Holding Polluters Accountable
Too many polluters are using loopholes and lax enforcement to skip town and stick taxpayers with massive cleanup bills. When Asarco declared bankruptcy last year, closing its Tacoma smelter and leaving behind over $100 million in cleanup debt, acres of polluted industrial property, and hundreds of contaminated backyards, the company manipulated legal loopholes to leave taxpayers with almost all of the mess. To make sure it's the polluter who pays, I've drafted legislation to prevent corporate polluters from using bankruptcy to get off the hook.
When news about Asarco first appeared, I requested a Government Accountability Office (GAO) investigation to determine whether companies were exploiting existing laws to avoid their cleanup responsibilities. The resulting GAO report confirmed that corporate polluters were using bankruptcy laws to evade environmental responsibilities and that the Environmental Protection Agency could do more to make sure liable parties meet cleanup obligations. Based on the report's findings and specific recommendations, my legislation would close existing loopholes, protect taxpayers from unjust corporate maneuvering, and ensure that polluters, not taxpayers, pay for the cleanup. Among other things, my bill would force parent companies to cover the cleanup liabilities of their subsidiaries, allow courts to look at a longer site history when determining if companies transferred assets to avoid cleanup obligations, reassert the Environmental Protection Agency's oversight responsibilities, and require businesses to maintain better financial assurances of their ability to meet potential cleanup obligations.
Insisting on Fairness for Enron's Northwest Victims
Last Monday, alongside Washington state Public Utility Districts and representatives from local businesses, I called on federal energy regulators to reject a proposed settlement with Enron that would return just $3 million to our region's ratepayersrepresenting less than one percent of the money Enron took from the Northwest. The settlement would also require the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to ignore bipartisan legislation I was able to pass last year that helped close a potential bankruptcy loophole, giving federal regulators the final say in determining whether Enron should get to collect millions of dollars for power it never delivered to Northwest businesses. This includes about $120 million Enron is attempting to collect from the ratepayers of Snohomish Public Utility District. Last Wednesday, in what could be a victory for Northwest ratepayers, FERC issued an order reaffirming its intent to make use of the power granted by this important law.
Our nation's energy regulators must show consumers that they've learned from the hard lessons of the Western energy crisis. To stop Enron from fleecing Northwest ratepayers yet again, we need to make sure we preserve all avenues of relief for those harmed by the biggest fraud in American corporate history, and need to ensure greater energy market transparency if we're going to prevent this kind of fraud in the future.
Promoting Opportunity in Education
Federal student aid and adult basic education programs are critical to our economic strength and to maintaining a highly-skilled, well-educated workforce. To make sure we investments in our nation's future, I'm calling on Congress to reject the administration's proposed cuts and restore funding for the Perkins Loan program, which provide low-cost loans to help students finance their education. To maximize efficiency, the Perkins Loan program requires matching funds from colleges and uses loan-repayments to finance future student aid, making it one of the most effective public-private partnerships in the history of our government. The program keeps students in classrooms, expands access to college, and promotes equal opportunity.
I'm also calling for full funding of the Adult Basic Education Program, which helps promote adult literacy. A recent study by National Center for Education Statistics revealed that millions of American adults aren't fully literate. As jobs in our changing economy increasingly require higher levels of education, we need to make sure all Americans have the basic skills necessary for post-secondary education and employment. Adult education programs deserve our support.