MARCH 1991 - VOLUME 12 - NUMBER 3
N A M E S I N T H E N E W S
Buying the Law
Ashland oil company is pushing for legislation in Kentucky that may curtail the ability of victims of its polluting refineries to sue the company for health and property damages. Last summer, a jury awarded $10.3 million to four West Virginia residents living across the river from Ashland's Catlettsburg, Kentucky refinery for health and property damages resulting from the plant's toxic emissions [see "Corporate Villains," Multinational Monitor, December 1990].
While the company denies that it lobbied directly for the bill, an attorney for the local residents told Multinational Monitor that the measure is essentially an "Ashland bill" and that upon losing in the courtroom, Ashland is now seeking to use its political clout to "change the rules of the game."
The legislation, which the Kentucky governor is expected to sign into law shortly, will preclude punitive damages in certain "nuisance" cases and limit plaintiffs' ability to recover health claims. Rod Jackson, one of the lead attorneys in the class-action suit against Ashland, says the legislation is intended to "have a chilling effect on any future litigation against the company."
Ashland spokesperson Tom Balesio claims the company had no direct role in lobbying for the legislation. However, he says the company supports it: "The passage of the nuisance bill represents the concern that many citizens and legislators have for the future economic community and development of the state."
The four plaintiffs awarded the $10.3 million verdict are part of an 800-member class suing Ashland for health and property damages allegedly caused by emissions from the company's refinery. Ashland also faces a second lawsuit seeking class status involving over 1,000 plaintiffs who make similar claims. Last summer, lawyers for the residents charged that Ashland has attempted to stifle litigation against it through intimidation and harassment.
Organizers of the International Boycott of the Royal Dutch/Shell Company won a major victory in February 1991 when New jersey Governor Jim Florio announced that Shell would no longer be permitted to operate its 13 service stations on the New Jersey Turnpike after its present contract expires. Shell has continued to operate its subsidiary in South Africa despite protests that its presence supports the racist South African apartheid system.
Florio announced the Shell ban to an audience of union and civil rights leaders, many of whom have led the five-year-old boycott of Shell, the world's second largest oil company. Acknowledging recent progress in the long-standing effort to repeal South Africa's apartheid laws, Florio said, "Sanctions are working. Victory is in sight. And now is no time to let up."
While refusing to comment on Florio's announcement, Shell spokesperson Norm Alstedter asserts that "any boycott of Shell's independent dealers is totally unfair" and has "nothing to do" with Shell's South African operations. "Royal Dutch/Shell group and Shell Oil are strongly opposed to apartheid, and Shell South Africa has been in the forefront of seeking an end to apartheid," he adds.
But Ann Werboff, the national coordinator of the Shell Boycott Campaign, rejects Shell's claims. "The African National Congress, South African Council of I Churches and the trade union federation COMM have all called for sanctions and divestment from South Africa as the most effective means of bringing about an end to apartheid."
It will take more than 30 years and cost hundreds of billions of dollars for the Department of Energy (DOE) to complete its clean-up of the nation's nuclear weapons facilities, according to a new report by the Office of Technology Assessment (OTA). The report harshly criticizes DOE for failing to adequately address human health concerns in the communities near the 14 facilities that make up the U.S. Nuclear Weapons Complex.
The DOE's progress in cleaning up the waste and widespread contamination at the facilities is "hampered by a paucity of data and qualified personnel, inadequate efforts to assess possible off-site health impacts, lack of ready technical solutions, and public skepticism about government agency decisions and activities relating to waste management and environmental restoration," OTA concluded after an 18-month investigation.
"There is evidence that air, groundwater, surface water, sediments and soil, as well as vegetation and wildlife, have been contaminated at most, if not all, of the Department of Energy nuclear weapons sites," OTA found, In many cases, according to the report, radionuclides, metals, toxic organic compounds and other potentially dangerous substances "are migrating toward nearby populations."
In order to eliminate the conflict of interest inherent in allowing DOE to correct the problems for which it is responsible, OTA recommends establishing a new agency to regulate radioactive waste cleanup or giving the authority to an already existing agency, such as the Environmental Protection Agency.
— David Lapp