Monday, February 20, 2006

Sneaking In Tort Deform

It's an old Republican trick. Set minimum standards for safety (as in, this is the least you must do) and then hold that any manufacturer that does the very least is immune from suit, as though they had done all they could do to make consumers safe. The Bush Administration is a breeding ground filled with former industry executives and lobbyists, and they're writing all their favorite anti-consumer proposals into administrative law.

LA Times: Industries Get Quiet Protection From Lawsuits
Federal agencies are using arcane regulations and legal opinions to shield automakers and others from challenges by consumers and states.

[T]hrough arcane regulatory actions and legal opinions, the Bush administration is providing industries with an unprecedented degree of protection at the expense of an individual's right to sue and a state's right to regulate.

In other moves by the administration:

• The highway safety agency, a branch of the Department of Transportation, is backing auto industry efforts to stop California and other states from regulating tailpipe emissions they link to global warming. The agency said last summer that any such rule would be a backdoor attempt by states to encroach on federal authority to set mileage standards, and should be preempted.

• The Justice Department helped industry groups overturn a pollution-control rule in Southern California that would have required cleaner-running buses, garbage trucks and other fleet vehicles.

• The U.S. Office of the Comptroller of the Currency has repeatedly sided with national banks to fend off enforcement of consumer protection laws passed by California, New York and other states. The agency argued that it had sole authority to regulate national banks, preempting state restrictions.

• The Food and Drug Administration issued a legal opinion last month asserting that FDA-approved labels should give pharmaceutical firms broad immunity from most types of lawsuits. The agency previously had filed briefs seeking dismissal of various cases against drug companies and medical-device manufacturers.

In a letter to President Bush on Thursday, Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) said, "It appears that there may have been an administration-wide directive for agencies … to limit corporate liability through the rule-making process and without the consent of Congress."

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