March 16, 2000
No Justice for Asbestos Exposure Victims
Statement of Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook
on House Judiciary Committee Passage of H.R. 1283
The House Judiciary Committee, in a 17-16 partisan vote, reported an amended version of H.R. 1283, the Asbestos Compensation Act of 2000, out of committee today. The bill is fundamentally flawed because it extinguishes the valid claims of more than two-thirds of workers and their families injured by asbestos exposure.
Regrettably, the House Judiciary Committee has voted to bar the courtroom door to two-thirds of the workers injured by the unconscionable acts of asbestos defendants. For decades, asbestos companies knew about the sickness and death brought on by asbestos exposure and did nothing to protect their workers or those who used their products. Now the bill passed by the committee would grant those very companies an enormous windfall through arbitrary and unfairly restrictive medical criteria that would cut off compensation claims for tens of thousands of exposed workers and their families.
This is corporate welfare at its worst. The bill is a bonanza for the defendants, shifting the cost of asbestos illnesses and deaths from the wrongdoers to the workers they so calculatedly and callously injured.
Today’s vote demonstrates how our democratic process has been subverted by the power of corporate money. Despite claims that the bill was motivated by concern for asbestos victims, not a single victim has ever come forward in support of the bill. Instead, the asbestos defendants who knowingly injured and killed workers have used political contributions, high-powered lobbying and public relations firms, and academics they hired to work their will in Congress.
While the committee vote exacerbates the tragedy already inflicted on asbestos victims, the one-vote margin indicates that proponents of this travesty of justice face a difficult road to final passage in the House and Senate. We particularly commend the Department of Justice for its strong letter of opposition, which questions both the underlying assumptions of the bill and its basic framework.
NOTE: Public Citizen issued a March 9 report: How Special Interests Make Law: GAF Corporation Tries to Buy Liability Protection from Asbestos Claims. This analysis documents how the GAF Corp. and Samuel Heyman (GAF’s chairman and 97 percent owner) has orchestrated the sophisticated lobbying effort and dramatically increased its lobbying expenditures since the U.S. Supreme Court rejected the asbestos companies’ legal strategy to limit its asbestos liability exposure in the Amchem case in June 1997.
GAF’s total lobby expenditures since 1997 now top $7.1 million, according to newly available lobby reports. GAF expenditures ballooned from $1.52 million in 1998 to $4.89 million in 1999. In the first six months of 1997, GAF reported having spent a paltry $40,000 lobbying Congress. By the last six months of 1999 that figure had gone through the roof to $3.2 million — a 7,900 percent increase.