The Department of Justice’s filing of a civil lawsuit today against BP for the deaths of 11 workers and the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history is a needed step in holding the corporation accountable.
However, Public Citizen remains concerned that the escrow fund is inadequate to cover BP’s obligations – a concern that has been confirmed over the past few months. It’s clear that the $20 billion set aside won’t begin to cover the cost of damage. More money must be found for the victims of the disaster.
In addition, the civil litigation stemming from the disaster remains focused on BP Exploration and Production, a remote subsidiary of the parent company, thereby enabling BP to avoid responsibility.
And Congress has yet to pass the comprehensive reforms needed to help ensure this kind of disaster can’t happen again. It is astounding that after all that happened – 11 deaths, 4.9 milllion gallons of oil spilled, beaches in five states sullied and closed, fishing in large swaths of the Gulf of Mexico closed, countless livelihoods ruined – Congress couldn’t get its act together and ensure that future oil drilling is safer for workers and the environment.
Tyson Slocum is the director of Public Citizen’s Energy Program.
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Two years ago, a temporary employee at a Wal-Mart in New York was killed when frenzied Black Friday shoppers trampled and suffocated him. A crowd of 2,000 shoppers stormed the locked doors of the store and broke through, injuring the employees attempting to hold the shoppers back and killing Jdimytai Damour. The subsequent OSHA investigation resulted in $7,000 fine to Wal-Mart because although there exists no OSHA standard on crowd control, employers have a general duty to provide a workplace free of recognized hazards that could cause serious injury or death, and, OSHA argued, Wal-Mart should have been aware of the hazards present in a riled-up, bargain-hungry crowd and should have provided adequate crowd control measures.
Wal-Mart has spent millions of dollars fighting the citation, arguing that this is an expansive reading of OSHA’s general duty clause. The case is currently before the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission (OSHRC), and a decision is expected soon.
Retailers and the media actively gin up consumers with early store openings, “doorbuster deals” for the first customers, and news stories (and the accompanying publicity) about people camping outside of stores days ahead. This atmosphere creates an overcaffeinated, deal-crazed mob that endangers employees and consumers. Recognizing this, OSHA has sent a letter to major retailers detailing security measures that they should take to avoid a similar tragedy. Suggestions include setting the waiting area back from the entrance to control entry, as well as including breaks and turns in the waiting line to avoid crowd swells and pushes from the rear. OSHA also suggests removing carts and other instruments that could be used as a battering ram. At least one town has codified similar precautions to protect its employees.
If you are planning to participate in Black Friday events, be safe, be respectful, and remember that it’s just a laptop. Or, consider participating in Cyber Monday.
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Flickr photo by Thiophene_Guy
As Congress plods through its lame-duck session, the prospects of the Robert C. Byrd Mine Safety and Health Act getting a vote on the House floor are doubtful. In the Senate, they’re nonexistent. Despite the life-saving, job-saving, and even money-saving measures contained in the legislation, the bill will likely die this Congress and the issue of mine and workplace safety will fade from congressional and national consciousness until the next horrific disaster.
In a year where multiple high-profile workplace tragedies–Upper Big Branch Mine, Deepwater Horizon, Tesoro Refinery, Kleen Energy–captured news cycles and Congress’ attention, it is deeply disappointing to watch the prospects for passage dim. Before Congress adjourned in September, the bill passed out of the House Education and Labor Committee and was placed on the calendar for a vote. It has languished since then. In the Senate, Senator Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia attempted to bring the bill to the Senate floor for debate but was blocked by Republican Senator Mike Enzi. (more…)
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Posted in Activism, Campaign Finance, Congress, Ethics, Workplace Health & Safety, tagged Citizens United, Congress, DISCLOSE Act, Fair Elections Now Act, mine worker safety on September 22, 2010|
With several pieces of high-stakes legislation before Congress during this brief session, Public Citizen activists are pulling out all the stops with emails and calls urging their public servants to pass critical good government and worker safety laws.
Activists turned up the pressure on moderate Republican senators to vote for the DISCLOSE Act, a bill designed to combat some effects of Citizens United v. FEC.
The activists left dozens of comments to report back after calling Sens. Scott Brown (R-Mass.), George Voinovich (R-Ohio), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) and Susan Collins (R-Maine).
The Supreme Court decision gave corporations the power to spend as much as they want to influence elections, and most of this money undisclosed. Instead, it’s being funneled through groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Karl Rove’s American Crossroads. (Our new report details this alarming lack of transparency.)
The DISCLOSE Act – which we believe is just one vote short of the 60 needed to break the Republican filibuster – would provide full disclosure of corporate, union and wealthy funding sources behind political advertising, extends the disclosure window to cover most of an election period, and tightens restrictions on political ads by government contractors and foreign entities.
The Fair Elections Now Act, another bill that would seriously mitigate the effects of Citizens United v. FEC, is coming up for a vote tomorrow by the House Administration Committee.
Ahead of this vote, activists called and emailed their Representatives in the House, urging them to fix the our system of financing congressional elections so that public servants answer to the people, not corporations and other wealthy special interests alone. (more…)
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An editorial in yesterday’s New York Times calls on Congress to take action on pending mine and workplace safety legislation before another tragedy like the Upper Big Branch mine disaster or the Deepwater Horizon explosion occurs.
The House and Senate are each considering similar versions of the “Robert C. Byrd Mine Safety and Health Act,” legislation that would promote safer workplaces by protecting whistleblowers who report unsafe conditions, increasing penalties for mine and workplace operators who endanger the lives of their workers, and giving the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) more authority to force employers to quickly abate hazardous conditions.
Earlier this summer, the House voted its bill out of committee and it currently awaits a floor vote. As usual, the Senate is moving at a slower pace. Public Citizen has called on Congress to take action to reduce the 5,000 worker fatalities that happen each year by passing this important legislation.
For more information on this legislation, check out our fact sheet, letter to Congress, and backgrounder (all are in PDF format). Or view the text of the House and Senate bills.
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A Snapshot of Sea Ice. Flickr Photo by NASA Goddard Photo and Video.
A daily look at news from the Washington Post, New York Times and Wall Street Journal that caught our eye:
Energy and Climate Change
- In California, a showdown on emissions (NYT)
- Report says drilling ban has little effect (NYT)
- Refiners fight emissions law (WSJ)
- Total sees delays after BP (WSJ)
- FDA panel urges denial of diet drug (NYT)
- Carter: Ted Kennedy set back health reform (WP)
- Recession swells number of uninsured to 50.7 million (WSJ)
- Impeachment trial begins for Louisiana federal judge (WP)
- Capitol Hill divided on Obama plan to bypass approval of Elizabeth Warren (WP)
- SEC chief defends agency’s FOIA exemption (AP)
- Ohio bank to back off overdraft charges (WSJ)
- CFTC details oversight on swaps (WSJ)
- Riskiest trading would require more from banks (WSJ)
- Massey warns of loss after mine disaster (AP)
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