Betting the Farm on Free Trade?

The White House is gambling with our health, jobs, and environment by embracing the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

— by

Janet RedmanFrom her home in Berks County, Pennsylvania, Karen Feridun is helping stage a growing citizen pushback against the expansion of natural gas extraction. But a far-reaching global deal recently signed halfway around the world may make her job much harder.

Feridun got involved in this fight over concerns that fracking waste, laden with toxic chemicals, could end up in the sewage sludge that some Pennsylvania towns spread on local farm fields.

Figuring her best bet for keeping the state’s water, food, and communities safe was putting a stop to fracking, Feridun founded Berks Gas Truth. The group is now part of a statewide coalition calling for a halt to fracking in Pennsylvania.

no-TPP-trans-pacific-partnership-protests
AFGE / Flickr

The campaign got a boost when the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, after hearing a case brought by the Delaware Riverkeeper Network, ruled that local governments have the right to protect the public trust. The court also found that oil and gas companies must abide by municipal zoning and planning laws.

The decision was celebrated as a huge victory for local control. But, Feridun told me, “the Trans-Pacific Partnership could turn over the apple cart entirely.”

The day after we spoke, U.S. Trade Representative Michael Frohman joined top officials from eleven other Pacific Rim nations in a New Zealand casino to sign the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) — a sweeping “free trade” agreement aimed at opening national borders to the flow of goods, services, and finance.

The location couldn’t have been more symbolic. By entering into this deal, the Obama administration is playing roulette with America’s future.

The White House hopes to win greater access to raw materials, cheap labor, and burgeoning consumer markets in Asia for U.S. companies. What do we stand to lose? Nothing less than the ability to set rules and regulations that protect our families’ health, our jobs, and our environment.

The provision at the heart of this wager is something called an “investor-state” clause. It would let companies based in TPP partner countries sue governments over laws or regulations that curtail their profit-making potential.

It’s a risky bet. Here’s the White House’s simplistic calculus: The U.S. government has never lost an investor-state case.

The more we win, it seems, the bigger our next gamble. The TPP would be the largest free trade agreement in history, covering about 40 percent of the global economy and giving additional countries the option to “dock” to the treaty later. It also adds thousands of companies that could potentially sue the United States in trade court.

Back in Berks County, the demand from newly opened overseas markets for U.S. gas may increase local pressure to frack. The TPP’s investor-state provisions would let foreign-owned gas companies challenge any statewide limits on the practice standing in their way.

If this sounds unlikely, look no further than our neighbors to the north. U.S. oil and gas company Lone Pine Resources sued Canada using a similar clause in the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) when Quebec passed a moratorium to halt fracking under the St. Lawrence River. And Lone Pine won.

Now, TransCanada — the Canadian company behind the hugely unpopular Keystone XL pipeline — is bringing a $15 billion claim against the United States for denying permits to build it. That’s exactly the kind of legal action that makes people like Karen Feridun fighting oil and gas projects nervous.

Even if Washington wins the TransCanada suit under NAFTA, the fear of spending millions of dollars fending off litigation under the much larger TPP could have a chilling effect on future efforts to keep oil, gas, and coal in the ground.

Luckily, as Feridun and her neighbors know, Congress hasn’t approved the Trans-Pacific Partnership yet. If lawmakers care about protecting good jobs, clean skies, safe water, and a stable climate in this hotly contested election year, they’d be wise not to gamble against the public interest.


Janet Redman directs the Climate Policy Program at the Institute for Policy Studies. IPS-dc.org
Distributed by OtherWords.org. 

Advertisements

Dear Secretary John Kerry

As someone concerned with climate change, I want to thank you for your years of climate leadership as a Senator. As Secretary of State, you have the opportunity to have an even greater impact on combating climate change. One of the main ways you can do that now is by telling President Obama that the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline is not in our national interest and should be rejected.

Climate action starts at home, and one of the first and clearest actions you could take would be to recognize that the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline is a climate issue. The evidence is clear that Keystone XL could increase production levels of tar sands oil in Alberta, and therefore significantly add to carbon emissions. Moreover, the massive investment would lock us into dependence on this dirty fuel for decades, exacerbating carbon pollution just when we have to move quickly and decisively in the other direction.

Beyond the effects on our climate, activities to remove those toxic materials have already had a serious impact on wildlife who call that area home.  Plus, the dangerous pipeline would put the water supply and the bread basket we use to feed millions of Americans at risk. After a year in which many communities across the USA were harmed by spills from existing pipelines, we cannot allow any more of the dirtiest, most toxic tar sands immersed in solvents that NO ONE knows how to clean up, to spill and permanently contaminate our farm lands, our aquifers and our waterways.

President Obama will have the final say on the Presidential Permit for Keystone XL, but your department, as the lead agency, will point the way. Although the State Department’s environmental impact statement underestimated the likelihood that Keystone XL pipeline would fuel climate change, you can set the record straight in your National Interest Determination.

At a minimum, you could say that Keystone XL is not in our national interest. But to be totally blunt, this pipeline would be an absolute disaster not only for our country, but also for our planet! Not only is there is no available “Planet B” within migrating distance, we have no viable means to get there even if there were a likely “Planet B.”

All we ask is that you get your facts right and support our fight against climate change in your decision on Keystone XL. We’re sure that once you have studied the issue carefully, you will see that the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline is a significant climate issue, and must be stopped.


The final comment period is open for 30 days.  Send your own letter to Secretary Kerry asking him to “reject the Keystone XL pipeline.”

Speaker Boehner & his GOP Brethren Approve KXL, Spread Propaganda

I certainly hope that Representative Mark Amodei and Representative Joe Heck made a call to their insurance agents and purchased personal liability insurance for Tar Sands oil spills, because today the voted FOR passage of HR3, the Northern Route Approval Act, legislation introduced by Rep. Lee Terry (R-NE) that approves construction of the Keystone pipeline. That means they are complicit in enabling the eventual pollution of our land, our aquifers and our nation’s breadbasket that puts food on our tables.  You think the Arkansas spill was bad?  Just wait, the eventual KXL pipeline spill will be absolutely catastrophic and we need to be prepared to hold each and every representative in Congress who voted for this catastrophe accountable.

Following the House vote on HR 3, Speaker immediately put out a press release that is tantamount to pure propaganda claiming the construction of the KXL pipeline will create 10s of thousands of jobs and will swamp our gas stations with abundant supplies of cheap gas.  The reality, however, is that if the KXL pipeline IS constructed, it will suck every gallon of gas they can pump out the the US down that pipeline for shipment to foreign countries, leaving us high and dry, with astronomical gas prices for the remainder of many of our lifetimes.  Here’s Speaker Boehner’s press release:

House Votes to Approve Keystone Pipeline, Create Tens of Thousands of Jobs & Increase Energy Security

Posted by Speaker Boehner Press Office
May 22, 2013
Press Release

WASHINGTON, DC – House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) today applauded House passage of the Northern Route Approval Act (H.R. 3), legislation introduced by Rep. Lee Terry (R-NE) that approves the Keystone pipeline and eliminates legal and regulatory barriers to its construction and the tens of thousands of jobs it will create:

“When American families hit the road this Memorial Day weekend, they’ll once again be paying the price for the Obama administration’s failed energy policy.  Gas prices have nearly doubled on the president’s watch, draining family budgets and making it harder for small businesses to hire.  The Northern Route Approval Act, part of Republicans’ plan for economic growth and jobs, will help families and small businesses by approving the Keystone pipeline and removing barriers that could keep it tied up in legal limbo for years. 

“The Keystone pipeline will create tens of thousands of American jobs and pump nearly a million barrels of oil to U.S. refineries each day, helping to lower gas prices, boost economic growth, enhance our energy security, and revitalize manufacturing.  The project is backed by a majority of the American people, including members of the president’s own party.  Labor unions have rallied for its approval, saying it’s ‘not just a pipeline, it’s a lifeline.’  Unfortunately, after nearly five years of blocking the project, it’s a lifeline President Obama is refusing to toss American workers.

“House Republicans will continue fighting for the Keystone pipeline as part of our jobs plan that cuts red tape and unlocks more of America’s resources.  It is time for the president to put his political calculations aside, work with Republicans to approve the Keystone pipeline, and advance a growth and jobs agenda that will help our economy grow and put more Americans back to work.”

But just weeks ago, we learned from Ryan Koronowski, who posted an article on ThinkProgress, that the pipeline will not create 10s of thousands of jobs, but instead, will create a measly 35 permanent jobs, a far cry from even just 1000 permanent jobs.  And, to make matters worse, it will exacerbate the problems we’re experiencing with climate change.  The refining process for tar sands crude (if you can really define crude as tar sands mixed in toxic proprietary solvents) will emit more carbon into the atmosphere than 51 seriously dirty coal plants.  Not only that, but a series of amendments, some dealing with pipeline safety and the cost of cleaning up potential pipeline spills, were all defeated along party lines.  So once again, the GOP has shown us their true colors, showing preference to corporate profits and choosing to socialize cleanup costs for the corporations.

Keystone Pipeline Will Create Only 35 Permanent Jobs, Emit 51 Coal Plants’ Worth Of Carbon

By Ryan Koronowski on Apr 17, 2013 at 7:15 pm

On Wednesday, Secretary of State John Kerry told the House Foreign Affairs Committee that he wasn’t touching the Keystone pipeline decision with a ten-foot pole:

“I am staying as far away from that as I can now so that when the appropriate time comes to me, I am not getting information from any place I shouldn’t be, and I am not getting engaged in the debate at a time that I shouldn’t be,” Kerry told the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Wednesday.

Right now, Kerry has the State Department’s Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement, but if that is all he information he relies on, he won’t get the full picture. While he will see that the project will only bring 35 permanent jobs, which is true, he would also see almost no discussion of the pipeline’s impact on the climate. (Oddly, he will be able to read an extended discussion of climate change’s projected impacts on the construction and maintenance of the proposed pipeline.)

So where is a Secretary of State sincerely concerned about climate change to go to find the climate consequences of approving the Keystone XL pipeline? He could peruse a new report out yesterday from Oil Change International called: “Cooking the Books: How The State Department Analysis Ignores The True Climate Impact of the Keystone XL Pipeline.”

The report’s recommendation:

In a world constrained by the realities of climate change, the proper measure of any project’s climate impact should not be based on the assumptions inherent in a business as usual scenario that guarantees climate disaster. Instead, the State Department should base these critical decisions on whether the project makes sense in a world that is actually seeking to minimize the real dangers of climate change. On this basis, we recommend that decision-makers consider the total amount of carbon that will be released by the project into the atmosphere.

How do they back that up?

  • Using industry analysis of carbon emissions from current tar sands production, the report says the pipeline will carry and emit 181 million metric tons of CO2 every year. That’smore than 37.7 million cars or 51 coal plants.
  • Both the IEA and the World Bank have said that if we want to avoid the catastrophic implications of warming the planet by more than 2 degrees C, we cannot burn any more than one-third of the world’s proven fossil fuel reserves by 2050.
  • U.S. oil demand has fallen by 2.25 million barrels per day, but if we want to cut emissions to hold global temperature below 2 degrees C, there are very few scenarios that include a Keystone pipeline pumping 3.3 million barrels or tar sands oil per day.
  • Petcoke, which is a byproduct of the tar sands refining process, is exported for use as a coal substitute. Since petcoke is cheaper than coal, this encourages more coal burning, and therefore more carbon emissions. The State Department’s EIS does not acknowledge this.
  • The pipeline’s pump stations will emit 4.4 million metric tons of CO2 each year, after 240,000 metric tons during the construction phase. This is like adding an extra U.S. coal plant. This pipeline, remember, will pump 830,000 barrels of tar sands oil every day.
  • Tar sands pollute more than conventional oil — 27 million more metric tons of CO2 according to the EPA. This would be the same as 7 coal plants. Tar sands are so carbon intensive because of the way it burns, and how much energy is required to extract it. The State Department acknowledged that this will cause 17 percent more carbon emissions than regular oil.

Won’t the tar sands be extracted whether the pipeline is approved or rejected? Not so:

There are many compelling arguments against the fatalistic assertion that the tar sands will be fully exploited regardless of the Keystone XL pipeline. Other proposed pipelines also face substantial opposition in Canada and other regions of the United States. Further, increased costs associated with alternatives such as rail make it clear that the Keystone XL pipeline is far and away the industry’s first choice, and industry experts have been the first to admit this.

The State Department EIS dismisses out of hand the implications of burning the oil we’re projected to burn, saying it is business as usual. But this business is leading us to a very unusual climate future. The idea of approving the Keystone pipeline becomes more impossible as the facts become clearer. We can only hope that Secretary Kerry will stay engaged in the real debate and make the right choice for a livable climate.

[The article above, originally posted on ThinkProgress,  was created by the Center for American Progress Action Fund. It was created for the Progress Report, the daily e-mail publication of the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Click here to subscribe.]

Related Posts:

Oil Corrupts and It’s All About the Money

DeSmogBlog investigates the controversial decision by Alberta’s government to ignore the threat of rapid industrial expansion in the Alberta Tar Sands region, and instead kill thousands of wolves to appear to be doing something to save dwindling woodland caribou populations. Through interviews with scientists, wildlife experts and a First Nations chief, the myth of Canada’s “ethical oil” is further exposed as oil industry greenwashing.