Sen. Elizabeth Warren hijacked a Senate committee hearing on recreational hunting, fishing and shooting Thursday to advance her crusade against big business, calling for new laws to expose the details of legal settlements between the government and corporations accused of wrongdoing.
“I’m going to press forward with this bipartisan proposal in this Congress because far too often the critical details of these settlements are hidden from the public,” declared Ms. Warren, Massachusetts Democrat.
She defended her use of the venue — a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing on the Bipartisan Sportsmen’s Act of 2015 — by citing a provision in the bill that would create a public database of fees and awards that the government pays to environmental groups.
“Republicans want more transparency when environmental groups challenge illegal government actions and win. But what about transparency when the government settles claims against corporations that break the law,” she said.
Mrs. Warren, a liberal firebrand who is being prodded by the party’s left wing to enter the 2016 presidential race, was pushing her legislation titled the Truth in Settlements Act, which was introduced last year but was blocked.
She did not say whether she would attempt to offer her bill as an amendment to the Sportsmen’s Act.
Ms. Warren said her law would reveal details of cases such as a recent $2.3 million settlement by XTO Energy, an Exxon Mobil subsidiary, for stream and wetlands pollution in West Virginia allegedly caused by hydraulic fracturing or fracking operations.
“Often these settlements allow offending companies to write off the entire penalty payment as a tax deduction, or it allows offending companions to claim credits against the settlement for doing things they were going to do anyway,” she said, directing her question at Whit Fosburgh, president of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, who was testifying on the Sportsmen’s Act.
“Let me ask you again, Mr. Fosburgh,” she said, “as you think about whether the government cut a good deal for the American people here. Would it be helpful to know if the settlement is tax-deductible or if it provides Exxon Mobil with credits for doing things it was already obligated to do?”
Mr. Fosburgh responded: “I’m going to leave that answer to people a lot smarter than me about taxes and settlements.”