Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

Corporate gatekeepers and big tech monopolists are making it more difficult than ever for independent media to survive. Please chip in today.

"Giving polluters a free pass when their negligence kills should be a non-starter," said Friends of the Earth's Lukas Ross. (Photo: Andrew Hart/flickr/cc)

As McConnell Tees Up Next Aid Package With Corporate Liability as 'Red Line,' Polluters Pushing to Secure Shield Against Covid-19 Lawsuits

"Corporate liability waivers are just the next phase of a Trump polluter bailout."

Andrea Germanos

New lobby filings reveal that polluting industries have been working hard to secure legal protection from lawsuits stemming from the coronavirus pandemic—a shield from consequence that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell reportedly sees as a "red line" in including in the next Covid-19 aid package.

Environmental advocacy group Friends of the Earth (FOE) drew attention to the lobbying reports released this week from the Plastic Industry Association, dark money group FreedomWorks, and companies including fossil fuel giant ExxonMobil and agri-giant Smithfield Foods—whose Sioux Falls, South Dakota processing plant became a coronavirus hotspot.

"Corporate liability waivers are just the next phase of a Trump polluter bailout," FOE program manager Lukas Ross said in a statement Thursday.

The fresh scrutiny comes as roughly 25 million Americans are looking at the end of a crucial lifeline and possible economic "catastrophe" because the $600-per-week increase in unemployment benefits secured under the CARES Act is set to expire this week. Republicans are looking to slash the weekly amount, likely to $200 per week, the Associated Press reported, and McConnell (R-Ky.) appears in little rush to pass the next coronavirus relief legislation.

As millions of workers spent the last three months in economic uncertainty, the new filings show how industries were working to shield themselves from blame should workers file coronavirus-related lawsuits. 

According to FOE, other polluting corporations and dark money groups that lobbied for such liability protection include ConocoPhillips, the American Petroleum Institute, the Petroleum Marketers Association of America, the Chamber of Commerce, and utilities including Exelon.

The companies' aggressive push hasn't been for nothing, it appears, as Republicans look to make liability waivers a "centerpiece" of their legislative package.

Politico reported Thursday:

McConnell is drawing a red line with liability protection. Businesses, schools, and other organizations would receive protection from lawsuits arising from exposure to coronavirus due to reopening. Lawsuits would be moved to federal courts, and plaintiffs would have to show "gross negligence" by employers in order to win.

Ross accused Republicans of "trying to hold critical relief like unemployment benefits hostage in order to shield their corporate cronies from the law," and said that "[g]iving polluters a free pass when their negligence kills should be a non-starter."

Kari Hamerschlag, deputy director of food and agriculture at FOE, pointed out that workers at meat plants owned by companies like Smithfield have been on the front-lines of the public health crisis. "Already more than 35,000 meatpacking workers have been infected and 168 have died due to Covid," she said. 

"Liability waivers will embolden meat companies to further disregard the safety of their workers, the majority of whom are black and Latinx," said Hamerschlag.

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

'We Can Do Better' Than Biden's Paltry Student Debt Relief Plan, Says AOC

The president's approach, said the New York Democrat, is "just enough to anger the people against it *and* the people who need forgiveness the most."

Julia Conley ·

Right-Wing Supreme Court Poised to Make US Gun Carnage Even Worse

The U.S. Supreme Court's right-wing majority could soon "obliterate even the mildest of gun regulations in service of its gun lobby masters."

Kenny Stancil ·

'Enough Is Enough!': Thousands Protest Outside NRA Convention in Texas

"I'm just tired of the NRA subordinating children's rights for gun rights," said one gun lobby opponent just three days after the school massacre in Uvalde.

Brett Wilkins ·

'Manchin of the House' Kurt Schrader Officially Defeated in Oregon Primary

"This win proves that voters are hungry for leaders who will fight for working families, not billionaires and Big Pharma," said one group that backed progressive challenger Jamie McLeod-Skinner.

Jake Johnson ·

Science Journal Editorial Says 'Minions' of NRA 'Must Be Defeated' to Save Nation

"A nation of children threatened by gun violence does not have a future."

Andrea Germanos ·

Common Dreams Logo