W.R. Grace Saved–Courtesy of Your Federal Judge

With the recent federal bailout of Bear-Sterns–a finance company that made billions of dollars on bad mortgages–when ordinary citizens are being offered “counseling” then left to fend for themselves, it would be easy for average Americans to believe that their elected representatives no longer represent their interests or even give a proverbial “tinker’s damn” about the hard-working constituents who vote for them. It doesn’t help when Congress goes to great lengths to protect the interests of wealthy, predatory corporations, the board members and CEOs of which all too often finance their elections. Judge Judith Fitzgerald recently gave the same impression about the judiciary when she ordered the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection to drop its lawsuit against the infamous asbestos killer W.R. Grace and Company. According to the lawsuit, Grace representatives lied to New Jersey state environmental and health officials when they assured them that a vermiculite processing plant in the town of Hamilton posed no health threat to the community. The plant operated for over four decades; the vermiculite processed at the plant was mined in Libby, Montana.

By itself, vermiculite is a relatively innocuous form of clay; however, the Libby vermiculite was ultimately found to be contaminated with tremolite, a deadly form of amphibole asbestos found to cause mesothelioma and asbestos lung cancer. When Grace closed the plant fourteen years ago, company officials filed a report that assured the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection that there were no harmful levels of asbestos. However, tests conducted by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) six years later found evidence to the contrary. W.R. Grace, which is paying a relative pittance to the people of Libby, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in 2001. According to “Judge Judy,” the lawsuit filed by the state of New Jersey was in violation of the regulations that protect corporate entities under Chapter 11. Attorneys for the state of New Jersey argued that its lawsuit was exempt from Chapter 11 rules because it was exercising its “police powers” in order to protect citizens of the state. Unfortunately, these days, the lives and well-being of citizens don’t seem to account for much when weighed against the power and wealth of big corporations…