U.S. Chamber / ALEC Asbestos Sponsored Legislation Offensive, Unnecessary

The House Judiciary Committee continued its anti-accountability campaign yesterday with the reintroduction of the so-called “Furthering Asbestos Claim Transparency (FACT) Act of 2013.”  Do not let the name fool you; this bill has one goal: to aid asbestos corporations in delaying and denying justice until asbestos victims die.  

“It is offensive that the same corporations that hid the dangers of asbestos from the public for decades are now turning to Congress and asking for “transparency” in order to avoid accountability,” said American Association for Justice (AAJ) CEO Linda Lipsen.  “This is unnecessary legislation that would allow the asbestos industry to delay and deny justice for dying asbestos victims.”

H.R. 982 would require private asbestos bankruptcy trusts to publicly release extensive individual information about asbestos victims and would slow down asbestos cases by allowing asbestos defendants to bury the trusts in information requests, no matter how unnecessary or irrelevant.  Asbestos corporations are already able to obtain all relevant information without this legislation. 

This legislation is part of the latest tactic implemented by ALEC and the U.S. Chamber to let the asbestos industry off the hook.  This strategy focuses on manipulating the asbestos bankruptcy trust process in favor of the asbestos industry.  It takes a three-pronged approach:

  1. State legislation: In 2007, ALEC adopted the “Asbestos Claims Transparency Act.” Illinois, Louisiana, Mississippi, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Oklahoma, Texas, West Virginia, and Wisconsin have seen versions of this legislation.
  2. Judicial Conference: On November 22, 2010, the U.S. Chamber made a direct appeal to the Judicial Conference to change the rules governing bankruptcy law.
  3. Federal legislation: In the 112th Congress, H.R. 4369 was introduced in the House on April 17, 2012 and S. 3076 was introduced in the Senate on May 10, 2012. In the 113th Congress, H.R. 982 was reintroduced on March 6, 2013. 

For a more in-depth look on the history of asbestos in the courts and the campaign led by the U.S. Chamber and ALEC to allow the asbestos industry to evade accountability, read this legal article published in Mealy's: “The Effrontery of the Asbestos Trust Transparency Legislation Efforts.” 

A House Judiciary Subcommittee hearing is scheduled for next Wednesday, March 13th at 1:30 PM in Rayburn 2141.  Transparency is truly needed with the industry that covered up the dangers and knowingly exposed millions of Americans to this deadly product.  

The Facts

  • Asbestos kills approximately 10,000 Americans every year.
  • Between 1979 and 2001 approximately 230,000 people died from asbestos-related causes. 
  • Asbestos is still legal in the United States.
  • Research suggests that H.R. 982 is unnecessary:
    • A 2011 GAO report, requested by Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) at the bequest of the U.S. Chamber, confirmed that there are no transparency issues with the asbestos bankruptcy trusts and the trusts have measures in place to prevent fraud.
    • An asbestos industry-funded RAND study found that, due to financial constraints, most trusts can only pay a fraction of what they owe to the victims and their families.
  • Time is of the essence – most victims of asbestos-related diseases die within one to two years after diagnosis.