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Scott Slesinger’s Blog

Another Bill to Protect Industry from Free Enterprise

Scott Slesinger

Posted January 3, 2014 in U.S. Law and Policy

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H.R. 2279, A Bill to Allow Corporations to go Without Insurance and Place the Expense on the Taxpayer Act.

Does Capitalism Work?

Apparently not according to House Republicans.

House Republicans once more are trying to privatize profits and socialize the costs.

As the House of Representatives returns from a well-earned vacation, another rollback of environmental laws is in the offing.

This time the sponsors, among other things, want to allow corporations that deal with hazardous materials to NOT carry insurance in case they pollute the land or water.

My mortgage lender insists that I carry fire insurance though the risk to my brick condo is minimal. The Superfund Law requires the Environmental Protection Agency to determine which industries have caused significant waste contamination and left tremendous cleanup costs to the government.  To protect the taxpayers, the law requires EPA to make sure those industries with risky profiles have insurance to cover such threats.  In many cases, companies have found ways to go bankrupt to avoid the cost of cleanup and to leave the burden to taxpayers. 

For example, after the owner of the Summitville mine in Colorado went bankrupt, it left behind cyanide and acid mine drainage that by 2007 had cost the EPA—ie, the taxpayers--$192 million to clean up. Worse, according to the Government Accountability Office, when an unnamed “large mining company” when bankrupt in 2005, an estimated $5 billion in environmental claims were filed against it. EPA and the Interior Department say that their cleanup costs for a the company’s largest site, in Idaho and Eastern Washington,  will be in excess of $2 billion.

The GAO report says it’s not just coincidence or bad luck that once the companies extract all the profits from their operations, they go bust and stick the taxpayers with the clean-up bill:  “Because businesses are typically aware of Superfund liabilities for many years before they have to fund cleanups, they have ample time to reorganize and structure themselves in ways that can limit expenditures.”

Requiring insurance or other financial assurance protects the community and taxpayers if not from the toxic threats, at least from the cost of cleanup.

But to protect companies apparently too poor to carry insurance but rich enough to make political contributions, H.R. 2279 will be voted on next week to make it almost impossible to require polluting industries to carry such insurance.   Anyone who doesn’t believe in capitalism or personal responsibility should support this bill.

 

*Edited on January 6, 2014 to add specific examples.

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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