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Corporate Accountability

Well, sure – it concerns us too. “Five facilities in Texas with large quantities of the same fertilizer chemical that fueled the deadly plant explosion in West have turned away state fire marshal inspectors since the blast, investigators said Monday.”

“A railway operator that hauls hazardous materials across Texas was also said to have rebuffed a state request to share data since the April explosion at West Fertilizer Co. that killed 15 people and injured 200 others. The company denied that Monday.”

“Regulators and state lawmakers at a hearing about the still-unsolved explosion were intrigued by the lack of cooperation. State Fire Marshal Chris Connealy said "well, sure" when asked whether those facilities refusing to admit inspectors raised concern.”

Excerpted from: Fire marshal: Inspections refused since West blast by Paul J. Webber, Associated Press 8-26-13

No talking. “Two young children are forbidden from speaking about Marcellus Shale or fracking for the rest of their lives. The court action stems from a settlement in a high-profile Marcellus Shale lawsuit in western Pennsylvania.”

The two children were 7 and 10 years old at the time the Hallowich family settled a nuisance case against driller Range Resources in August 2011. The parents… had been outspoken critics of fracking, saying the family became sick from the gas drilling activity surrounding their Washington County home.

According to court testimony … the parents were desperate to move and reluctantly agreed to a gag order that not only prevents them from speaking of Marcellus Shale and fracking, but also extends to their children.

But she [the mother] said she didn’t fully understand the lifelong gag order on her children.
Judge Polonsky didn’t have an answer for her. And the family’s attorney… questioned whether the order would be enforceable.

Excerpted from: Lifelong Gag Order Imposed on Two Kids in Fracking Case, by Susan Phillips, StateImpact PA August 1, 2013

Alive and Well and Tipping the Scales. "For decades, ALEC has been a conduit for the oil, tobacco, and pharmaceutical industries to push legislation that changes the rules to limit accountability when a corporation’s products or actions cause injury or death."

"In just the first six months of 2013, seventy-one ALEC bills that advance these "tort reform" goals have been introduced in thirty states."

“[The bills] are carefully crafted to provide relief and protections for the industries who wrote them," said Joanne Doroshow, Executive Director of the Center for Justice & Democracy.

"By pushing these "tort reform" bills, ALEC is not advocating for "free markets" and "limited government," but instead protecting corporate interests from any form of accountability to consumers or the public."

Excerpted from: Justice Denied: 71 ALEC Bills in 2013 Make It Harder to Hold Corporations Accountable for Causing Injury or Death, by Brenda Fincher, Center for Media & Democracy, July 10, 2013.

Crony Capitalism. “In its brief but controversial life, the Texas Residential Construction Commission won far more detractors than admirers.”

“The TRCC, however, had at least one friend who mattered: Houston homebuilder Bob Perry...An advocate for the agency from its creation in 2003 until it closed its doors in 2010, the homebuilder’s imprimatur was significant.”

“Now dormant, the TRCC serves as a case study of how wealthy contributors can shape public policy. In this year’s hard-fought Republican presidential primary, the agency likely will get renewed scrutiny as Perry’s Republican competitors search for ways to distinguish themselves from the Texas governor. In a speech last week in Iowa, former Alaska governor Sarah Palin took aim against career politicians who reward their campaign contributors with government favors.”
Excerpted from: One agency highlights the link between Perry and his donors, by Patti Hart, Houston Chronicle 9-10-11.

Quandary: File a lawsuit or make a good faith offer? “Energy companies are increasingly suing South Texas landowners as they work to build pipelines to accommodate surging oil and gas production.”

“In 2011, pipeline companies have filed at least 184 lawsuits against landowners in four South Texas counties, compared with 28 all of last year. The increase in lawsuits comes ahead of a change in state law that will make it harder for pipeline companies to condemn land for easements after Sept. 1…”

“…the number of lawsuits brought by pipeline companies so far this year is "highly extraordinary," said W.C. Kirkendall, a district court judge who sits in Lavaca County, which has registered 62 lawsuits this year…”

“The new law requires entities with eminent-domain authority to make a good-faith offer before filing suit, and gives landowners more time to respond to offers.” Excerpted from: Lawsuits Flow Over Texas Pipelines, by Daniel Gilbert, WSJ 8-19-11

In 1912 who warned, "...privilege has entrenched itself in many courts…?"* “The United States Supreme Court now sees its central task as comforting the already comfortable and afflicting those already afflicted.”

“If you are a large corporation or a political candidate backed by lots of private money, be assured that the court’s conservative majority will be there for you, solicitous of your needs and ready to swat away those pesky little people who dare to contest your power.” Excerpted from: The Supreme Court’s continuing defense of the powerful by E.J. Dionne, Jr., Washington Post 6-30-11  * Theodore Roosevelt

Willful failure. “BP will pay $25 million in civil fines to settle charges arising from two spills from its network of pipelines in Alaska in 2006 and from a willful failure to comply with court orders to properly maintain the pipelines to prevent corrosion, federal officials announced on Tuesday.”

“As a result of corrosion and poor maintenance of its pipelines in Alaska, BP was found responsible for the discharge of more than 5,000 barrels of oil onto the Arctic tundra and into a lake on the North Slope in March 2006…” Excerpted from: BP Is Fined $25 Million for ’06 Spills at Pipelines by John M. Broder, NYT May 3, 2011

Recognition of the outstanding achievements…“Although five Transocean executives will donate their safety bonuses—a total of $250,000—to families of 11 workers killed in the Deepwater Horizon disaster, the executives retain other awards associated with the 86-day oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.”

“Transocean Ltd. announced the donation on Tuesday amid outrage over an Annual Report that described 2010 as “the best year in safety performance in our company’s history.”

“The $250,000 is the portion of bonuses tied to the company’s safety formula. The five executives will retain about $650,000 in cash incentives that are not so encumbered.”

“They will also retain much more valuable “long-term incentives” in the form of stocks and options.”

“For example, the Annual Report justifies executive compensation because executives performed additional duties as a result of the spill…” Excerpted from: Transocean Execs Keep Most Of Their Bonuses by Jeff McMahon,
The Ingenuity of the Commons (blog) 4-6-11

Torture chamber.  “The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is mounting a new legal attack on the Obama administration's regulatory…”

“Thomas Donohue, the chamber's president and chief executive, said…’Litigation is one of our most powerful tools for making sure that federal agencies follow the law and are held accountable…”

“The group on Thursday unveiled a new publicity drive with a strong anti-regulation theme, which is designed to complement its legal fight to blunt regulation.”

“…the chamber has been sharpening its knives to attack the administration's efforts to tighten oversight of health insurers, the financial industry, and greenhouse gases.”
Excerpted from: U.S. Chamber Pledges to Take Obama Policies to Court by Mark Hosenball, Reuters 10-7-10

It says PERSONAL responsibility, not CORPORATE responsibility, GEEZ… “An oil refinery here (Smackover Arkansas) owned by Martin Midstream Partners of Kilgore has been cited by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration for lapses in safety measures at the plant, with proposed fines totaling $165,600.”

“…Martin plant at Smackover is accused of one willful and 21 serious violations of health and safety regulations. The release said the alleged willful violation was failure to maintain safety information on various pressure vessels used at the plant.”*

“ETALA (East Texans Against Lawsuit Abuse) was the brainchild of Kilgoreite Ruben Martin back in 1992…”**

“ETALA…will encourage:  Personal responsibility…”***

*Excerpted from: OSHA cites Arkansas Martin Midstream plant, Associated Press 9-22-10
**Excerpted from the East Texans Against Lawsuit Abuse website
***Excerpted from the East Texans Against Lawsuit Abuse website

What would Judge Roy Bean do?  “…our Texas Supreme Court more and more has demonstrated its contempt…for the judgment of citizens who hear the… facts related to legal disputes…In the recent case of Bennett v. Reynolds, eight…judges have sided with the judgment of their own over that of citizen jurors, all to the benefit of a cattle thief.”

“This Wild West story began in San Saba County where several of Mr. Reynolds’ cattle wandered over the line onto property belonging to a corporation run by Thomas O. Bennett, Jr.  Mr. Bennett directed employees…to gather up Mr. Reynolds’ cattle, take them to auction and sell them.

“The jury heard all of Mr. Bennett’s despicable conduct…they resorted to punishing Bennett and his corporation to the tune of $1,250,000 in punitive damages.”

“…Bennett promptly appealed to the Court of Appeals which dutifully upheld the judgment of the jurors and trial court.…Bennett appealed to our Texas Supreme Court.”

“After some mouthing about how Texas really didn’t like cattle rustlers, they [Texas Supreme Court] proceeded to reverse the jury verdict...  In effect, they let the cattle thief off the hook. Who would have thought it? A Texas high court deciding with the cattle rustlers against twelve jurors, tried and true!”
Excerpted from: Senator Carl Parker: The Texas Supreme Court Sides with Cattle Rustlers Over Jurors, Carl Parkerisms Blog, August 12, 2010

Let us advocate for you or else…“Days after the Deepwater Horizon oil rig sank in the Gulf of Mexico, a conservative nonprofit group called the Institute for Energy Research asked BP to contribute $100,000 for a media campaign it was launching in defense of the oil industry.”

“Although BP took a pass, the group's advocacy arm went ahead…only instead of defending BP, it vilified the company as a "safety outlier"... The campaign's Web site features dozens of images of the burning rig, oil-smeared birds and other environmental devastation from the spill.”

"BP is a victim of its own carelessness," the group's president, Thomas Pyle, wrote as part of the campaign's kickoff…”

“To backers of BP who were familiar with the discussions…it seemed an awful lot like a shakedown. The initial proposal contained no criticism of the British oil giant or its handling of the spill.”

“The case illustrates the murky world of advocacy-for-hire in Washington, where ideological groups wage stealth messaging campaigns with little disclosure of their funding or possible motives. Such arrangements rarely come to light since most advocacy groups are organized as nonprofits that do not have to disclose details about their donors.”

Excerpted from:  BP's fight against energy nonprofit highlights murky world of advocacy-for-hire By Dan Eggen, Washington Post 8-4-10


Run it, break it, fix it.  "A confidential survey of workers [commissioned by Transocean] on the Deepwater Horizon...before the oil rig exploded showed that many…were concerned about safety practices and feared reprisals if they reported mistakes or other problems.
…workers said that…they “often saw unsafe behaviors on the rig.”

"Some workers also voiced concerns about poor equipment reliability, “which they believed was as a result of drilling priorities taking precedence over planned maintenance …
“Run it, break it, fix it,” another worker said. “That’s how they work.”

"Only about half of the workers interviewed said they felt they could report actions leading to a potentially “risky” situation without reprisal."
“This fear was seen to be driven by decisions made in Houston…”

“The company is always using fear tactics,” another worker said. “All these games and your mind gets tired.”
Excerpted from: Workers on Doomed Rig Voiced Concern About Safety By IAN URBINA,
New York Times 7-20-10

Doomed to repeat the past. “BP went on to invest more than $1 billion upgrading the Texas City refinery. Earlier this year, it said its recordable injury rate there had declined every year since 2005…”

“But OSHA, the federal overseer of workplace safety, tells a different story.”

“After a six-month inspection of the Texas City refinery last year, OSHA hit BP with an $87 million fine, the biggest in the agency's history. About $57 million of what OSHA describes as "failures to abate" hazards similar to those that caused the 2005 explosion, which killed 15 people.”

“The agency had inspected a refinery in Toledo, Ohio…in 2006, uncovering problems with pressure-relief valves. It ordered BP to fix the valves. Two years later, inspectors found BP had carried out requested repairs, but only on the specific valves OSHA had cited. The agency found exactly the same deficiency elsewhere in the refinery. OSHA ordered more fixes and imposed a $3 million fine.”
Excerpted from: As CEO Hayward Remade BP, Safety, Cost Drives Clashed by GUY CHAZAN, BENOIT FAUCON and BEN CASSELMAN, WSJ 6-3010

Sir, your self-assurance is not reassuring.  “A shareholder proposal calling for Exxon Mobil to prepare a report regarding the environmental impact of hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," a technique widely used in completing natural gas wells, received 26.3 percent of shareholder votes.  Company management opposed the proposal, saying the practice is safe, despite concerns by environmental groups that it can potentially cause groundwater contamination…”

"Most of what's in those frack fluids are in many household products," Tillerson [Exxon Mobil Corp. CEO] said. "There's not anything in there that's particularly exotic."
Excerpted from: Exxon CEO defends offshore drilling, McClatchy 5-27-10

Defining legitimate. “If BP had not voluntarily agreed to pay compensation for purely economic losses, victims who were fortunate enough to avoid personal injury or property damage may have been out of luck in seeking redress in court. They would have to show much more than that BP was negligent in its operations.”

“Indeed, plaintiffs would have to grapple with restrictive notions of proximate causation and well entrenched rules that limit recovery for negligent interference with prospectively advantageous relationships. Whether purely economic losses were compensated could have had less to do with what the law requires than with bad publicity, good trial lawyering, political pressure and corporate responsibility. This is what lurks behind the word "legitimate."
Excerpted from: OP-ED - Tort laws would make it hard to win relief from BP by VINCENT R. JOHNSON, (Johnson is a professor at St. Mary's University School of Law in San Antonio), Houston Chronicle 6-20-10

Sue Baby Sue. “Sessions [Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama], probably the Senate's most ardent supporter of tort reform, found himself extolling the virtues of litigation -- against BP. "They're not limited in liability on damage, so if you've suffered a damage, they are the responsible party," said Sessions, sounding very much like the trial lawyers he usually maligns."

…"They're not too big to fail," Sessions said. "If they can't pay and they've given it everything they've got, then they should cease to exist."
Excerpted from: Dana Milbank: Through oil-fouled water, big government looks better and better, Washington Post 5-4-2010

Offshore fireball.  “Even before the April 20 explosion on the Deepwater Horizon, government investigators had cited myriad potential safety violations involving fires aboard other offshore drilling rigs and platforms that resulted in more than 20 injuries and two deaths since 2007, records and statistics show.”

“Mark Tranfield, a consultant…who provides inspections and training for offshore companies worldwide, said he believes lax rules and less coordinated enforcement in the Gulf of Mexico create a more potentially dangerous…”

European countries established tougher safety rules and mandatory training…when the Piper Alfa production platform blew up in the North Sea, killing 167, Tranfield and others said.
“You have all these regulations in the rest of the world, and in the United States, there's nothing,” Tranfield said.”
Excerpted from: Many potential fire violations found offshore, By LISE OLSEN Houston Chronicle, 4-27-2010

Baiting-and-switching. The Toyota situation should be a wake-up call for Texas policymakers: The decades-long campaign by insurance companies and multinational corporations to shift responsibility for consumer protection away from independent judges and common-sense juries…has put families at risk in their workplaces, on the highways and in our healthcare system”.

“…when patients' legal rights were severely restricted…by the [Texas]Legislature in 2003, an office of patient protection was created. It was a bait-and-switch. The agency's funding never materialized, and two years later the office was shut down entirely before it ever had a chance to help a single patient”.
Excerpted from: Op-ed - Texas must stop protecting public safety on the cheap by N. Alex Winslow (Texas Watch), Fort Worth Star Telegram 3-11-10

Riding roughshod. “…what we can know is that the public institutions that are supposed to protect Texans from the abuses of large corporations aren’t doing a very good job of it. Despite the supposed oversight of the state’s highest court and the responsible regulatory agency…giant companies are now allowed to operate in parts of Texas the same way they have operated in some Third World countries: exploiting the resources and moving on, without looking back.” 
Excerpted from: Below the Surface  by Mimi Swartz, Texas Monthly, November 2009

Trust us we have your families’ best interest at heart. "Congressional negotiators agreed yesterday to a ban on a family of toxins [phthalates] in children's products... The ban…would have significant implications for U.S. consumers, whose homes are filled with hundreds of plastic products designed for children that may be causing dangerous health effects…"
"The ban…reflects a growing body of scientific research showing that children ingest the toxins…Used for decades in plastic production, the chemicals are now thought to act as hormones and cause reproductive problems, especially in boys."
"It also signals an important crack in the chemical industry's ability to fend off federal regulation and suggests that the landscape may be shifting to favor consumers...the chemical industry waged a costly battle to defeat it. .., led by Exxon Mobil, [it] spent a chunk of its $22 million lobbying budget… to try to prevent any ban."
"Whitehouse spokesman said...President Bush opposes the ban but that it is too early to say whether he will veto the measure, which is part of popular legislation to reform the Consumer Product Safety Commission." 
Excerpted from: Lawmakers Agree to Ban Toxins in Children's Items, By Lyndsey Layton, Washington Post, July 29, 2008

Preempting Due Process.  "A leading drug company may be poised to win a landmark legal victory next fall. (Wyeth v. Levine)…A medical-device company won such a victory in April. In Riegel v. Medtronic the Supreme Court determined that a product-liability lawsuit against Medtronic in a state court was preempted because the device had received FDA approval."
"Previous administrations and the FDA considered tort litigation to be an important part of an overall regulatory framework…product-liability litigation by consumers was believed to complement the FDA's regulatory actions and enhance patient safety."
"Drug and device companies have chosen an inauspicious moment to attack the right of patients… A series of pivotal reports on patient safety… has put the issue of patient safety in the national spotlight."
"Why should doctors be concerned about preemption? In stripping patients of their right to seek redress through due process of law, preemption of common-law tort actions is not only unjust but will also result in the reduced safety of drugs and medical devices for the American people." 
Excerpted from: Perspective - Why Doctors Should Worry about Preemption, Gregory D. Curfman, M.D., Stephen Morrissey, Ph.D., and Jeffrey M. Drazen, M.D, New England Journal of Medicine Vol 359: 1-3, July 3, 2008

After 20 Years: Residents left with a “knife in the gut.”  "When the Exxon Valdez ran aground in 1989, Andrew Wills was a successful herring fisherman in Alaska and the owner of three canneries. The 11 million gallons of crude oil from the tanker destroyed the herring population and Mr. Wills’s fishing career, so he borrowed money to open a bookshop, a cafe and the Mermaid Bed and Breakfast…"
"Mr. Wills had expected to use his $85,000 share of the $2.5 billion punitive damage settlement against Exxon to pay off some of his debts. The United States Supreme Court decision on Wednesday cutting the damages to around $500 million means Mr. Wills will receive only $15,000, he said.
“After everything we’ve been through, that’s barely enough to cover payroll for a month,” he said. “This is a knife in the gut.”
"Across Alaska, plaintiffs in the long-running lawsuit against Exxon reacted to the decision with sorrow and rage, numbed only by relief that their legal saga is finally over." 
Excerpted from: In Alaska, Rage and Sorrow Over Decision By CHRISTOPHER MAAG, NY Times 5-26-08

Ambushed: KBR Employees.  "They deserve their day in court. Thanks to an appeals court…perhaps they finally will."
"The lawsuit was brought on behalf of (former KBR) drivers whose fuel convoy was ambushed on April 2004 (in Iraq)…Six drivers were killed. One is still missing… Fifteen were wounded."
"At issue is whether by questioning KBR's decision to send drivers into harm's way, the former workers are actually challenging military decisions or second-guessing their employer's judgment."
"…five years into the war… with the broadest deployment of civilian contractors in our military history, we're still dancing around the issue." We hire civilians for work that used to be handled by the military, yet we offer them neither the protections given soldiers nor the rights of private employees." 
Excerpted from: Loren Steffy Column, KBR workers caught up in quagmire, Houston Chronicle June 2, 2008

How far can it tilt without falling over? "The Supreme Court has embarrassed Texas with its demonstrable tilt toward insurers and other corporate defendants... the court has gone out of its way to protect businesses from lawsuits to a degree that even the Texas Legislature and the defense bar can't stomach."
Excerpted from: Editorial -Texas Supreme Court's tilt toward insurers causes concern, Austin American Statesman, 12-1-08

Mattel's Definition of 'Timely'.   The Consumer Product Safety Commission says that manufacturers must report all claims of potentially hazardous product defects within 24 hours, with few exceptions.  Mattel Chairman and Chief Executive Robert Eckert said in an interview that the company discloses problems on its own timetable because it believes both the law and the commission's enforcement practices are unreasonable. Mattel said it should be able to evaluate hazards internally before alerting any outsiders, regardless of what the law says.

You have to put it in context," he said. Mattel isn't withholding anything from regulators, he said, adding that the only question is "whether we reported the issue in a timely manner." Excerpted from: Safety Agency, Mattel Clash Over Disclosures, Wall Street Journal 9-4-2007

#1 Reason for Responsible Alcohol Sales.  Texas led the country in the number of drunken driving fatalities last year with 1,354, statistics released Monday by the U.S. Department of Transportation show. According to the Department of Transportation, there were 13,470 deaths nationwide last year involving drivers and motorcyclists with blood levels of .08 or higher, the legal limit for adults in the U.S.  
Excerpted from: Texas leads nation in drunken driving fatalities,  Dallas Morning News (Wire Reports) 8-21-2007

Poll - hold corporations accountable.   The American Association for Justice distributed the following press release on July 12, 2007.  New Poll Reveals Voter Anxiety about Corporate Misconduct, Support for Strong Civil Justice System to Ensure Accountability and Fairness(Washington, DC)— A national poll of 2008 voters by Peter D. Hart Research Associates, Inc. reveals significant anxiety concerning corporate misconduct and large support among voters for a strong civil justice system to ensure corporate accountability and fairness. T he poll’s findings concludes:

•     Americans are deeply worried about their nation’s future, and concern about corporate misconduct is a major source of their anxiety. “Worried swing voters,” who see corporate irresponsibility as a central problem, may play a pivotal role in the 2008 election.
•    Voters support the civil justice system as an important remedy for corporate misconduct, and reject legal “reforms” that restrict plaintiffs’ ability to hold corporations accountable and obtain fair restitution.
•    Voters will support candidates who defend the civil system over candidates who assail “frivolous lawsuits” and advocate “tort reform.” Pro-civil justice candidates not only command overwhelming support from swing voters, but also appeal to significant blocks of Republicans.

“This poll demonstrates overwhelming voter support for a civil justice system ensuring that those who have been injured by the wrongdoing or negligence of others can receive justice and fair compensation – even when taking on the most powerful interests,” said American Association for Justice CEO Jon Haber. “It shows wide support among voters for a vital civil justice system continuing to provide a level playing field for people to hold corporations accountable when they seek to evade responsibility for their misconduct. 

Excerpt: American Association for Justice, press release on July 12, 2007

Who's Watching the Watchers?  "The unfortunate news that another 9 million toys tainted with lead paint or dangerous small magnets were recalled on August 14 underscores many problems. First, parents should understand that the government itself does not test products to ensure that they comply with mandatory standards -- that's left up to manufacturers."

" The CPSC lacks the leadership, the money, the staff and the legal authority it needs to protect us from dangerous imported or domestically-produced products. This should also serve as a wakeup call to Congress that the headless CPSC needs a safety-oriented chairperson, more money, more authority and more staff."
Excerpted from U.S. PIRG: