution standards, including possible public exposure to radioactive and toxic metals in air-borne dust. With Dixon's removal, oversight of the Anaconda Mine has been moved from the BLM Carson City Office to the BLM state headquarters in Reno.

"Such a move is an unprecedented political intervention in a hazardous waste cleanup operation and reflects a retaliatory motive by the BLM State Director," said Harrison.

Dixon's complaint triggers an immediate federal investigation and, if the matter is not resolved in 30 days, a full evidentiary hearing before a federal administrative law judge will be scheduled.

Lawsuit Takes EPA to Task Over Toxic Boiler Emissions

Environmental News Service (ENS)

November 15, 2004

WASHINGTON, DC - The Bush administration has issued standards for air emissions from tens of thousands of industrial boilers that are "irresponsibly weak" environmental groups charged Friday in a lawsuit filed in U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.

The Natural Resources Defense Council, the Sierra Club, and the Environmental Integrity Project, represented by the non-profit environmental law firm Earthjustice, filed the suit against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Three plaintiff groups allege that the administration's rule, finalized in September, violates the Clean Air Act and fails to protect the public from deadly pollutants emitted by an estimated 58,000 industrial boilers across the nation.

The covered boilers burn an array of wastes that can include chemically treated wood waste, used oil waste, solvents, old tires, sewage gas, paint sludge, toxic fly ash, wastewater treatment sludge, and paper mill sludge.

"The Bush EPA is allowing thousands of facilities across the country to burn industrial waste without adequate controls," said Earthjustice attorney Jim Pew. "The waste is burned in so-called 'boilers' and 'process heaters' that emit tons of highly toxic pollution into communities, homes and schools."

The plaintiffs charge that the EPA has approved "no control" standards, which require no emission reductions at all, for benzene, a known human carcinogen, mercury, a toxic metal linked to birth defects and developmental damage in children, and other toxics.

The rule allows boilers to not clean up emissions of toxics such as acetaldehyde, formaldehyde and lead, all probable human carcinogens.

EPA has never claimed that boilers' emissions of these substances is safe. "The Bush administration is far more interested in protecting the pocketbooks of its industry sponsors than the health of families and communities exposed to these dangerous toxins," said Jane Williams, chair of Sierra Club's Toxics Committee.

Two Industry Connected Appointees Off Coal Waste Committee

Environmental News Service (ENS)

November 15, 2004

WASHINGTON, DC - Citizen groups who protested the conflicts of interest of several appointees to the National Academy of Sciences' committee studying the health effects of Mine Placement of Coal Combustion Wastes welcomed Friday's announcement that two committee members with industry connections are off the panel.

Coal industry lobbyist Edward Green is no longer a member of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) committee and Dr. Patricia Buffler, who consults for the Electric Power Research Institute, has resigned.

"It's imperative that this committee, which will evaluate the harm this practice is doing to coal field communities across the nation, carry out its mission in an open and unbiased way," said Lisa Evans, senior attorney for the Clean Air Task Force.

On October 26, 42 citizen groups wrote to National Academy President Bruce Alberts protesting the conflicts of interest and lack of balance on the Mine Placement of Coal Combustion Wastes study committee.

The committee was commissioned by Congress to study the health effects of this practice, and comes under the rules of the Federal Advisory Committee Act. This law precludes professionals with conflicts of interest from serving on federal advisory committees and requires that panels be balanced with regard to points of view expressed.

"To improve the panel's make up and comply with federal law, the NAS must add scientists who acknowledge the environmental damage resulting from the dumping of coal combustion waste in mines," Evans said. "There are still four committee members with direct conflicts of interest and other ties to the coal and utility industries."

"We're glad the NAS moved quickly to correct two flaws in the panel's make up," said Merrill Goozner, director of the Integrity in Science project at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a nonprofit health advocacy group.

A super fund - but not a super agency

Britain's largest company, BP- Arco, has promised to pay the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to clean up the most toxic mine site in the USA. This is part of the Superfund programme (CERCLA) - the largest reclamation and rehabilitation programme in the world - which the EPA claims to be expanding.

So far so good. However environmental groups say it doesn't mean overall improvements to water and air quality. On the contrary, the EPA is likely to cut back even more on enforcement actions against big industrial polluters and coal-fired plants in particular

ARCO to Pay $50 Million for Montana Superfund Cleanup Environmental News Service

Environmental News Service (ENS)

November 16, 2004

HELENA, Montana - The Department of Justice and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency have reached an agreement with Atlantic Richfield in a consent decree reimbursing the federal government for cleanup costs at four portions of the Clark Fork Basin Superfund sites in Montana.

The consent decree was negotiated to cover EPA cleanup costs in the Clark Fork Basin from the early 1980s until July 31, 2002.

The EPA has been in litigation over these costs in the federal district court for Montana for many years with the Atlantic Richfield Company - a subsidiary of British Petroleum, commonly known as ARCO.

Under the agreement, the EPA will receive $50 million in payments from ARCO and another $12 million from the US Judgement Fund, for a total of $62 million.

As part of the agreement, ARCO will agree not to assert liability defenses against the United States for reimbursement for the considerable costs it has incurred at the sites or for the conduct of future cleanup actions.

The agreement also settles all of ARCO's counterclaims against several federal agencies which ARCO claims are also liable parties under Superfund.

"This excellent settlement recovers substantial funds that can be used for cleanup at these Superfund sites, and it clears the way for future Clark Fork Basin settlements with Atlantic Richfield that will vastly improve conditions in the basin," said John Cruden, deputy assistant attorney general for the Environment and Natural Resources Division at the Justice Department.

"The citizens of Montana will benefit greatly from this settlement, which should expedite future cleanup efforts from Butte to Anaconda and along the Clark Fork River," said William Mercer, the U.S. attorney for the District of Montana.

The areas covered under the consent decree are the Anaconda Smelter Site, the Clark Fork River Operable Unit of the Clark Fork River/Milltown Reservoir Sediments Site, and the Warm Springs Ponds and Butte Priority Soils Operable Units of the Silver Bow Creek/Butte Area Site.

The Anaconda Smelter Site covers 300 square miles at the southern end of the Deer Lodge Valley, at and near the location of the former Anaconda Minerals Company ore processing facilities. These facilities were developed to remove copper from ore mined in Butte from about 1884 through 1980, when the smelter closed. Milling and smelting produced wastes with high concentrations of arsenic, as well as copper, cadmium, lead and zinc.

The Clark Fork River/Milltown Reservoir Sediments Site begins just below Warm Springs Ponds in the Deer Lodge Valley and runs 120 miles downstream to the Milltown Dam just east of Missoula. The river and reservoir are contaminated with metals and arsenic from historic mining, milling and smelting activities.

The boundary of the Silver Bow Creek/Butte Area site begins above Butte, near the Continental Divide, and extends westward along Silver Bow Creek to and including the Warm Springs Ponds. The site covers 26 miles of stream and streamside habitat. Silver Bow Creek was a conduit for mining, smelting, industrial and municipal wastes for more than 100 years. Vast mine tailings deposits are found along the creek. These deposits contain elevated levels of metals and have been dispersed over the entire flood plain. The site also includes the cities of Butte and Walkerville.

"We are accomplishing two important goals with this agreement. First, the cleanup of the Clark Fork River, Butte, Anaconda, and Warm Springs Pond sites will move forward," said Tom Skinner, acting assistant administrator, Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. "And second, the people responsible for this problem will pay for that cleanup."

"This settlement will hopefully streamline future discussions with ARCO for the remaining cleanup actions in the Clark Fork Basin," said Carol Rushin, U.S. EPA Region 8 Assistant Regional Administrator for Enforcement. "We're very pleased we were able to reach an agreement with ARCO."

The agreement, reached November 5, will be the subject of a 30 day public comment period after the Justice Department issues a Federal Register notice for the settlement, which is still pending.

EPA 2004 Year End Shows 40 Superfund Sites Cleaned

Environmental News Service (ENS)

November 16, 2004

WASHINGTON, DC - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has released an annual summary that shows the agency completed work at 40 Superfund sites in the 12 months ending September 30. In that year, more than 52 percent of the budget for long term, ongoing cleanup work was committed to just nine sites.

As the Superfund program matures, so too does the size, complexity and cost of sites under or ready to begin construction, the agency said in a statement Monday, explaining why so much of its budget was spent on nine sites.

Last year, the EPA conducted 678 ongoing cleanup projects at 428 sites - including EPA lead, Potentially Responsible Party lead and Federal Facility sites.

The agency provided $104 million for new work at 27 projects across the country ­ 18 more new projects than the previous year. The EPA listed 11 new sites and proposed 26 sites to be added to the Superfund List. EPA enforcement actions concluded in fiscal year 2004 will reduce a projected one billion pounds of pollution and require cleanups estimated to total a record $4.8 billion, increases over last year.

"EPA's enforcement strategy is focused on what matters most: achieving real environmental improvements that benefit everyone," said Tom Skinner, EPA acting assistant administrator for the Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance.

"We are getting significant, real-world pollution reductions through mechanisms like injunctive relief pushing companies to install more effective pollution controls - and supplemental environmental projects, which improve the environment and public health both nationwide and close to home."

Inspections are up 11 percent, and investigations are up 32 percent over last year, the EPA reports.

But conservation groups say the agency is not doing enough to enforce environmental laws.

The election of President George W. Bush to a second term means that polluters will enjoy four more years of lax enforcement of the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, said the Environmental Integrity Project (EIP) and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NDRC) on November 9.

The EIP released a new analysis showing that civil penalties imposed by the EPA against polluters in 2004 hit a 15 year low. The $56.8 million in 2004 civil penalties is the lowest amount since 1990, the first year for which such "big picture" penalty information is readily available, the EIP reported.

To help address funding challenges, in the FY 2004 and FY 2005 budget requests, the Bush administration has asked for a $150 million increase above the FY 2003 budget.

The new Republican controlled Congress will decide on these budget requests. John Walke, director of NRDC's Clean Air Program, predicted that the EPA "likely will cut back its enforcement efforts against large industrial air polluters even more than it did during the first term."

"It is possible that the agency will drop all of its new source review enforcement cases against coal-fired power plants, and weaken consent decrees with refiners that settled previous cases," Walke said. "The agency also likely will block attempts to force large animal feedlots to comply with the Clean Air Act."

Walke predicted that the administration will continue to cut environmental enforcement budgets at the EPA and the Department of Justice.

The good news, the two groups say, is that some state attorneys general and citizen enforcers will step in to tackle the worst cases when the EPA fails to act.

The US Environmental Protection Agency is still pushing methods, that are less effective than enforcement of the existing Clean Air Act.

EPA Releases Public Comments on Limiting Mercury Emissions

December 1, 2004

Environmental News Service (ENS)

WASHINGTON, DC, - More than 680,000 public comments on how best to reduce mercury emissions from power plants received by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) were released Tuesday for further public comment.

Currently, nationwide mercury emissions from coal fired power plants are about 48 tons per year. The mercury emitted into the air falls upon waterways where it is absorbed by fish. Consumption of contaminated fish is harmful to children as well as to pregnant women and their fetuses.

According to the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, "Mercury's harmful effects that may be passed from the mother to the fetus include brain damage, mental retardation, incoordination, blindness, seizures, and inability to speak. Children poisoned by mercury may develop problems of their nervous and digestive systems, and kidney damage."

In December 2003, the EPA proposed two alternatives for controlling mercury emitted into the air by coal fired power plants. One approach would require power plants to install controls known as "maximum achievable control technology" under the Clean Air Act. If implemented, this proposal would reduce nationwide mercury by 14 tons or about 30 percent by early 2008.

A second approach would create a market based "cap and trade" program that, if implemented, would reduce nationwide power plant emissions of mercury in two phases. Beginning in 2010, the first phase would reduce power plant mercury emissions by taking advantage of what the EPA calls "co-benefit" controls - mercury reductions achieved by reducing sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions under the Clean Air Interstate Rule.

In 2018, the second phase of the mercury program sets a cap of 15 tons. When fully implemented, mercury emissions would be reduced by 33 tons - nearly 70 percent of current levels.

Many environmental groups have observed that by simply enforcing the Clean Air Act as written, mercury emissions would be reduced more quickly than by implementing either of these alternatives.

The EPA received over 680,000 letters, emails and postcards, including about 5,000 unique messages, commenting on the Proposed Clean Air Mercury Rule and the Supplemental Clean Air Mercury Rule by the time the public comment period ended on June 29, 2004.

The EPA also received comments concerning the forms or "species" of mercury present in coal fired power plant emissions. The degree of mercury emissions control depends on the form of mercury at issue.

The three species of mercury in the emissions gases of coal fired power plants consist of elemental, ionic or oxidized, and particulate. The agency is seeking additional input on the forms of mercury emitted by coal fired power plants.

Release of these public comments is part of the EPA process toward delivering a final mercury rule by March 15, 2005. EPA will take comment on this action for 30 days after publication in the Federal Register.

For more information on this Notice of Data Availability, visit:

On the Clean Air Mercury Rule, visit:

For the Clean Air Interstate Rule, visit:

Army Corps Faces Motion of Contempt Over Valley Fills

By J.R. Pegg, Environmental News Service (ENS)

December 7, 2004

Wahsington, DC ­ The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has continued to grant coal companies permission to dump mining debris and waste rubble in the valleys and streams of Appalachian Mountains under a streamlined permit process ruled illegal by a federal judge.

The federal agency says its actions are a fair interpretation of the ruling, but environmentalists disagree and last week filed a contempt of court motion against the Corps. The dispute centers on the federal agency's regulation of a controversial practice known as mountaintop removal mining.

The process is a form of strip mining widely used in Appalachia in which mining companies blast hundreds of feet off the tops of mountains to easily access coal deposits.

The massive amount of debris and waste rubble is bulldozed into surrounding valleys and streambeds. Environmentalists sued the Army Corps for granting permission for West Virginia valley fills under a streamlined, nationwide permitting process known as Nationwide Permit 21.

The plaintiffs argued that use of the general permit was in essence a rubber stamp for massive coal mining operations and thus a violation of the Clean Water Act. Mountaintop removal mining has destroyed more than a thousand miles of waterways in West Virginia alone as well as thousands of acres of forests across Appalachia.

In a ruling issued on July 8, U.S. District Court Judge Joseph Goodwin agreed with the environmentalists and determined the agency should increase its scrutiny of valley fills and issue permits for specific sites rather than using Nationwide Permit 21.

Goodwin ordered the agency to revoke previous authorization for 11 valley fills and to block authorization for operations where construction of valley fills and surface impoundments had not begun prior to July 8, 2004.

But in a status report filed with court last month the Corps said it has authorized at least 22 mining operations to proceed with valley fills.

These operations are legal, according to the agency, because the companies had started preparatory activities ­ such as pond building, road construction and land clearing ­ prior to Goodwin's order.

The agency was unavailable for comment on its status report or the contempt motion.

The environmental groups, who told Goodwin in August that the Corps was ignoring the ruling, contend that the Corps has illegally permitted new valley fills in defiance of the judge's order.

"The Corps and the administration obviously have no regard for the nation's environmental laws," said Vivian Stockman, project coordinator for the West Virginia based Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, which filed the motion along with Natural Resources Defense Council and Coal River Mountain Watch. "They will apparently attempt anything to continue this culturally destructive and ecologically insane mining method."

The motion calls on Judge Goodwin to find the Corps in civil contempt and order the agency to detail the location and size of any mining waste dumping it has approved since the July ruling.

But the case may soon be out of Goodwin's hands ­ the Bush administration has appealed his ruling to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia. No date for argument of the appeal has been scheduled.

The White House has been sympathetic to complaints from the coal industry that stricter regulation of mining operations will cost jobs and harm an industry that is still an important economic engine in Appalachia.

But the Bush administration has faced broad criticism for its policies to ease regulations on the industry ­ including the rule change that encouraged use of the Nationwide 21 Permit and a proposal issued in January to relax a federal rule that restricts mining within 100 feet of a stream, known as the buffer zone.

The proposed change would strike the existing rule and instead call on coal operators to prevent and minimize damage to streams in the buffer zone "to the extent possible."

Administration officials ­ and industry groups ­ say the revisions would provide greater clarity to industry and balance the economic and environmental needs of regions that use the technique.

Critics contend that change would give coal operators free reign to destroy the Appalachian environment. "The government has allowed coal barons to abuse Appalachians for more than 130 years, and it is long past time to put a stop to it," said Julia Bonds, community outreach coordinator for Coal River Mountain Watch.

G W Bush is backing former asbestos producers, like Halliburton, in pushing for a curb on asbestos compensation suits. Trade Unionists and lawyers say it could amount to a denial of basic rights.

Bush Says Asbestos Suits Hurt US Economy

Environmental News Service (ENS)

January 10, 2005

Clinton Township, Michigan - US President George W. Bush urged Congress on Friday to curb asbestos litigation he said was putting too many US companies out of business and charged that frivolous lawsuits were harming the economy.

Limiting litigation is one of Bush's top economic priorities for his second term, along with adding private accounts to the Social Security retirement system and overhauling the tax code.

Corporate America has long sought legal reform, saying businesses are being hurt by runaway lawsuits. Opponents say many legal reform efforts are aimed at protecting special interests such as companies with asbestos liabilities.

"The system's not fair," Bush told a forum in Clinton Township, a Detroit suburb. "It's not fair to those who have been harmed. It's not fair to those who are trying to employ people."

The president said the lawsuits were hurting victims of asbestos-related illness because bankruptcies by companies resulting from claims lacking merit were leaving those with valid claims nowhere to turn for compensation.

The issue of asbestos lawsuits is a concern for Detroit's automakers, which have been sued by people who worked around brake parts with asbestos fibers.

Halliburton, the company Vice President Dick Cheney used to head up, said this week that it had completed a $4.2 billion asbestos settlement.

Asbestos is a fire-resistant mineral fiber once widely used in building materials. Scientists say inhaled fibers are linked to cancer and other illnesses.

Concern over price tag

A proposal by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter would take asbestos claims out of the courts and compensate victims from a trust funded by asbestos defendant companies and insurers.

Specter, a Pennsylvania Republican, has left open the fund's overall price tag, but the last number known to be on the table was $140 billion. While many in the corporate world say that is too high, organized labor says at least $149 billion is needed.

Some trouble signs for the bill emerged earlier this week when US Chamber of Commerce chief Thomas Donohue said the Specter proposal for the compensation fund was too expensive.

One group of insurers took issue with the cost of the proposed fund and with provisions that could allow a return to the courts.

Carl Parks of the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America urged lawmakers and Bush to keep working on the problem, saying there was a "dire necessity" for a solution. Sen. John Cornyn, a Texas Republican and member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he knew there were concerns about Specter's draft bill in the business community.

"But we need a vehicle to get the debate and discussions and legislative process started," he said in a telephone interview.

But the AFL-CIO labor organization said Bush had missed an opportunity to show genuine compassion for victims of asbestos disease, by failing to endorse creation of a trust fund.

Recent statements by prominent business leaders withdrawing their support for the fund were a "serious setback," said AFL-CIO President John Sweeney. Some of their demands, he said, "will make it impossible to reach agreement" on a compromise.

Todd Smith, president of the Association of Trial Lawyers of America, accused Bush of attacking the legal rights of Americans.

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