While many concerns have been raised on the left that the Trans-Pacific Partnership gives too much power to corporations that would like to see environmental protections removed as a barrier to their pursuit of profits, Congressional Republicans are apparently concerned that President Obama will use TPP and other trade deals to take action on climate change.
This is a guest post by David Suzuki.
In 1997, Canada restricted import and transfer of the gasoline additive MMT because it was a suspected neurotoxin that had already been banned in Europe. Ethyl Corp., the U.S. multinational that supplied the chemical, sued the government for $350 million under the North American Free Trade Agreement and won! Canada was forced to repeal the ban, apologize to the company and pay an out-of-court settlement of US$13 million.
The free trade agreement between Canada, the U.S. and Mexico was never designed to raise labour and environmental standards to the highest level. In fact, NAFTA and other trade agreements Canada has signed — including the recent Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement with China — often take labour standards to the lowest denominator while increasing environmental risk. The agreements are more about facilitating corporate flexibility and profit than creating good working conditions and protecting the air, water, land and diverse ecosystems that keep us alive and healthy.
In his State of the Union address earlier this week, President Obama made the case for Congress granting him fast track authority to negotiate free trade deals.
“I’m asking both parties to give me trade promotion authority to protect American workers, with strong new trade deals from Asia to Europe that aren’t just free, but fair.”
Obama is specifically seeking special authority to negotiate the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), a so-called free trade agreement his administration is in the midst of negotiating with Canada, Mexico and 10 countries in the Asia-Pacific region like Australia, Japan, Malaysia and Vietnam—countries that, together, constitute 40% of the world’s GDP and 26% of global trade, according to the Washington Post.
Despite opposition from his own party, Obama has been on the stump for “trade promotion authority,” also known as “fast track authority,” which Congress would have to grant, essentially waiving its Constitutional right to give “advice and consent” on any international agreements negotiated by the president
On January 8, several Democrat members of Congress went so far as to join with union leaders and environmental and consumer advocates to hold a press conference on their opposition to fast track authority for the TPP.
In a letter to Congress sent the day after the State of the Union speech, the Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council and 42 other environmental groups urged the rejection of forthcoming legislation that would grant Obama fast track authority and “enable the president to push through flawed international trade agreements at the expense of the environment, public health, and communities.”
A trade agreement being secretly negotiated by the Obama administration could allow an end run by the oil and gas industry around local opposition to natural gas exports. This agreement, called the Trans-Pacific Partnership, is being crafted right now – and the stakes for fracking and shale gas are high.
While the vast majority of the opposition to fracking in the US has focused on domestic concerns – its impact on air and water, local land rights, misleading information about its finances – less attention has been paid to a topic of colossal consequence: natural gas exports.
At least 15 companies have filed applications with the federal Department of Energy to export liquified natural gas (LNG). The shale gas rush has caused a glut in the American market thanks to fracking, and now the race is on among industry giants to ship the liquefied fuel by tanker to export markets worldwide, where prices run far higher than in the U.S.
As drilling has spread across the U.S., grassroots organizing around unconventional oil and gas drilling and fracking has grown to an unprecedented level in many communities. Public hearings and town halls from New York to California have been flooded with concerned scientific experts, residents and small business owners and farmers who stand to be impacted by the drilling boom.
Drilling advocates have become increasingly concerned about how grassroots organizing has expanded over the past 5 years. “Meanwhile, the oil and gas industry has largely failed to appreciate social and political risks, and has repeatedly been caught off guard by the sophistication, speed and influence of anti-fracking activists,” one consultant warned the industry last year.
Some of the most resounding setbacks the drilling industry has faced have come at the state or local level. Bans and moratoria have led drilling companies to withdraw from leases in parts of the country, abandoning, at least for the short term, plans to drill.
But when it comes to natural gas exports – which many analysts have said are key for the industry’s financial prospects –independent experts and local organizers may soon find themselves entirely shut out of the decision-making process, if the oil and gas industry has its way.
Last week, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled that trade deals can be exempted from federal disclosure laws. The case revolved around a classified document related to an FTAA (Free Trade Area of the Americas) that contained information about environmental and public health and safety concerns.
The suit was filed by EarthJustice and the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL), with CIEL President Carroll Muffett issuing the following statement after the ruling: “It is with great irony that at a time when reports about government intrusion into individual privacy are escalating by the day, the U.S. government would go to such lengths to protect the confidentiality of its trade negotiations—the terms of which will have real impacts on its citizens. By denying the public access to these negotiations, the US has created a fundamental barrier to the development of democracy. Most troubling, we have already seen the US aggressively pushing information in a similar black box in other trade negotiations, like the recently announced Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership with the European Union.”