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Democrats and Climate Groups Say Covid-19 Relief Must Not Include Legal Immunity for Fossil Fuel Industry

"The nation's efforts to respond to one catastrophic global crisis should not be the occasion to immunize polluters from the legal consequences of helping create another catastrophic global crisis."

Sixty House Democrats were joined by dozens of public interest groups in calling on House leadership to ensure the next coronavirus relief package does not include immunity for fossil fuel companies which have contributed to the climate crisis. (Photo: Danicek/Shutterstock)

Sixty Democratic members of Congress were joined by dozens of public interest groups Tuesday in demanding that any upcoming coronavirus relief legislation excludes legal immunity for fossil fuel companies. 

The fossil fuel industry has been lobbying aggressively for language to be included that would immunize companies from legal liability for the damage their pollution has done to communities, public health, and the environment. 

"The nation's efforts to respond to one catastrophic global crisis should not be the occasion to immunize polluters from the legal consequences of helping create another catastrophic global crisis," said Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), who led his colleagues in writing a letter to House leaders. "We must respond with speed, wisdom, and foresight to help our constituents survive this public health calamity and put the nation back on its feet."

In an early draft of the third Covid-19 relief package, fossil fuel companies were designated as "covered entities" providing "critical infrastructure" and "lifeline functions."

The draft said covered entities should have "liability protection" and that "no covered entity...should be liable for harm caused by a covered activity."

The language was eventually left out of the final package, but according to Raskin fossil fuel lobbyists are still attempting to include liability protection for the industry in upcoming legislation.

"Now more than ever, we must hold Big Oil accountable and protect working people," tweeted Collin Rees, a campaigner with Oil Change International, one of several groups expressing support for the letter.

"The fossil fuel industry has shamelessly used the pandemic to gut hard-won environmental and health protections," said the Center for Climate Integrity. "We can expect that they will try again to kill lawsuits seeking to make them pay their fair share of the billions in climate damages that their decades of lying has inflicted on communities across the country."

Since the pandemic began spreading across the U.S., the Trump administration has lowered emissions standards for the auto industry, loosened compliance rules for companies that face coronavirus-related challenges, and tightened restrictions on the research that can be used by the EPA for rule-making. 

"The world is suffering through one of the worst public health disasters we have ever known," wrote the lawmakers, who also included Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), Ro Khanna (Calif.), and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.). "History has placed on us an enormous burden to respond with speed, wisdom, and foresight to help our constituents survive this crisis and to put the nation back on its feet. That is where our focus must be. Shielding carbon polluters from proper accountability is an irrelevant and dangerous distraction from the task at hand. It has no place in federal legislation—we think never, but especially not now."

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