Nov. 10, 2005 – A coalition of labor, workplace safety and environmental groups is calling on Senators to reject a bill that, the organizations say, would allow private contractors to violate environmental and worker protections in national disasters and other emergencies.
Introduced on September 22 by Senator John Thune (R-South Dakota) and co-sponsored by four other Republican lawmakers, the Gulf Coast Recovery Act is aimed at speeding the rebuilding efforts in the wake of Hurricanes Rita and Katrina. It would do so, in part, by streamlining contractor-liability laws and pushing all related lawsuits into the federal court system.
In addition, the proposed Act would temporarily bar contract employees from suing government contractors handling the Gulf Coast clean-up, end monetary awards for emotional and other non-physical damages and prohibit courts and juries from levying punitive awards in such cases.
The Senate subcommittee on Superfund and Waste Management held a hearing on the bill Tuesday. The subcommittee has not posted testimony from the proceedings on-line.
In a letter to Senators, opponents of the bill warned that the Gulf Coast Recovery Act "would give federal disaster contractors unprecedented legal immunity against environmentally based citizensâ€™ suits and, in most cases, relieve federal contractors from responsibility for personal injuries and property damage they cause."
The coalition â€“ which includes the Sierra Club, United Steel Workers, New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health, American Public Health Association and Environmental Integrity Project â€“ also charges that the law frees federal contractors from restrictions under several environmental laws, including the Clean Air Act and Oil Pollution Act.
As reported previously by The NewStandard, labor and environmental groups have been charging that government officials are ignoring reports of environmental toxins, labor law violations, worker exploitation and safety and health problems almost since Hurricane Katrina first hit the US.