While action on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal has been dormant during the presidential primary, 450 environmental groups just sent a letter to Congress, urging them to reject it.
President Obama hopes to have the TPP ratified before he leaves office and Congress is expected to vote on it after the November elections.
The environmental community fears the TPP will kill the movement on climate change because it would make it so easy for fossil companies and polluters of all kinds to challenge government regulations and gains made by grassroots activists after long fought battles.
Investor State Lawsuits
While there’s much to dislike in trade deals, perhaps the most insidious provision is “Investor-State Dispute Settlements.” Corporations have the right to sue local, state and federal governments in private tribunals – consisting of several corporate-appointed attorneys – for unlimited amounts of money – over any laws that impede their profits.
Take TransCanada’s lawsuit as an example. The company is challenging the Keystone pipeline decision under NAFTA, suing for $15 billion. President Obama rejected the pipeline after years of intense pressure from activists.
In Quebec, natural gas company Lone Pine Resources is suing because the province has a moratorium on fracking.
Is renewable energy cutting into oil company profits? Are our environmental laws that protect air and water quality impinging on corporate profits? Requirements for fracking or oil drilling too onerous? Want to get rid of a minimum wage? Every law and regulation would be threatened.
Read this for more examples of lawsuits.
“The TPP and TTIP [US/EU trade deal] would more than double the number of fossil fuel corporations that could follow TransCanada’s example and challenge U.S. policies in private tribunals,” says the letter. The groups want Congress to remove Investor State Dispute rights from TTIP.
Environmental organizations large and small signed the letter, from national groups like Sierra Club, Food & Water Watch, and 350.org to smaller ones, such as Bold Nebraska, Catskill Citizens for Safe Energy, Indigenous Environmental Network, and Alaska Inter-Tribal Council.
It’s a mystery to the environmental community when President Obama says these trade pacts “include the strongest environment protection language of any trade agreement in history.”
Because the text shows otherwise. It would: rollback multilateral environmental agreements; weaken bedrock conservation rules; and lock in natural gas exports and fracking, among many other policies that protect people and the environment from corporate excess.
Central to 2016 Presidential Campaign
Bernie Sanders, whose opposition to these unfair trade deals is a cornerstone of his Presidential campaign, says, “We must stop letting multinational fossil fuel corporations rig the system to pad their profits at our expense.”
No comment from Hillary Clinton, who has waffled on the issue and doesn’t bring it up. In a suspicious move, the State Department refuses to release correspondence from Clinton’s tenure with the US Trade Representative until after the Presidential election, reports the International Business Times.
“IBT’s request was designed to provide a comprehensive view of how involved Clinton and her top aides were in shaping the trade agreement, and whether her agency had a hand in crafting any particular provisions in the pact.”
The TPP is also central to Trump’s campaign, but not because of environmental concerns, since he denies the existence of climate change and opposes environmental regulations.
But the momentum is there to stop these trade deals, whether to stop offshoring jobs or to protect the environment from corporate abuse.
“The TPP is a disaster for jobs, environment and our democracy. It is the latest stage in the corporate capture of our society. It has less to do with selling more goods, than with rewriting the rules of the global economy is favour of big business,” says Nick Dearden, Director of Global Justice Now.
“The job-killing TPP is worse than anything we could’ve imagined. This agreement would push down wages, flood our nation with unsafe imported food, raise the price of life-saving medicine, all the while trading with countries where gays and single mothers can be stoned to death,” says Charles Chamberlain, Executive Director of Democracy for America.
Even the US International Trade Commission says the TPP “would likely have only a small positive effect on U.S. growth,” reports Reuters.
Here’s the letter:
Dear Member of Congress,
To protect our communities and avoid disastrous levels of climate change, the U.S. must boldly act to keep fossil fuels in the ground. Recent decisions – such as protecting the Atlantic coast from offshore drilling, enacting a moratorium on new coal leasing on U.S. public lands, banning fracking in New York, and rejecting the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline – have made progress toward this critical end. Such fossil fuel restrictions must be expanded to adequately safeguard our communities and climate.
However, two pending trade deals pose major barriers to this climate imperative. The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), as proposed, would empower an unprecedented number of fossil fuel corporations, including some of the world’s largest polluters, to challenge U.S. policies in tribunals not accountable to any domestic legal system.
There, the firms could use the trade pacts’ broad foreign investor rights to demand compensation for U.S. fossil fuel restrictions. These “investor-state dispute settlement” (ISDS) cases would be decided not by judges, but by lawyers who typically represent corporations.
We strongly urge you to eliminate this threat to U.S. climate progress by committing to vote no on the TPP and asking the U.S. Trade Representative to remove from TTIP any provision that empowers corporations to challenge government policies in extrajudicial tribunals.
In January, TransCanada – the company behind the Keystone XL pipeline – illustrated that the climate threats posed by such trade deals are real. The company announced it would use the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) to ask a private tribunal of three lawyers to order the U.S. government to pay more than $15 billion – more than $100 from every individual U.S. tax return – as “compensation” because President Obama rejected a pipeline that threatened oil spills and increased climate disruption.
But the TPP and TTIP would more than double the number of fossil fuel corporations that could follow TransCanada’s example and challenge U.S. policies in private tribunals. Indeed, the pacts would be the first to allow the world’s largest polluters – including all of the eight largest private greenhouse gas emitters outside of the U.S. – to wield this tool against U.S. climate policies.
The fossil fuel firms that would gain this right are currently fracking on our public lands, drilling for oil off our shores, building liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminals on our coasts, running refineries in our cities, and operating fossil fuel pipelines and trains in nearly every region of the country. No previous trade deal has given such broad rights to corporations with such broad interests in maintaining U.S. fossil fuel dependency.
Fossil fuel corporations are increasingly using ISDS under existing trade and investment pacts, contributing to a recent surge in cases. In fact, half of the new ISDS cases launched in 2014 targeted policies affecting oil or gas extraction, mining, or power generation. Law firms specializing in ISDS are now explicitly advising corporations, including fossil fuel firms, to see ISDS as a “tool to assist lobbying efforts to prevent” unwanted policies, as threats of costly ISDS cases can chill policy proposals.
By empowering many more firms to launch ISDS cases against the U.S., the TPP and TTIP would pose a major threat to efforts across the country to restrict fossil fuel activities, including these:
• Fracking: The TPP and TTIP would undermine efforts in various states to restrict the dangerous practice of fracking by granting ISDS rights to more foreign fracking firms than all 56 existing U.S. trade and investment pacts combined. The threat is real – a gas corporation named Lone Pine Resources is currently using NAFTA’s nearly identical foreign investor rights to ask an ISDS tribunal to order compensation from Canada for a fracking moratorium in Quebec.
• Offshore drilling: The TPP and TTIP would empower oil and gas corporations with more than 10 million acres’ worth of U.S. offshore drilling leases – one out of every three leased acres – to use ISDS threats to resist offshore drilling restrictions, posing a threat to coastal communities and the climate. That is 24 times more area than that leased to firms with existing ISDS rights.
• Oil and gas extraction on public lands: The TPP and TTIP would allow corporations with leases for oil and gas drilling on over 720,000 acres of U.S. public lands to launch ISDS cases against U.S. federal leasing restrictions, undercutting our ability to limit greenhouse gas emissions.
• Fossil fuel pipelines: The TPP and TTIP would enable corporations that own tens of thousands of miles’ worth of fossil fuel pipelines in at least 29 states to go to private tribunals and, like TransCanada, demand billions of dollars for delays or denials of dangerous pipelines.
The TPP and TTIP’s unprecedented expansion of U.S. ISDS liability would similarly threaten efforts to protect communities from fossil fuel trains, LNG terminals, refineries, and other fossil fuel hazards.
Much of the world’s remaining fossil fuel reserves are on or adjacent to Indigenous lands and territories. Unfortunately, the nation-states engaged in the TPP and TTIP agreements have not strongly defended Indigenous land rights and Indigenous peoples’ right to free, prior, and informed consent. Ultimately, such trade deals grant more rights to transnational corporations, often at the expense of Indigenous rights, undermining special protections of Indigenous lands and cultural resources.
For Indigenous peoples wanting a just economic transition away from oil and gas development, these deals pose severe risks to their sovereignty and ability to self-determine their futures as nations and tribal citizens concerned about the climate, health, and environmental impacts from fossil fuels.
We strongly urge you to stand up for healthy communities, clean air and water, Indigenous peoples, property rights, and a stable climate by committing to vote no on the TPP and asking the U.S. Trade Representative to remove from TTIP any provision that empowers corporations to challenge government policies in extrajudicial tribunals.
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