Environmental and Public Health Implications of the TPP

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By Dylan Lenzen

This past week, the House of Representatives failed to approve a measure that would provide President Obama with “fast-track authority” in negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a free-trade agreement between the U.S. and eleven other countries of the pacific-rim including Japan, Vietnam, Australia, Mexico, and Canada among others. The trade agreement has been negotiated in secret for three years, and beyond leaked documents, the American public will likely not be able to view the details of the agreement until after it is approved. While President Obama supports the trade deal, he failed to convince the necessary number of his fellow democrats in order to pass the measure. Many democrats, including Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, have expressed concerns that the deal does not provide adequate protection for American workers. In addition, a number of environmental and consumer-advocacy groups have expressed their opposition to the trade deal for a number of reasons, including threats to the environment and public health.

Particularly alarming are the rights granted to corporations under the “investor-state dispute settlement system”. As a result, multinational corporations would essentially be given the right to sue governments before international tribunals regarding regulations they believe pose a threat to “expected future profits”. In cases where corporations win, the taxpayers of the losing country would be responsible for providing compensation. This has already been observed under past trade agreements such as NAFTA. An example was described by the Sierra Club, in which Lone Pine Resources, an oil and gas corporation, sued the Canadian government for $250 million after a fracking moratorium was passed by the Quebec National Assembly. According to consumer rights advocacy group, Public Citizen, over $3 billion has been paid out to corporations as a result of disputes under past free-trade agreements, a majority being related to environmental and public health regulation. Public Citizen goes on to state, “the mere threat of a case can put pressure on governments to weaken environment and health policies.” These policies represent important protections for the health of communities all over the world.

In addition to the threat posed by the investor-state system, others worry that hydraulic fracturing operations in the U.S. will expand due to increased natural gas exports. Currently, all natural gas exports are subject to analysis by the Department of Energy to ensure that exports do not threaten the interests of the American public. Under the TPP, this authority would be lost and all natural gas export permits would be approved, increasing pressure to expand U.S. fracking operations and infrastructure. This increases the environmental health threats already posed by the industry.

These represent but a small portion of a great number of concerns in regards to the Trans-Pacific Partnership. While the capacity of free-trade agreements such as this to promote economic development and job growth is up for debate, it is clear that these agreements pose significant risk to the health of communities and ecosystems around the world.

To find out more about the Trans-Pacific Partnership, please consider the following resources:

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