Enviros, Conservatives Unite Against Asbestos Trust Fund

Today, at the National Press Club advocates from across the political spectrum joined to voice their common opposition to S.852, the Fairness in Asbestos Injury Resolution Act of 2005 or the FAIR Act of 2005. bill. Led by the Coalition for Asbestos Reform (CAR), this group of business and consumer interests united to demonstrateopposition to the bill introduced by Senators Arlen Specter, a Pennsylvania Republican and Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat.
“The Specter/Leahy bill will create greater uncertainty for everyone except the few big companies who would be allowed to escape the billions of dollars in costs for which they are responsible,” said Thomas O’Brien, chairman of CAR.

“The group that comes together today does not agree on much, but we agree on this – S.852 creates more problems than it solves,” O’Brien said. “In fact, the only problem it solves is the liability problem for the biggest companies in America who bear the largest responsibility for the asbestos crisis. Virtually every other stakeholder in the asbestos situation is opposed to this bill.”

The Specter-Leahy bill would establish a $140 billion trust fund to compensate victims suffering from asbestos-related disease. Senator Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat, has described the legislation as a compromise that balances the interests of victims and businesses.

The effort to stem the rising tide of asbestos litigation cases clogging the nation’s courts began more than three years ago.

The bill is co-sponsored by Senators Orrin Hatch, a Utah Republican, and Mike DeWine and George Voinovich, both Ohio Republicans, as well as Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat, and Max Baucus, a Montana Democrat.

But David Lascell of Hopeman Brothers Marine Interiors said at the Press Club today, “It’s companies like Hopeman Brothers, that don’t have big lobbyists in Washington and are just trying to stay afloat and keep people employed, that are going to pay the price for this disastrous legislation.”

“The Specter Leahy bill is unfair and un-American and must be stopped,” Lascell said.

Asbestos exposure can cause serious lung problems and cancer. Exposure to the fibrous mineral usually occurs by breathing contaminated air in workplaces that make or use asbestos. Asbestos is also found in the air of buildings containing asbestos that are being torn down or renovated.

Because it is heat resistant and easily woven, asbestos has been used in roofing shingles, ceiling and floor tiles, paper products, and asbestos cement products, friction products such as automobile clutch, brake, and transmission parts, heat-resistant fabrics, packaging, gaskets, and coatings. Some vermiculite or talc products may contain asbestos.

“S.852 was not written for present and future victims, but instead to bail out corporations who exposed workers and consumers to asbestos,” said Linda Reinstein, executive director and cofounder of the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization (ADAO).

According to Matt Kibbe, President of FreedomWorks, “Instead of fixing the problem, the Specter/Leahy Trust Fund approach – S.852 – abandons our court system in favor of a bureaucratic, tax-and-spend process. We’re not ready to give up on the American legal system, and that’s why FreedomWorks strongly opposes S.852.”

“This asbestos bill is corporate welfare at its worst,” said Jillian Aldebron, civil justice counsel for Public Citizen’s Congress Watch. “It is designed to protect the companies most egregiously responsible for the asbestos crisis from paying their fair share. It fails hundreds of thousands of victims of asbestos exposure and their families and it fails all who believe in a just and fair society.”

At a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in April, Senator Leahy introduced S.852, saying, “This bill marks a significant improvement over similar efforts in past Congresses. We have traveled a long road from the early days of bills that provided no funding but would have imposed restrictive medical criteria. We have increased the resources devoted to providing fair compensation from last year’s $108 billion to $140 billion.”

“The legislation provides higher compensation awards for victims and provides medical monitoring for all unimpaired asbestos victims,” Leahy said, and it “will also provide medical screening for high-risk workers.”

But CAR members were not persuaded. At today’s event, CAR unveiled its broadcast advertising campaign against the legislation. Beginning this morning, two spots, entitled “Bailout” and “Real Conservative,” began airing in the Washington, DC market and on the Fox News Channel. The initial advertising campaign will run through the week.

CAR is a group of small and medium sized businesses and their insurance companies committed to educating U.S. businesses and policymakers about the serious flaws in S.852.

The coalition mobilized in June to launch a major national campaign to explain the effect of the Specter/Leahy bill on hundreds of local businesses that face potential asbestos liability, most of whom are unaware of the devastating impact of $140 billion in new taxes S.852 authorizes to finance the Trust Fund mandated by the bill.

They say the companies supporting the Specter/Leahy bill are among the biggest businesses in America, and they “have billions of dollars riding on the bill’s passage.”

“Their deep pockets have allowed them to help write the legislation and disguise its negative consequences on several thousand smaller businesses and their employees, on victims of asbestos poisoning, and on American taxpayers,” CAR said in its statement today.