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Build Barriers to Protect Our Great Lakes From Invasion, Our Jobs Are At Stake

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By Marc Yaggi and Sandy Bihn

Before President Trump took office, a barrier designed to protect American jobs from a growing foreign threat had been researched by the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers. A month after President Trump took office, while promising that his strongman tactics would protect American jobs above all else, he quietly delayed the project.

This barrier along the Des Plaines River, also known as Brandon Lock, in Illinois was part of a plan by the federal government to defend the Great Lakes—the world's largest inland fishery—from an Asian Carp invasion. With its ability to crowd-out and outcompete American fish populations, this non-native fish species threatens thousands of American fishing and tourism businesses, the job markets of entire communities and more than $40 billion a year in revenue. The Asian Carp threat is powerful enough to unite republican and democratic leaders against it, but Trump has gone soft, choosing this invasive species over American livelihoods.


After escaping containment during floods in Louisiana in the 1990s, Asian Carp rapidly spread. Asian Carp breed like rabbits, eat like pigs and quickly grow so large natural predators can't kill them. When they enter a river, they consume all the available food, killing off the local market fish population and with it, our fishing businesses. They also have a dangerous habit of leaping out of the water when they hear a boat motor, earning them the nickname "bowling balls," as the 50+ pounders can hit boaters mid-air, cracking ribs and breaking jaws.

Asian Carp are barging through any nook and cranny they can find that leads to their promised land, Lake Erie. If we don't stop them, they will quickly make all 95,000 square miles of the Great Lakes their new permanent home, and then have unbridled access to the rest of America's major river systems. If they penetrate the Great Lakes, we lose jobs, billions in domestic revenue, generations-old businesses and our livelihoods.

Since 2010, the federal government has invested $300 million each year to successfully defend the Great Lakes with Asian Carp river barriers and underwater electric fences around the Great Lakes. Earlier this year, a federal report urged $275 million in both technological and structural improvements at an imperative Illinois lock to prevent these invasive fish from reaching the Great Lakes. According to a report by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Canadian counterparts on the state of the Great Lakes in 2017, so far, the barrier efforts defending the lakes from Asian Carp establishing itself in the lake have been successful—but the work isn't done.

We need to build more controls and continue to maintain existing barriers, yet Trump has chosen a much weaker plan, halting current barrier research and construction and proposing a complete elimination of funding in the future. Broad bipartisan support for a strong Great Lakes defense saved it from cuts in last week's congressional budget vote. Republicans stood arm in arm with Democrats and refused to sacrifice a dollar with thousands of jobs and businesses at stake.

Why has Trump gone so soft on defense of our Great Lakes economy? Some have speculated that a small special interest group of cargo shippers in Chicago may have an influence on Trump's decision. They worry a river barrier would slow the movement of goods through the area. In truth, the small industry makes up less than one percent of Chicago's local economy and businesses will only be inconvenienced while they make the transition to truck and rail transport. It's a grain of sand in comparison to the threat of Asian Carp to tens of billions of dollars and tens of thousands of American businesses across multiple states.

The real reason is political. Trump is trapped in his own rhetoric. The Brandon Lock barrier study was released in August, but in order to build the recommended barriers, we need a federal budget that adequately funds the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and programs like the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. Through the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has spent has spent $56.6 million since 2010 on efforts to keep out Asian Carp, yet Trump's proposed budget would completely eliminate this program. Of course, if you ask any Great Lakes fishermen, they will tell you EPA is their homeland security, guarding their livelihood from this foreign threat. Now it is up to Congress to decide on EPA's budget, and we need a strong, well-funded EPA if we are to stop the spread of Asian Carp.

Congress: Don't go soft on Asian Carp when jobs and businesses, including those beyond Chicago, need your strength. Use EPA to build strong river barriers that stop the Asian Carp invasion and save American jobs. Please, do it before it's too late. If you're worried about looking like an environmentalist, tell the naysayers and the news media to talk to the people who depend on fishable water. Tell them to talk to the American fishermen of the Great Lakes after you've saved their livelihoods from an Asian Carp invasion. If you give EPA the ammunition they need to win this battle, the American families whose jobs you saved will thank you.

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Ola Elvestrun, Norway's environment minister, announced Thursday that it is freezing its contributions to the Amazon Fund, and will no longer be transferring €300 million ($33.2 million) to Brazil. In a press release, the Norwegian embassy in Brazil stated:

Given the present circumstances, Norway does not have either the legal or the technical basis for making its annual contribution to the Amazon Fund.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro reacted with sarcasm to Norway's decision, which had been widely expected. After an official event, he commented: "Isn't Norway the country that kills whales at the North Pole? Doesn't it also produce oil? It has no basis for telling us what to do. It should give the money to Angela Merkel [the German Chancellor] to reforest Germany."

According to its website, the Amazon Fund is a "REDD+ mechanism created to raise donations for non-reimbursable investments in efforts to prevent, monitor and combat deforestation, as well as to promote the preservation and sustainable use in the Brazilian Amazon." The bulk of funding comes from Norway and Germany.

The annual transfer of funds from developed world donors to the Amazon Fund depends on a report from the Fund's technical committee. This committee meets after the National Institute of Space Research, which gathers official Amazon deforestation data, publishes its annual report with the definitive figures for deforestation in the previous year.

But this year the Amazon Fund's technical committee, along with its steering committee, COFA, were abolished by the Bolsonaro government on 11 April as part of a sweeping move to dissolve some 600 bodies, most of which had NGO involvement. The Bolsonaro government views NGO work in Brazil as a conspiracy to undermine Brazil's sovereignty.

The Brazilian government then demanded far-reaching changes in the way the fund is managed, as documented in a previous article. As a result, the Amazon Fund's technical committee has been unable to meet; Norway says it therefore cannot continue making donations without a favorable report from the committee.

Archer Daniels Midland soy silos in Mato Grosso along the BR-163 highway, where Amazon rainforest has largely been replaced by soy destined for the EU, UK, China and other international markets.

Thaís Borges.

An Uncertain Future

The Amazon Fund was announced during the 2007 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Bali, during a period when environmentalists were alarmed at the rocketing rate of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon. It was created as a way of encouraging Brazil to continue bringing down the rate of forest conversion to pastures and croplands.

Government agencies, such as IBAMA, Brazil's environmental agency, and NGOs shared Amazon Fund donations. IBAMA used the money primarily to enforce deforestation laws, while the NGOs oversaw projects to support sustainable communities and livelihoods in the Amazon.

There has been some controversy as to whether the Fund has actually achieved its goals: in the three years before the deal, the rate of deforestation fell dramatically but, after money from the Fund started pouring into the Amazon, the rate remained fairly stationary until 2014, when it began to rise once again. But, in general, the international donors have been pleased with the Fund's performance, and until the Bolsonaro government came to office, the program was expected to continue indefinitely.

Norway has been the main donor (94 percent) to the Amazon Fund, followed by Germany (5 percent), and Brazil's state-owned oil company, Petrobrás (1 percent). Over the past 11 years, the Norwegians have made, by far, the biggest contribution: R$3.2 billion ($855 million) out of the total of R$3.4 billion ($903 million).

Up till now the Fund has approved 103 projects, with the dispersal of R$1.8 billion ($478 million). These projects will not be affected by Norway's funding freeze because the donors have already provided the funding and the Brazilian Development Bank is contractually obliged to disburse the money until the end of the projects. But there are another 54 projects, currently being analyzed, whose future is far less secure.

One of the projects left stranded by the dissolution of the Fund's committees is Projeto Frutificar, which should be a three-year project, with a budget of R$29 million ($7.3 million), for the production of açai and cacao by 1,000 small-scale farmers in the states of Amapá and Pará. The project was drawn up by the Brazilian NGO IPAM (Institute of Environmental research in Amazonia).

Paulo Moutinho, an IPAM researcher, told Globo newspaper: "Our program was ready to go when the [Brazilian] government asked for changes in the Fund. It's now stuck in the BNDES. Without funding from Norway, we don't know what will happen to it."

Norway is not the only European nation to be reconsidering the way it funds environmental projects in Brazil. Germany has many environmental projects in the Latin American country, apart from its small contribution to the Amazon Fund, and is deeply concerned about the way the rate of deforestation has been soaring this year.

The German environment ministry told Mongabay that its minister, Svenja Schulze, had decided to put financial support for forest and biodiversity projects in Brazil on hold, with €35 million ($39 million) for various projects now frozen.

The ministry explained why: "The Brazilian government's policy in the Amazon raises doubts whether a consistent reduction in deforestation rates is still being pursued. Only when clarity is restored, can project collaboration be continued."

Bauxite mines in Paragominas, Brazil. The Bolsonaro administration is urging new laws that would allow large-scale mining within Brazil's indigenous reserves.

Hydro / Halvor Molland / Flickr

Alternative Amazon Funding

Although there will certainly be disruption in the short-term as a result of the paralysis in the Amazon Fund, the governors of Brazil's Amazon states, which rely on international funding for their environmental projects, are already scrambling to create alternative channels.

In a press release issued yesterday Helder Barbalho, the governor of Pará, the state with the highest number of projects financed by the Fund, said that he will do all he can to maintain and increase his state partnership with Norway.

Barbalho had announced earlier that his state would be receiving €12.5 million ($11.1 million) to run deforestation monitoring centers in five regions of Pará. Barbalho said: "The state governments' monitoring systems are recording a high level of deforestation in Pará, as in the other Amazon states. The money will be made available to those who want to help [the Pará government reduce deforestation] without this being seen as international intervention."

Amazonas state has funding partnerships with Germany and is negotiating deals with France. "I am talking with countries, mainly European, that are interested in investing in projects in the Amazon," said Amazonas governor Wilson Miranda Lima. "It is important to look at Amazônia, not only from the point of view of conservation, but also — and this is even more important — from the point of view of its citizens. It's impossible to preserve Amazônia if its inhabitants are poor."

Signing of the EU-Mercusor Latin American trading agreement earlier this year. The pact still needs to be ratified.

Council of Hemispheric Affairs

Looming International Difficulties

The Bolsonaro government's perceived reluctance to take effective measures to curb deforestation may in the longer-term lead to a far more serious problem than the paralysis of the Amazon Fund.

In June, the European Union and Mercosur, the South American trade bloc, reached an agreement to create the largest trading bloc in the world. If all goes ahead as planned, the pact would account for a quarter of the world's economy, involving 780 million people, and remove import tariffs on 90 percent of the goods traded between the two blocs. The Brazilian government has predicted that the deal will lead to an increase of almost $100 billion in Brazilian exports, particularly agricultural products, by 2035.

But the huge surge this year in Amazon deforestation is leading some European countries to think twice about ratifying the deal. In an interview with Mongabay, the German environment ministry made it very clear that Germany is very worried about events in the Amazon: "We are deeply concerned given the pace of destruction in Brazil … The Amazon Forest is vital for the atmospheric circulation and considered as one of the tipping points of the climate system."

The ministry stated that, for the trade deal to go ahead, Brazil must carry out its commitment under the Paris Climate agreement to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 43 percent below the 2005 level by 2030. The German environment ministry said: If the trade deal is to go ahead, "It is necessary that Brazil is effectively implementing its climate change objectives adopted under the [Paris] Agreement. It is precisely this commitment that is expressly confirmed in the text of the EU-Mercosur Free Trade Agreement."

Blairo Maggi, Brazil agriculture minister under the Temer administration, and a major shareholder in Amaggi, the largest Brazilian-owned commodities trading company, has said very little in public since Bolsonaro came to power; he's been "in a voluntary retreat," as he puts it. But Maggi is so concerned about the damage Bolsonaro's off the cuff remarks and policies are doing to international relationships he decided to speak out earlier this week.

Former Brazil Agriculture Minister Blairo Maggi, who has broken a self-imposed silence to criticize the Bolsonaro government, saying that its rhetoric and policies could threaten Brazil's international commodities trade.

Senado Federal / Visualhunt / CC BY

Maggi, a ruralista who strongly supports agribusiness, told the newspaper, Valor Econômico, that, even if the European Union doesn't get to the point of tearing up a deal that has taken 20 years to negotiate, there could be long delays. "These environmental confusions could create a situation in which the EU says that Brazil isn't sticking to the rules." Maggi speculated. "France doesn't want the deal and perhaps it is taking advantage of the situation to tear it up. Or the deal could take much longer to ratify — three, five years."

Such a delay could have severe repercussions for Brazil's struggling economy which relies heavily on its commodities trade with the EU. Analysists say that Bolsonaro's fears over such an outcome could be one reason for his recently announced October meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, another key trading partner.

Maggi is worried about another, even more alarming, potential consequence of Bolsonaro's failure to stem illegal deforestation — Brazil could be hit by a boycott by its foreign customers. "I don't buy this idea that the world needs Brazil … We are only a player and, worse still, replaceable." Maggi warns, "As an exporter, I'm telling you: things are getting very difficult. Brazil has been saying for years that it is possible to produce and preserve, but with this [Bolsonaro administration] rhetoric, we are going back to square one … We could find markets closed to us."

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