MAC: Mines and Communities

US Senate Minority Leader to Oppose Asbestos Bill

Published by MAC on 2006-02-01

US Senate Minority Leader to Oppose Asbestos Bill

by PlanetArk

1st February 2006

WASHINGTON - Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid said Monday he would try to stop legislation establishing a $140 billion asbestos compensation fund from being debated on the floor of the US Senate next week.

The Nevada Democrat, a long time opponent of the legislation, said in a letter to Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist that the adequacy and solvency of the proposed trust fund remained in serious doubt. "Please be advised that I intend to oppose the motion to proceed to the asbestos legislation," said Reid in the letter dated Jan. 30.

"This bill is simply not ready for consideration by the full Senate." Debate is scheduled to begin Feb. 6

The bill, that would curb asbestos suits and pay victims' claims from a fund financed by asbestos defendant companies and insurers, has supporters and critics in both parties. Frist responded by saying the Supreme Court had repeatedly asked Congress to address the inefficient asbestos litigation system that had enriched lawyers at the expense of victims of the fibrous mineral.

"Yet again, Minority Leader Reid would rather obstruct than solve complex problems with bold leadership and ideas," said Frist, a Republican from Tennessee, in a statement.

Reid spokesman Jim Manley said Reid would "urge members of the caucus to oppose the bill" but was not counting potential votes. When a senator formally objects to consideration of a measure, the Senate then needs 60 votes to proceed with it.

Asbestos fibers are linked to cancer and other lung-scarring diseases, and hundreds of thousands of injury claims have clogged courtroom dockets and helped push more than 70 US companies, like W.R. Grace & Co. and USG Corp, into bankruptcy proceedings.

Earlier on Monday, building products company USG said it had reached a $4 billion settlement to resolve current and future claims against it for asbestos-related injuries.

The USG settlement reflected uncertainty about the fate of a national asbestos fund. The agreement contains $900 million in cash with a $3.05 billion note payable if a national fund fails to become law in the current session of Congress.

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