By: Rick North
Oregon’s Congressional Democrats have generally strong pro-environmental voting records, at 90% or higher. Kurt Schrader, the only Democrat to vote for the Keystone XL pipeline, is the exception at 73%. (Republican Greg Walden is a woeful 11%)
Here’s what their websites say about their environmental positions:
Earl Blumenauer: “. . . an environmental champion and a vocal defender of important environmental regulations . . . He has also helped pass new laws that promote clean energy, fight global warming, and encourage more efficient use of valuable natural resources.”
Suzanne Bonamici: “I have repeatedly voted against legislation that would weaken the environmental review process or threaten the environmental health of our public lands.”
Peter DeFazio: “It is long past time for Congress to get serious about climate change, to reduce our dependence on foreign oil and other fossil fuels, and to create jobs by creating a new energy economy.”
Jeff Merkley: “The carbon pollution in our atmosphere from burning fossil fuels like oil and coal is waging a direct and unchecked assault on our farming, fishing and forests – the cornerstones of Oregon’s rural economy.”
Kurt Schrader: “The key to curbing the effects of global warming is to significantly reduce our carbon emissions. I support significant increases in fuel efficiency standards and strong reduction requirements for carbon emissions.”
Ron Wyden: “I voted NO on the KXL pipeline bill again today. American consumers – not foreign oil companies – are my first priority . . . Climate change is the most important environmental challenge of our time. Without immediate action, its effects will only get worse.”
The Transpacific Partnership (TPP) and upcoming Fast Track vote enabling it have galvanized the opposition of the entire environmental community, including 350.org, Center for Biological Diversity, Clean Water Action, Earth Justice, Food and Water Watch, Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, League of Conservation Voters, National Resources Defense Council, Rainforest Action Network and Sierra Club.
One of the leaked mechanisms of the TPP is the Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS), typically three-person tribunals made up of corporate lawyers. The hearings are secret and their decisions can’t be overturned by national or international courts. Similar tribunals enacted by previous trade agreements have spawned numerous corporate challenges to environmental protection. For example:
• The Lone Pine Corporation, registered in Delaware, sued Quebec for $250 million under NAFTA for its moratorium on fracking to prevent polluting the St. Lawrence River.
• The Renco Group corporation, based in Missouri, sued Peru for $800 million under the U.S.-Peru Free Trade Agreement for trying to enforce its regulations requiring Renco to clean up its metal smelter in La Oroya, named as one of the ten most polluted sites in the world.
• The Infinito Gold corporation, based in Calgary, sued Costa Rica for $94 million under CAFTA because it had passed a law banning open-pit mining to protect its fragile ecosystem.
All told, corporations have launched over 500 lawsuits under previous investor/state agreements similar to the TPP’s, with over 60% being successful, according to a Sierra Club report.
When corporations win, countries must surrender their environmental protections or pay millions of taxpayer dollars to compensate them. Win or lose, they pay millions in legal fees. Often, corporations don’t even have to file a challenge to get their way. Nations, especially poor ones, are intimidated from enacting strong regulations for fear of being sued.
The Keystone XL pipeline that Wyden proudly tweeted he voted against? It’s entirely possible that under the TPP, the TransCanada Corporation would sue the U.S. if it continues to resist building it. BP, Shell or Exxon/Mobil could challenge restrictions of offshore oil drilling. Any number of fossil fuel corporations could threaten Oregon if we halted coal and oil trains or terminals.
Despite the massive opposition to TPP/Fast Track from environmental, labor, health and human rights organizations, Blumenauer, Bonamici, Schrader and Wyden haven’t committed, even hinting that they’re leaning toward supporting it. Hundreds of messages from their constituents ranging from concern to outrage seem to be similarly unheeded. Only DeFazio and Merkley are on record opposing the agreement, recognizing the obvious - it’s far more of a corporate goody bag than a trade pact benefitting ordinary citizens of all countries.
You can protect the environment or you can support TPP/Fast Track. But you can’t do both. They’re like BP oil spilled in Gulf of Mexico water – they don’t mix.
In a similar vein, democracy itself is fundamentally incompatible with a secret trade agreement negotiated almost entirely by corporations.
If our Congressional delegation wants us to believe their websites, they need to walk their talk and vote against TPP/Fast Track. Those “robust environmental standards” promised by this pact? The very existence of the investor/state tribunals renders most of them meaningless, reducing their words to so much hot air.
Haven’t we got enough problems with global warming as it is?
Originally Published: Blue Oregon