by guest blogger Maya K. van Rossum, the Delaware Riverkeeper
Before our nation was aware of the hazards of fracking and shale gas development, the drilling industry was working quietly behind the scenes with Vice President Dick Cheney and others to craft a series of loopholes and pass the Energy Policy Act of 2005. The law would help the industry evade the oversight of U.S. federal environmental protection laws. The same kind of behind-the-scenes negotiations are happening today, only this time the focus is on undermining U.S. laws as well as those of 12 other nations—and this time we have a chance to stop them.
The gas drillers are hard at work behind the scenes crafting new protections for themselves, as are other major corporate interests. And when all is said and done, if we let them, bans on fracking, made in America labels, and protections against the importation of contaminated foods or products made abroad in violation of child labor laws are among the many protections and rights our communities and country now have that will fall to industry’s demands.
What body of enforceable law could so solidly strip our communities from these vital protections? A new trade agreement called the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Agreement is being negotiated in secret between the U.S. and 12 nations from the Pacific Rim, including Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam. While China is not currently a party to this secret deal making, it’s believed it will eventually join these and other countries in becoming a part of the pact.
The deal is so secret that not only is the public prohibited from reading its terms, but so too are the members of Congress. Thankfully, there have been some leaks to give us a glimpse behind the curtain (for instance, WikiLeaks secured and released the Intellectual Property Rights Chapter). It’s reported that there are 29 chapters to this supposed trade agreement, many of which have nothing to do with regulating trade, but instead focus on limiting environmental, food safety, health, and other community protections. Overall, there’s enough information available to know that the Trans-Pacific Partnership Trade Agreement (TPP) is a bad deal for the people of the United States and should be rejected by Congress when legislators finally have a chance to give it an up or down vote.
TPP is certain to include an Investor–State Dispute Resolution provision that will allow corporate entities and investors to bring claims for significant monetary payouts against any signatory nation they feel has interfered with their corporate/investor benefits under the treaty. That includes the U.S. So if there is a law that prevents a corporation from pursuing a toxic waste facility, dangerous development, water- and cyanide-intensive mining, or a fracking and drilling project, under the TPP that corporation/investor could bring a claim against the signatory nation before an international arbitration tribunal and have millions of dollars in damages leveled against it (for specific stories, go to: http://www.citizen.org/documents/fact-sheet-tpp-and-environment.pdf). Not only does this pose an unfair burden on a country whose government is trying to protect its residents, but it will also motivate that country to go after any state or municipality impeding the corporate project and force it to revoke its environmentally protective laws or regulations.
For instance, if a legally passed a ban on fracking and shale gas development prevents a foreign corporation or investor from drilling in a New York community, that corporation can bring an Investor–State Dispute action against the United States and receive millions in damages, with the federal government likely to then bring a legal action against the New York community and force it to remove its protective ban.
This is happening already. Under another trade agreement with a similar provision, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), a private drilling company is poised to sue Canada for $250 million because of a ban on fracking enacted by the Province of Quebec to allow time for the dangerous process to be studied further. (To see a copy of the Nov. 8th Notice of Intent to Submit a Claim to Arbitration: http://www.international.gc.ca/trade-agreements-accords-commerciaux/assets/pdfs/disp-diff/lone-01.pdf). It’s easy to predict similar suits being filed based on local bans in New York, Colorado, and elsewhere.
Allowing foreign interests to capitalize on the destruction of the U.S. environment for their own economic gain is economic colonization. Unless the TPP includes an explicit provision that ensures that foreign industrial and/or corporate activities cannot override local legal environmental protections and harm the quality and health of our environment, the agreement would result in nothing short of the economic colonization of the U.S.
What can you do? Contact your congressional representatives, both in the House and the Senate, and tell them you want them to…
- Take action to force public disclosure of the TPP negotiating documents—now, while there is still time for elected official and public review, comment and input;
- Ensure the TPP includes a provision that explicitly preserves the environmental legal authorities of our federal, state, and local governments as well as the legal authority of commissions like the Delaware River Basin Commission that are the result of congressionally approved interstate compacts (their website includes a letter you can sign and send);
- Oppose the TPP when it comes up for a vote unless the preservation of environmental legal authority is included. No tinkering with terms—although it’s likely the approval process won’t even allow that if a process called Fast Track is applied—but a straight, across-the-board ‘no.’
Maya K. van Rossum is the Delaware Riverkeeper, and has led the Delaware Riverkeeper Network (DRN) since 1994. The DRN is a regional nonprofit advocacy organization that monitors the river and all of its tributaries for threats and challenges, and advocates, educates, and litigates for protection, restoration, and change.