Gulf Coast Construction Awards Go to Out-of-Area Companies
WASHINGTON, DC -- October 28, 2005 -- After Hurricane Katrina hit, Fluor Corporation was originally awarded a $100 million federal contract for construction projects in the Gulf Coast area on a no-bid basis. Fluor's subsidiary, Massey Corp, had caused a 300 million gallon spill of coal waste in the Appalachian mountains five years before, according to an article by the Association of Trial Lawyers (ATLA). Residents had filed private lawsuits to try to recover damages and to force a clean-up of sludge that accumulated on their properties. The residents also charged that water systems became contaminated and that bottled water was not distributed as promised.
The Fluor contract will be rebid, and so will three other $100 million contracts held by the large out-of-area companies Shaw Group Inc., Bechtel Corp., and CH2M Hill Inc. However, many smaller construction businesses in Mississippi and Louisiana say that local companies have little chance of being part of the restoration of the Gulf Coast area. In Mississippi, for example, only about 2% of FEMA's contracts for debris removal, hauling and installing mobile homes have been awarded to local businesses (Clarion Ledger, Jackson, MS, October 24, 2005).
Legislation Would Limit Gulf Coast Residents' Rights
At a time when Gulf Coast residents are struggling to begin normal lives, choosing contractors is no small issue. This is because if new legislation passes, the legal rights of residents to address any pollution caused by these contractors would be severely limited. S. 1761 would bar an individual from bringing a lawsuit against Gulf Coast contractors for violating the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Safe Water Drinking Act, or asbestos cleanup requirements issued by the Environmental Protection Agency.
- If a contractor polluted a stream and the resulting groundwater, a homeowner would not be able to recover medical expenses for a child's sickness from drinking contaminated well water from the property.
- If a contractor violated legal standards in rebuilding a breached levee, and the levee failed because of a construction defect and flooded the area, homeowners would not be able to recover damages.
- If a contractor ignored EPA regulations for safe removal of asbestos from an elementary school damaged by Katrina, and children developed asbestos diseases decades later, they would not be able to go against the contractor for medical bills.
"It is unconscionable for Congress to view the tragedy of Katrina as an excuse to reward wealthy, powerful corporations with a license to pollute ... and [to] rip off Katrina evacuees," ATLA commented (Senators Propose Rewarding No-Bid Contractors at Victims' Expense, October 25, 2005). "Yet, that is exactly what the authors of legislation proposed in the U.S. Senate (S. 1761) have done."
We agree with this sentiment. Not only is S. 1761 unfair to Gulf Coast residents, it sets a dangerous precedent of stripping consumers of important legal rights. We urge you to contact your Senators and ask them to vote NO on this bill. You can find your Senators' names, e-mails, and telephone numbers on the U.S. Senate web site.