Corporate lobbyists have no shame. Neither does Congress. Or the Trump administration.
When the Green New Deal was introduced last year, many members of Congress refused to support it because they said we couldn’t possibly afford it.
Now, suddenly Congress has found $2 trillion for the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, a stimulus bill chock full of bailouts for corporate criminals.
If we don’t put guardrails on its use, this money is gone. We won’t get another chance to fund a just transition to the net-zero-carbon economy we need—by 2030—to avert the worst impacts of climate change.
Giving corporations a free pass to pollute is a terrible idea anytime. Doing it now, given what we know about how air pollution makes people more vulnerable to COVID-19, is criminal.
Yet, as the Huffington Post reported:
“On Thursday afternoon, the Environmental Protection Agency announced it would suspend enforcement of bedrock clean air and water laws, leaving the fossil fuel, chemical and agribusiness industries to police themselves amid a historic public health crisis.
"Hours later, the U.S. Department of Agriculture confirmed a waiver allowing a private company to take over inspection duties at a Tyson Foods beef slaughterhouse.”
The corporate deregulation orders come on the heels of the CARES Act’s creation of a $500-billion no-strings-attached Treasury Department slush fund for big business.
Agribusiness giants will likely exploit this opportunity, even though Big Ag is also getting a $23-billion pot of money that will be doled out by the corporate-friendly U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Companies peddling pesticides, genetically engineered seeds and factory farm animal products are lobbying the government for their piece of the COVID-19 corporate welfare pie.
Bayer (Monsanto), Corteva (DowDuPont), Syngenta and BASF, and factory farmed meat companies Tyson, Smithfield, JBS and Cargill, are all sidling up to the trough of coronavirus relief funds to see what they can gobble up.
Bayer claims to be halting a nearly $1-billion expansion at its (formerly Monsanto’s) dicamba herbicide factory “as a precaution to limit the virus' spread.”
But the expansion had already been reported to be “behind schedule” when news broke February 17 of a jury verdict forcing Bayer to pay $265 million to a Missouri farmer for damage to his peaches from dicamba drift.
While Bayer said it would limit operations at its dicamba factory to only essential personnel, it also said: “Production isn't expected to be curtailed.”
Bayer’s have-it-both-ways spin on the impact COVID-19 is having on its business is typical of the industry, which says it’s “continuing uninterrupted” and “business as usual,” because agriculture and chemical manufacturing have been deemed “essential” sectors during the pandemic.
Agribusiness companies are steamrolling ahead no matter what happens to their workers. COVID-19 outbreaks have occurred at factories operated by Bayer, Corteva, Syngenta, BASF, Tyson, Smithfield, JBS and Cargill.
Under the CARES Act, small businesses can seek relief only if they keep their employees on the payroll.
But big businesses can collect handouts, even if they lay off employees. And there’s nothing in the new law requiring employers to keep their workers safe or prevent the spread of the virus in the workplace.
Keeping the food system going during the pandemic is essential. But can’t come at the expense of worker safety, economic justice or human health and the environment.
As labor leader John Costa, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union, said as he demanded better protection for essential workers from COVID-19: “Dying is no way to make a living.”