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Obama’s Trade Deals Could Overturn New York’s Fracking Ban and Accelerate Climate Change
Thanks to a recent Wikileaks’ leak, certain truly onerous provisions of President Obama’s secret trade deals are no longer secret. As reported this week in the New York Times, the Transpacific Partnership (TPP) would “grant broad powers to multinational companies operating in North America, South America and Asia. Under the accord, still under negotiation but nearing completion, companies and investors would be empowered to challenge regulations, rules, government actions and court rulings—federal, state or local—before tribunals organized under the World Bank or the United Nations.”
As terrible as this sounds for the rule of law, and democracy, it’s even worse. Long-time consumer advocate, Ralph Nader describes how the Investor State Tribunals would work:
Suppose that Brazil sues the U.S. and says “your food labeling laws are too restrictive and they are keeping out our exports to your country.” Then we send our Attorney General to Geneva before the Tribunal. There can be no press, no public disclosure of what happens behind closed doors. If we lose, as we almost certainly will, there is no independent appeal. It circumvents our courts, legislative and regulations. Foreign corporations can take our food, health and safety protections and bring us before these tribunals and if they lose, we pay millions of dollars in compensation.
The cases are argued, tried and judged by a small, revolving group of elite corporate attorneys, taking turns playing the role of judge and prosecutor. The potential for conflicts of interest and secret handshakes exceeds even the current regulatory revolving door, in which industry lawyers, officials and consultants move into key positions in public agencies, alter governmental regulations in industry’s favor and then return to their bespoke industry.
Under the terms of the agreement, corporations would have the right to sue U.S. federal, state and local governments if regulations, laws or bans, for example, those protecting health or the environment, cause a reduction in the company’s future profits. Nobel Prize winning economist, Joseph Stiglitz, told a group gathered in Queens, New York last month, that New York’s fracking ban would be a likely candidate for a Tribunal suit, should these agreements be signed by the President.
If on the other hand, if fracking chemicals contaminated water aquifers, or if any corporation’s products, actions or activities engendered economic loss to say, U.S. citizens or businesses—or damaged health, lives, property, communities or public goods, such as our air, water, food or Earth—there would be no avenue for redress or compensation. Ordinary citizens or businesses would have no standing to sue, says Nader. “It would be thrown out.”
In other words, these are one-sided agreements with benefits flowing one way—to corporations, and unstoppable harm flowing the other way—towards the people and the Earth.
How Would the Trade Agreements Affect Climate Change and the Environment?
When Congress returns from its recess on April 11, it’s projected that the Senate Finance Committee will bring to the floor Fast Track legislation to advance the trade deals.
Fast Track gives President Obama Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) to sign the TPP and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) without any further scrutiny, disclosure, debate or changes.
“Once passed, the TPP will unleash a gigantic explosion of trade in fossil fuels. Some of the biggest promoters of these deals are Chevron, Exxon, and BP,” predicts William Waren, senior trade analyst for Friends of the Earth. Waren delineates the plans which companies and their elected officials are expectantly putting into place, awaiting the imminent Fast Tracking of the TPP:
Strip Mining Coal
“There are plans to use TPP to strip mine more climate destroying coal in the Wyoming Powder River basin, ship it by rail to ports in Oregon and Washington State, and put in huge vessels that threaten the wildlife and habitat of the Puget Sound,” Waren says. “From there, the companies will ship it across the Pacific to China where they have an insatiable appetite for coal. In that way, the treaties would vastly increase the pace of climate change, but the CO2 emissions would be coming from China, rather than the U.S..”
Natural Gas and Oil Exports
“It’s the same with natural gas and oil exports. The Keystone XL pipeline, if stopped, would likely become the basis for an Investor State Tribunal suit brought by Trans Canada,” Waren notes. “Under the treaties, they could demand that they be compensated for money they expected to make in future.”
“Congress stands ready to roll back the current limited regulation of liquefied natural gas, or LNG. It is even worse than coal because of the chemicals, and methane release,” says Waren. “In the expectation of the Fast Tracking of the trade agreements, they are already rolling back those regulations. They will also roll back the ban on crude oil exploration to speed up the export of fossil fuels and cook the planet as a result.”
“Before the Atlantic deal has been signed, Michael Frohman pushed the European Union to roll back its fuel quality directive, because it put tar sands oil and other more dangerous fuel sources at a disadvantage in the export market,” says Waren. “Although the EU directive is by no means a comprehensive approach to climate change, it’s the best we have and instead of being rolled back, should be modeled around the world. Instead the U.S. demanded that they get rid of it right away to facilitate their trade talks.
“On the other hand,” Waren points out that, “Europe has demanded that the U.S. step up fossil fuel production to compensate for the loss of Russian gas sources due to tensions in the Ukraine. This is a suicidal course, a stealthy but effective way for corporations to pursue climate denial.”
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A powerful volcano on Monday rocked an uninhabited island frequented by tourists about 30 miles off New Zealand's coast. Authorities have confirmed that five people died. They expect that number to rise as some are missing and police officials issued a statement that flights around the islands revealed "no signs of life had been seen at any point,", as The Guardian reported.
"Based on the information we have, we do not believe there are any survivors on the island," the police said in their official statement. "Police is working urgently to confirm the exact number of those who have died, further to the five confirmed deceased already."
The eruption happened on New Zealand's Whakaari/White Island, an islet jutting out of the Bay of Plenty, off the country's North Island. The island is privately owned and is typically visited for day-trips by thousands of tourists every year, according to The New York Times.
My god, White Island volcano in New Zealand erupted today for first time since 2001. My family and I had gotten off it 20 minutes before, were waiting at our boat about to leave when we saw it. Boat ride home tending to people our boat rescued was indescribable. #whiteisland pic.twitter.com/QJwWi12Tvt— Michael Schade (@sch) December 9, 2019
Michael Schade / Twitter
At the time of the eruption on Monday, about 50 passengers from the Ovation of Seas were on the island, including more than 30 who were part of a Royal Caribbean cruise trip, according to CNN. Twenty-three people, including the five dead, were evacuated from the island.
The eruption occurred at 2:11 pm local time on Monday, as footage from a crater camera owned and operated by GeoNet, New Zealand's geological hazards agency, shows. The camera also shows dozens of people walking near the rim as white smoke billows just before the eruption, according to Reuters.
Police were unable to reach the island because searing white ash posed imminent danger to rescue workers, said John Tims, New Zealand's deputy police commissioner, as he stood next to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in a press conference, as The New York Times reported. Tims said rescue workers would assess the safety of approaching the island on Tuesday morning. "We know the urgency to go back to the island," he told reporters.
"The physical environment is unsafe for us to return to the island," Tims added, as CNN reported. "It's important that we consider the health and safety of rescuers, so we're taking advice from experts going forward."
Authorities have had no communication with anyone on the island. They are frantically working to identify how many people remain and who they are, according to CNN.
Geologists said the eruption is not unexpected and some questioned why the island is open to tourism.
"The volcano has been restless for a few weeks, resulting in the raising of the alert level, so that this eruption is not really a surprise," said Bill McGuire, emeritus professor of geophysical and climate hazards at University College London, as The Guardian reported.
"White Island has been a disaster waiting to happen for many years," said Raymond Cas, emeritus professor at Monash University's school of earth, atmosphere and environment, as The Guardian reported. "Having visited it twice, I have always felt that it was too dangerous to allow the daily tour groups that visit the uninhabited island volcano by boat and helicopter."
The prime minister arrived Monday night in Whakatane, the town closest to the eruption, where day boats visiting the island are docked. Whakatane has a large Maori population.
Ardern met with local council leaders on Monday. She is scheduled to meet with search and rescue teams and will speak to the media at 7 a.m. local time (1 p.m. EST), after drones survey the island, as CNN reported.
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