I’ll be calling my senators on this one, from BushGreenWatch.org.
February 8, 2005 | Back Issues
Debate began yesterday in the Senate over a proposal that would seriously weaken the ability of citizens to seek redress for harm done by polluters.
The so-called Class Action Fairness Act (S.5), would shift all citizens' class action lawsuits from states to already overburdened federal courts.
Proponents of S.5 see it as a way to weaken the rights of citizens to band together to seek damages for harm done on issues ranging from the environment to public health, civil rights, workers' rights and consumer protection.
If enacted, S.5 would add huge costs and vast time delays for victims filing lawsuits.
"As passed in Committee, this bill will undermine longstanding rights and protections that ordinary Americans take for granted," said Alliance for Justice President Nan Aron. "Americans believe in fair justice, and that if you break something, you should fix it. This bill eliminates those fundamental principles, making it almost impossible for individuals to join together to hold large corporations responsible for the damages they cause." 
Environmentalists are seeking an amendment that would exempt state environmental suits from the bill, which is a priority of President Bush and his close ally, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
Some 16 national environmental groups have endorsed a statement by James Cox, legislative counsel at Earthjustice, which says that S.5 "...would reward polluters by giving them a powerful tool with which to delay cleanup and the payment of medical costs to those they have hurt. It would allow polluters to attempt to remove cases involving toxic spills and other public health and environmental harms from the state courts...into federal courts that are often hundreds of miles from where the harm took place."
Environmentalists cite the widespread occurrence of groundwater contamination from MTBE, a gasoline additive, to show that the Class Action Fairness Act will jeopardize swift resolution of the problem.
MTBE has been found in groundwater in 35 states, and thousands of families across the country have been affected by MTBE pollution. If S.5 becomes law, the class action suits filed under state law would be moved to federal courts, making them far more expensive and more difficult for the victims.
"Treat the Earth well. It was not given to us by our parents; it was loaned to us by our children." -Ecologist Lee Talbot