Saturday :: Apr 19, 2003

How “Sue and Settle” Can Destroy Bush on Tort Reform


by Steve

For a party that wants to run on tort reform next year, the GOP sure is being overtly hypocritical about the evils of litigation overriding legislatively-made policy. Knowing that his opportunities in Congress the year before an election to overtly roll back environmental protections for his corporate benefactors will be limited, George W. Bush has resorted to executive orders and a “sue and settle” approach. Under “sue and settle”, industry groups, all of whom are large campaign contributors to Bush and the GOP and who have placed many of their members in Bush’s key regulatory positions, file lawsuits against the federal government challenging environmental protections. Then, with no congressional approval needed and without the public comment required in many environmental laws and regulations, the Bush Administration settles the suit and eviscerates years of environmental protection activity.

The Bush administration is quietly reshaping environmental policy to expand logging and other development by settling a series of lawsuits, many of them filed by industry groups.

Critics call it "sue and settle," leaving few fingerprints as officials move to roll back environmental protections.

None of the decisions were subject to prior public comment or congressional approval.

Critics suggest the administration is using the lawsuit settlements as an end-run around Congress, which has blocked some parts of the Bush agenda, including efforts to open Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling and the Healthy Forests Initiative, which would increase logging in national forests to reduce the risk of wildfires.

"In the guise of settling lawsuits, federal officials have retired to the back room to work out deals that sacrifice our old-growth forests, salmon and clean water for the sake of clearcutting our public lands," said Patti Goldman of Earthjustice.

The National Park Service also has allowed snowmobiles in Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks, and the Agriculture Department declined to defend the "roadless" rule, a Clinton-era policy that blocks road-building in remote forest areas.

Last week, the Interior Department announced that in response to a lawsuit it intends to halt all reviews of its Western land holdings for new wilderness protection and to withdraw that protected status from some 3 million acres in Utah. That settlement was approved by a federal judge on Monday, three days after it was filed.

(Sure sounds like collusion to me. I wonder who appointed that judge?)

Yet when it comes to lawsuits against tobacco companies and gun manufacturers, the GOP is calling for tort reform to minimize the rights of individuals to seek damages against manufacturers of dangerous or harmful products. We know that Bush will campaign on this next year, but the rhetoric used by the GOP to make its case against the rights of individuals can be said just as easily about the GOP’s efforts to aid its corporate benefactors through sue and settle in the environmental arena. Check out the comments from GOP Senator Mitch (“I never met a campaign contribution that I didn’t like”) McConnell.

But as you read these comments, think about how easily they can also apply when you substitute the word “corporations” or “corporate” for “personal” or “people”:

A U.S. senator is calling on Americans to reject the "culture of victimhood" and instead embrace "personal responsibility" in rejecting the trend toward class action lawsuits against politically unpopular companies like tobacco and gun manufacturers.

According to (US Senator Mitch) McConnell, the new lawsuit culture is creating an America where "people believe that lawyers and judges should take it upon themselves to substitute their policy preferences for those whom the citizenry elected to make policy," McConnell explained.

The class action lawsuits are circumventing the legislative process and subverting the democratic process, according to McConnell.

"We need to change people's attitudes so they are less likely to feel they should "sue first and ask questions later," he said.

Borrowing a phrase from the Clinton administration, McConnell said: "The era of big government may be over, but the era of regulation through litigation has just begun."

It sure has Senator. And you and the GOP are the primary practitioners of it.

So if we need to stop a culture of “victimhood” according to the GOP, shouldn’t that same standard apply to the culture of corporate victimhood being supported by the GOP when their benefactors try and overturn environmental regulations behind the back of Congress and the public?

Wouldn’t this double standard be a good rejoinder issue against Bush next year when he presses for tort reform? Put simply, why is tort reform necessary for individuals seeking damages, but not necessary for corporate benefactors seeking profits at the expense of the public interest? Since this can also be used to expose the GOP committment, or lack thereof, to the environment, it can be lethal to Bush.

Steve :: 4:21 PM :: Comments (6) :: Digg It!