GOP seeks to remove COVID accountability for industriesNewly released lobby filings show push from oil, gas, plastics, utilities, and meat industry for liability waivers
WASHINGTON – Days away from the expiration of unemployment benefits, Mitch McConnell is preparing to release stimulus legislation, the long-delayed GOP response to House-passed bills such as the HEROES Act and HR 2. The McConnell package is expected to undermine Social Security with a payroll tax holiday and shield corporations from coronavirus-related legal liabilities.
A new review of quarterly lobby filings released this week shows that polluting industries and conservative dark money groups have been lobbying vigorously for COVID liability protection for the last three months. Oil, gas, plastics, utilities, and factory farms have all sought legislation promoting legal immunity from lawsuits stemming from the coronavirus.
“Corporate liability waivers are just the next phase of a Trump polluter bailout,” said Lukas Ross, program manager at Friends of the Earth. “Republicans are trying to hold critical relief like unemployment benefits hostage in order to shield their corporate cronies from the law. Giving polluters a free pass when their negligence kills should be a non-starter.”
“Instead of mandating urgently needed temporary safety standards for workers, the Senate Republicans are moving to give irresponsible meat companies like Smithfield a shield against claims brought by front-line workers,” said Kari Hamerschlag, deputy director of food and agriculture at Friends of the Earth. “Already more than 35,000 meatpacking workers have been infected and 168 have died due to COVID. Liability waivers will embolden meat companies to further disregard the safety of their workers, the majority of whom are black and Latinx.”
Some of the highlights from the last three months include:
- Major fossil fuel companies like ConocoPhillips and ExxonMobil lobbied specifically for coronavirus liability protection. So did major chemical manufacturer BASF and energy-related engineering conglomerate Fluor.
- At least four major polluter trade associations—the American Petroleum Institute, the Plastic Industry Association, the National Association of Manufacturers, the Petroleum Marketers Association of America—all lobbied for COVID-related liability protection.
- Conservative dark money organizations including the Chamber of Commerce, Heritage Action, FreedomWorks, and the Center for Individual Freedom all lobbied for COVID-related liability protection.
- Smithfield Foods, the factory farming giant whose Sioux Falls, South Dakota facility became a coronavirus hotspot, specifically lobbied Congress around, “Liability provisions related to COVID-19.”
- Utilities, including Exelon, CMS, Black Hills, Avangrid and Portland General Electric, all reported lobbying around liability protection issues, especially with regards to energy maintenance during times of national emergency.