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Winter Storm Avery takes lives, puts the brakes on commutes across the Northeast. Also on our Friday rundown: A first-of-its-kind report calls for policies to ease transitions of young people living in foster care. And "got gratitude" this holiday season? It could benefit your health.

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Group Sees Common Response to Eco-Disasters in WI and Elsewhere

July 28, 2010

MADISON, Wis. - The cleanup of contaminated sediment from the Lower Fox River in Wisconsin is a project that continues even after 25 years, following a long battle with paper companies that dumped polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) into the river beginning in the 1950s.

A new report from the American Association for Justice (AAJ) says huge corporations often respond to environmental disasters of their own making by passing the buck, for as long as possible. According to AAJ spokesman Ray DeLorenzi, big companies often delay making reparations as long as possible — and ultimately, in cases like the BP oil rig disaster, the civil justice system is needed to hold them accountable.

"Many corporations will roll the dice and hope they can get away with their misconduct, but ultimately, there is negligence, and people are injured, and communities are destroyed. The civil justice system historically has played a key role in holding wrongdoers accountable."

The report says laws passed in the 1960s and 70s were supposed to protect the environment, but lax enforcement left corporations with little incentive to comply. It says trial attorneys had to seek justice for people and communities harmed by corporate polluters.

Many corporations say lawyers already have too much leeway in pressing their cases, and argue that there should be limits on civil damages. DeLorenzi says it's not a surprising view, when you consider the source.

"That's exactly the sort of rhetoric you'd expect to hear from corporations like BP or other polluters, or insurance companies who don't want to pay just claims, and essentially profit from their misconduct."

DeLorenzi says the typical response from big corporations that create environmental disasters has been the same since the Exxon Valdez spill in 1989 — a response he characterizes as "delay and deny." He expects the civil justice system will ensure BP is held accountable and responsible for the pollution along the Gulf Coast.

The full report is online at www.justice.org/environment.

Tim Morrissey, Public News Service - WI