www.DukeEmployees.com - Duke Energy Employee Advocate
Legislation - Page Two
definitely rent one" Joan Claybrook, President of Public Citizen - 3/19/01
N. Y. Committee for Occupational Safety and Health - April 12, 2001
Asbestos manufacturing companies -- which incurred billions of dollars in liabilities as a result of an epidemic of asbestos-caused disease and property damage -- have tried every year since 1977 to pass a bill in Congress that would relieve them of some or all the cost of their actions. This year is no exception.
On April 4 Rep. Michael Collins (R-GA) introduced a bill that would give asbestos companies a one-dollar tax refund for every dollar that the companies have ever lost as a result of their asbestos operations. The bill (HR 1412) is identical to last year's HR 4543, which died last December in the closing days of Congress. The new bill has 75 sponsors, including 31 Democrats.
The bill, which is supported by lobbyists for the National Association of Manufacturers, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and many asbestos companies including Owens Corning, W.R. Grace, U.S. Gypsum and Armstrong, would give tax refunds to the companies on taxes that they paid as far back as the first decade of the 20th century. Existing law provides all companies tax refunds for product-liability losses, but only on taxes paid during the 10 years prior to the loss.
The tax-bailout bill would add more than 80 years to the period for which refunds could be claimed, and it would also allow asbestos companies to collect refunds for losses resulting from punitive damages. Punitive damages are levied by courts in product-liability cases when a company's conduct has been worse than merely negligent. Existing tax law does not allow a company to claim a tax refund for losses that result from fines or other court-imposed punishment. Last year the bill's backers estimated, very conservatively, that it would give the companies $2.2 billion by 2011. This year, according to a House staff member, the number is expected to be substantially higher.
When lobbyists were staging a major campaign to pass the identical asbestos-company tax-relief bill last year, the American Public Health Association (APHA) sharply opposed the measure. "This bill uses public funds to lighten the burden of liability for occupational disease caused by corporations that consciously, willfully and wantonly exposed workers and consumers to a deadly carcinogen," the APHA told members of Congress in an Oct. 3, 2000 letter. "In so doing, it encourages and vindicates heinous corporate crimes. As public health practitioners, we urge you to reject this legislation and support real public health measures to prevent this kind of situation and properly compensate those who suffer when they do occur." An APHA spokesperson told NYCOSH that the organization "is opposed to the bill this year just as strongly as we were last year."
"This is a bill with grave public health implications," said NYCOSH Executive Director Joel Shufro. "We are already hearing the same misleading arguments from its supporters that we heard last year. They are claiming that the refunded tax money will go to asbestos victims," Shufro added, "when the law would only require that the money be used by the companies for - asbestos-related expenses,' a category that includes the cost of defending against asbestos-injury compensation claims and the cost of compensating property owners for asbestos removal."
"If Congress wants to appropriate money to aid the victims of the companies' criminal behavior, this is no way to go about it," he added. "Giving the money to the same companies is inviting them to victimize every taxpayer in they same way they have already victimized millions of workers and consumers."
New York Times - By PAUL KRUGMAN - April 8, 2001
Was the Senate's vote to give George W. Bush only $1.2 trillion in tax cuts a famous victory for moderation? For one thing, the battle over the size of the tax cut is by no means over. Soon Mr. Bush will be out there telling the voters once again that it's time for the federal government to give back its excess cash, and that he wants to give all of us a tax break. And his handlers will try once again to create that aura of inevitability, so that despite the qualms of moderates the tax cut in all its $1.6 trillion glory (which is to say with its true cost of $2.5 trillion plus) will be enacted.
Anyway, scaling down Mr. Bush's tax cut is not enough. Why? Because Mr. Bush hasn't offered a basically reasonable plan that is a few hundred billion dollars too big; he has offered a plan that is contrary to the interests of the great majority of Americans, and that has been sold under utterly false pretenses.
One of these false pretenses is the claim that there is plenty of money for tax cuts, that we can have the tax cut without endangering other priorities. Dick Cheney knows better: on Tuesday he cast the deciding vote against a Democratic amendment that would have forced the administration to actually make room in its budget for a realistic prescription drug program for retirees, the kind of program Mr. Bush promised during the campaign.
Mr. Cheney's action, in essence, freed the administration to devote so much money to its tax cuts that it can offer that drug program only if it raids the Medicare surplus — that is, it can provide additional benefits to today's retirees only by diverting the payroll taxes the baby boomers are now paying into the system, ensuring that when today's 50-year-olds reach retirement age the trust fund will be gone. In practice his vote probably means that the prescription drug benefit is dead, sacrificed to the tax cut.
The point is that even though the administration has done everything it can to hide the true budget cost of its tax plan and to inflate estimates of the amount of money available, it still can make the numbers add up only by abandoning every vestige of "compassion," including solemn promises to provide drug benefits to retirees and to improve the lives of military families. (Mary McGrory, surveying Mr. Bush's broken pledges to the military, calls him the "commander in cheap.") And Mr. Bush has understated the true budget cost of his tax cut by at least $500 billion, and overstated the amount of money available by at least another $500 billion. Some Democrats may feel that cutting his plans back by $400 billion is a great victory. Is it?
The other great false pretense is that this is a tax cut for ordinary families; again and again we hear about the "typical" family that will receive a $1,600 cut. But the administration's own figures, though it has tried to conceal them, show that families with incomes of less than $30,000 will receive an average cut of $264; families with incomes of $30,000 to $40,000 will get only $616. Do you really think that such families need those tax cuts more than they need the assurance that their parents can afford prescription drugs — and that they themselves will find a still-functioning Medicare system when they retire?
Of course, some people would benefit from the tax cut. The accounting firm of Deloitte & Touche has calculated that an individual with an income of $1 million would get a tax break of $46,758 — or much more if he is in line to inherit a large estate.
On Friday this paper ran a story about the impact of tax cuts in Montana, a state that went strongly for Mr. Bush. Guess what? Montana is a poor state — which means that not many people would get that "typical" $1,600 tax cut, and a large fraction would get nothing at all. May I suggest to big-tax-cut Democrats like Ben Nelson of Nebraska and John Breaux of Louisiana, senators from states not noted as favorite haunts of multimillionaires, that they ask whether this kind of tax cut is really in the interests of their constituents?
Mr. Bush's tax plan shouldn't be scaled back; it should be abandoned. There's still time to craft a tax cut that the nation can really afford, and that really helps ordinary people.
American Civil Liberties Union - Press Release - April 4, 2001
The American Civil Liberties Union told a House subcommittee this morning that a controversial Internet blocking measure contains significant constitutional pitfalls and predicted that these shortcomings would sap intellectual freedom from the nation's libraries if the law is allowed to go into effect.
"The First Amendment is part of the foundation of our society and a bedrock of our principles. Emasculating the First Amendment under the banner of protecting our children teaches children our principles are a hollow shell, to be cast aside when they seem inconvenient," said Marvin Johnson, an ACLU Legislative Counsel. "One can almost watch their moral compasses spin."
Johnson testified before the Telecommunications and the Internet Subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which called today's hearing to examine the merits of the new Internet blocking law. The blocking legislation was approved by Congress and signed into law by President Clinton last December. The ACLU filed a lawsuit last month in federal district court in Philadelphia against the new legislation.
In his testimony, Johnson said that blocking technology required by Congress does not work. As proof, he offered several recent examples that demonstrate filtering software's inability to distinguish between obscenity and constitutionally protected speech. Johnson cited a March 2001 Consumer Reports test that found that blocking software will, in fact, fail to recognize obscene material at least 20 percent of the time and will interpret constitutionally protected material as objectionable as much as 63 percent of the time.
Johnson also raised the question of the law's exacerbation of the already significant "digital divide." According to the testimony, people with means will be able to avoid the harmful effects of the new law by using their own computers, while the economically disadvantaged will find themselves unable to access crucial, constitutionally protected material because of overly ravenous blocking software.
"The government is choking off the free flow of information on the Internet to the library patrons who need it the most," Johnson said. "We fully expect the courts to overturn this constitutional briar-patch of a law."
Johnson's testimony can be found online at: www.aclu.org/congress/l040401a.html
For more information about the ACLU's lawsuit, see: www.aclu.org/features/f032001a.html
American Civil Liberties Union - Press Release - April 2, 2001
Testifying here in the cradle of our democracy, the American Civil Liberties Union today said that President George W. Bush and the Republican majority in Congress are not doing enough on the urgent need for federal legislation to fix the nation's broken election system.
"To borrow a basketball metaphor," said Christopher E. Anders, an ACLU Legislative Counsel, "it looks like President Bush and the majority party are trying to run out the clock on election reform legislation."
"Although the 2002 and 2004 elections may seem distant," Anders added, "we are already very late if we want to get the reforms in place to achieve equality in the polling place."
Anders testified here at a field hearing called by the Special Committee on Election Reform of the Democratic Caucus in the House of Representatives. The committee was appointed by Democratic House leaders to hold hearings across the country to examine irregularities in voting processes and equipment.
In his testimony, Anders said that the ACLU has strongly endorsed legislation introduced recently by Rep. John Conyers, D-MI. The ACLU believes that the Conyers legislation represents the most complete response to widespread problems that were largely hidden until last November and that it best meets the principal goals of election reform: uniformity, accuracy and accessibility.
"In its post-election decision, the U.S. Supreme Court made clear that every vote must be given equal weight under the Constitution," Anders told the special committee. "We believe that Congress and the President must act now - during a time of unprecedented budget surpluses - to ensure that every person has the right to vote and that every vote is counted fairly."
Despite the urgency, Anders said that the House has not yet scheduled a single hearing on election reform and that the leadership has no timetable for addressing the issue. In addition, Anders said that President Bush did not include any funds for election reform in the budget he sent to Congress.
In addition to working for election reform in Congress, Anders told the committee that the ACLU has also already filed lawsuits in Georgia, Illinois and Florida seeking improvement in voting systems and technology.
"The right to vote is the most fundamental right we as Americans have, the mainspring from which all other rights flow," Anders said. "The ACLU has recommitted itself to the profoundly important goal of ensuring that what happened in the 2000 election does not ever happen again and we urge Congress to do the same."
Anders testimony can be found online at: www.aclu.org/congress/l040201a.html
Duke Energy Employee Advocate - March 6, 2001
We never thought that we would ever oppose something as American pie as tax cuts, but we must. Many have a real concern that the proposed tax cuts will cause the average American more harm than good. Companies are reneging on promised retirement health care coverage. All we will have left is Medicare. Many experts feel that the proposed tax cuts will place Medicare and Social Security in jeopardy and provide a windfall for the super rich.
If you suspect that the proposed tax cuts will harm most Americans, there is a petition against the bill that you can sign:
N. Y. Times - By PAUL KRUGMAN - March 4, 2001
When George W. Bush first became governor of Texas, he tried to cut the state tax on business profits while increasing the sales tax — that is, he tried to cut taxes on wealthy shareholders while raising taxes that bear most heavily on ordinary families. This top-down class warfare was too much even for Texas, and Mr. Bush learned that it's better to take a less direct approach: use unrealistically optimistic budget projections to justify tax cuts for the rich, then when reality strikes use the pressure of a tight budget to squeeze programs for the poor and middle class.
Until last week, the word was that Mr. Bush's tax cut had to be passed immediately to give the economy a short-term boost. Then Democrats came up with a much cheaper proposal that puts more money into consumers' hands this year. Now the word is that tax cutting is about long- term incentives, not short-run economic management.
But the push to pass the tax cut quickly, with minimal discussion, is still on. After all, who knows what wavering moderates might learn if they have time to check the details?
Not a week goes by without the discovery that some feature of the plan will cost far more than originally admitted. Last week's bombshell was a report from the bipartisan Joint Committee on Taxation that repealing the estate tax would offer wealthy Americans an array of new strategies that would allow them to legally avoid paying hundreds of billions in income taxes. That original "trillion-dollar tax cut" is now at $2.7 trillion and rising.
Republican leaders dealt with this blow, sort of, by postponing the phase-out of the estate tax. This does nothing to make the tax cut more affordable in the long run. But they hope that they can keep people focused on 10-year budget forecasts, and that nobody will ask what happens in year 11. Meanwhile, this news has another implication: Mr. Bush's tax plan is, believe it or not, even more tilted toward the rich than previously thought.
For all those chants of "no fuzzy math," Mr. Bush's people have never actually refuted independent estimates that about 40 percent of his tax cut goes to the richest 1 percent of families. In fact, a table released by the Treasury Department last month, although it was designed to convey the impression that the tax cut favored the middle class, actually contained enough information to show that if Treasury officials had calculated the share of the benefits going to the top 1 percent (they didn't), and if they had included the effects of estate tax repeal (they didn't), they would have come up with about the same number.
But now it seems that this is an underestimate. The Joint Tax Committee tells us that estate tax repeal will make it easier for the rich to avoid income taxes. So we can now surmise that more than half of the benefits of the tax cut will go to the wealthiest 1 percent. Or to put it in raw numbers: We're talking about a tax cut that would be worth nothing to the poorest quarter of families, which contain one-third of the nation's children; that would give an average of $616 per year to families with incomes between $30,000 and $40,000 (I calculated that number directly from the Treasury table. So much for that $1,600 "typical" tax cut); but would probably give more than $60,000 to families in the top 1 percent, whose average income is more than $1 million.
Meanwhile the big squeeze has already begun. Mr. Bush hopes to rush through the tax cut before anyone has a good look at his spending plans, but some details are starting to emerge: the Department of Health and Human Services intends, among other things, to slash spending on rural health, disease prevention and aid to senior citizens. And we can be sure that's just the beginning.
Will Mr. Bush eventually accept a revised tax plan that is less tilted toward the wealthy? I doubt it. Everything we have seen so far is consistent with the theory that those tax cuts for the rich are the whole point of the plan, that the middle-class cuts, such as they are, are no more than a loss leader designed to attract unwary customers.
And about those who thought Mr. Bush meant something kinder and gentler by "compassionate conservatism," all I can say is, let them eat cake. And drink arsenic.
Public Citizen - Press Release - March 19, 2001
Paul Schmitt (202) 588-7742
Angela Bradbery (202) 588-7741
Statement made by Joan Claybrook at a campaign finance reform event today.
Today, debate begins in the Senate over campaign finance reform - a debate that at long last has a very real shot of leading to change.
But the public is battling many people who don't want change, who have feasted on today's legalized bribery and corruption. One of those - in fact, the leading opponent of campaign finance reform - is Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the chief fundraiser for Senate Republicans in the last two election cycles and the King of Prevaricators.
Among the industries he has tapped for boatloads of money is the casino gambling industry, as Public Citizen documented in a recent report. At the same time, he worked behind the scenes to block a bill that the casino industry strongly opposed. The bill would have outlawed gambling on college sports in Nevada; this legalized gambling is a major loophole that undercuts the prohibition in all other states.
But yesterday, on Meet the Press, McConnell denied that he played any role at all in stopping the bill. He misled the press and the public about his insider activities and his role in preventing Senate consideration of the legislation. He even claimed he supported the bill, which he has never done until the report was issued last Thursday.
Amazingly, he also denied - with a straight face - any connection between campaign contributions and legislation.
He totally lost all credibility with that ridiculous statement. Everybody in America knows that the industries that throw cash at the lawmakers get their way on bills. It happens every day.
Why is Senator McConnell issuing denials? Is he embarrassed about his role in the campaign money machine? Does he have something to hide?
The fact is that big money drowns out the voices of average Americans. Polluters give cash to block measures to clean up the air and water. HMOs use it to ensure that their customers can't hold them accountable for denying necessary care. Drug companies use it to keep the prices of drugs higher than most people can afford.
Members of Congress spend uncounted hours on the telephone begging for money and cozying up to corporate lobbyists with their hands out. And powerful members shake down business lobbyists who want action -- or inaction -- on a particular bill. You may not be able to buy a member of Congress but you can definitely rent one.
Americans know what's going on in Washington and they're tired of the sellout. The more money in politics, the less their votes count.
The McCain-Feingold bill would rightly ban the most corrupting kind of money we see in politics today -- soft money.
But opponents of reform have offered an alternative, a false tradeoff. In exchange for banning some soft money, they want to triple the amount that individuals can give directly to candidates, known as hard money.
This is a terrible idea. The wealthy already give the most money to candidates. This proposal would only allow them to give more and further tilt public policy toward the elite in our society. As Warren Buffet said yesterday on This Week, this would create "a government of the wealthy, by the wealthy and for the wealthy."
Tripling the hard money limit would let 80 percent of the soft money banned by McCain- Feingold back into the system. That's not reform. That's a fraud. Corporations would be able to bundle tens of thousands of dollars from their executives and their wives and children to reward politicians for doing their bidding. Candidates would be more attentive to the interests of the wealthy by doing such things as cutting taxes for big businesses.
Increasing the hard money limits means more money in politics, and that's just what we don't need.
I've always thought of retirement as a time to relax. Granny D is spending her retirement on her feet - walking across the country, and -- for the next two weeks -- walking around this building to call attention to the need for campaign finance reform.
Let's give Granny D the retirement she deserves.
Let's pass the McCain-Feingold bill, so we can take back our government and let the American public call the shots.
Public Citizen is a consumer advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C. For more information, please visit www.citizen.org.
www.tompaine.com - Vivian Stockman - March 15, 2001
It's the mother of all oxymorons: "clean coal." But politicians and their financiers expect us to scarf down their doublespeak. Their latest pet phrase is popping up in bills and proposals that would slop billions in taxpayer money into the trough to feed corpulent ole King Coal.
Senator Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., and Senator Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., representing respectively the second and third highest coal-producing states, have introduced Senate Bill 60. So far, another ten Democrats and ten Republicans are co-sponsoring the bill, including Republican Senators Mike Enzi and Craig Thomas from the top coal producing state of Wyoming.
The bill would blow $1 billion of taxpayer money in ten years for "clean coal" research and would toss $6 billion in tax breaks to power plants. It exempts coal burning plants for ten years from Clean Air Act provisions that, among other things, require the plants to measure mercury and acid rain forming pollutants. Strange, why does "clean coal" need to hide from the Clean Air Act?
This corporate welfare would subsidize coal at the expense of less polluting natural gas. The bill works against truly clean energy sources such as wind, solar and fuel cells. It works against taxpayers' wallets, lungs, children and common sense.
Whatever the results of the taxpayer subsidized research might be, "clean coal" technologies definitely won't reduce emissions of carbon dioxide, a major heat-trapping gas that is contributing to the greenhouse effect. Coal is primarily carbon, the combustion of which emits greenhouse gases and escalates global warming. According to some economists, we should follow the United Kingdom's lead and tax carbon emissions, not subsidize further pollution.
The Money Trail
Senator Byrd rolled in $67,611 from mining interests in the 2000 election, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. He ranks third and McConnell fifth highest amongst congressional recipients of King Coal campaign donations. During the 2000 election cycle, coal interests directly donated $1,269,879 to national political candidates. Among those signed onto the bill are George Allen, R-Va., second highest recipient of Coal's largess in 2000; Rick Santorum, R-Pa., third highest; Byrd, fourth; McConnell, sixth; Mike DeWine, R-Ohio, seventh; and Thomas, eleventh.
Portions of Byrd's clean coal bill are incorporated into the National Energy Security Act of 2001, introduced by Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Frank Murkowski, R-Alaska. Coupled with the "clean coal" doublespeak, the Murkowski bill would open up the Artic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling and would stoke up the nuclear industry.
President Bush, citing the power "crisis" in California, is not to be left out of the coal chorus. His budget includes $2 billion for "clean coal" over a ten year period. During the 2000 campaign, Bush was the number one recipient of coal cash, raking in $114,521. Bush appointed Spencer Abraham to head the Department of Energy. When he was a Republican Senator for Michigan, Abraham ranked tenth highest amongst congressional recipients of coal cash. All told, in 1999-2000, coal-mining interests gave over $3.8 million in soft money, PAC and individual contributions. Most of the money was funneled to Republicans. Abraham and Vice President "Oilman" Cheney are heading up a task force to develop a national energy policy.
In her successful bid for one of West Virginia's House seats, Republican Shelly Moore Capito received $17,750 from coal mining interests. She believes in "clean coal" too, saying coal needs to be burned in an environmentally friendly manner. It's not clear yet whether she will agree with Senator Byrd that it's okay to dodge measurement requirements for mercury emissions. Mercury is extremely hazardous, especially to unborn babies and children.
There's More to Coal Than Burning
Let's pretend for a moment that coal really can be burned cleanly. Before you burn it, you have to extract it. For the traditional deep mining areas, that means black lung disease for miners and eons of costly treatment for acid mine drainage. For certain other coal bearing areas of West Virginia, Kentucky and Virginia, that means more mountaintop removal, more disappearing mountain communities, more forest destruction, more stream burials under valley fills, more disrupted groundwater, and more unknown long-term effects to ecosystems.
Next, you have to process the coal. That means washing it for market, which means huge slurry "ponds," with their toxic stew of heavy metals and coal cleaning chemicals, looming over downstream communities. One such "pond" breakthrough in October at a mountaintop removal site in Kentucky released 250 million gallons of thick black sludge, creating the worst-ever waste spill, for which cleanup is ongoing and costs are rising. Officials have warned that the cleanup may never be complete.
Next, you have to transport the coal to market. If that's by truck, you have more diesel-belching, overweight trucks careening dangerously along narrow mountain roads, causing occasional fatal accidents and destroying bridges and roads, which must be repaired at taxpayer expense. If that's by barge, then you may get increased river dredging. One dredge proposed for the Kanawha River in West Virginia would recover coal particles downstream from a chemical plant, possibly stirring up toxin-laced sediment.
Finally, after the coal is hypothetically "cleanly" burned, the coal ash -- known to contain heavy metals such as chromium, cadmium, arsenic and mercury -- must be disposed of. Conveniently, there are no federally enforceable rules for disposing of this ash. Most known storage methods are imperfect and can lead to leach the ash's toxic contents into aquifers. Groundwater takes a beating, and so, ultimately, does our health.
Coal's Dirty Habits
In the latest incoming salvos from the Coal PR machine, the "clean coal" myth will continue its starring role. No doubt, we'll also hear endlessly that coal provides over half the nation's electricity and plenty of tax money. Never mind that in West Virginia and Kentucky, the coal producing counties rank among the poorest counties in those already impoverished states. What won't be mentioned is Coal's dirty habit of passing on its costs -- making society, not the coal industry, pay for damaged infrastructure and disease and death from air pollution. Many such externalized health costs are documented at the Clean Air Network's website.
We won't hear about -- gasp! -- energy conservation, energy efficiency or the skyrocketing growth of truly clean energies. The Worldwatch Institute reports that in 1999 worldwide coal use declined 3.3 percent and coal jobs plummeted. Meanwhile U.S. wind power jumped by 29 percent.
Growth in solar and hydrogen fuel cells technologies also surged. Worldwatch points out that wind farms are labor intensive, but not capital intensive. Worldwide, jobs in wind energy fields are predicted to number three million by 2020! Wind power money tends to stay in the communities where the wind power is generated. Whereas, in West Virginia, King Coal annually siphons about $1.5 billion of coal money to out-of-state coal barons.
With promising renewable energy, with new reports almost daily about catastrophic global warming and the unraveling of our life-supporting ecosystems, is this the time for our coin-operated Congress to pour billions into an industry bent on dragging us all into extinction with it? Could that money be better spent on constructing wind farms on already scalped mountains, or on coalfield worker re-training in fuel cell manufacturing?
The answer is blowing in the wind.