Could Anti-Climate Amendment Torpedo Fast Track?

Last-minute anti-climate effort led by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) slammed by green groups and some lawmakers

By Sarah Lazare

Environmental groups have long (warned) of the dangers Fast Track poses to the environment. Now they have solid proof.

With the controversial House Fast Track vote expected to take place Friday, an 11th-hour GOP effort to forbid U.S. trade officials from taking action on climate change has raised the fury of environmental groups and lawmakers, as well as hopes that the unpopular legislation could be torpedoed altogether.

Sponsored by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), chair of the Ways and Means Committee, an amendment was inserted late Tuesday into a customs and trade bill currently being weighed alongside Fast Track legislation, known as Trade Promotion Authority.

The language is designed “to ensure that trade agreements do not require changes to U.S. law or obligate the United States with respect to global warming or climate change.”

But political observers see it as a last-ditch attempt to get reticent Republicans on-board.

As the National Journal reports, Ryan is “working hard to win Republican support for the trade bill. Doug Andres, a spokesman for the House Committee on Ways and Means, said that the climate-change amendment acts as an olive branch for House Republicans fearful that the president might use his trade negotiating power to take action on climate change.”

Critics say, in the midst of a climate crisis, it is outrageous that Ryan would seek to tie a trade representative’s hands, especially given the broad scope of the multiple corporate-friendly deals currently under negotiation: the Trans-Pacific Partnership, Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, and Trade in Services Agreement.

“President Obama needs to make it clear that ‘21st century trade deals’ cannot block climate action,” said Luísa Abbott Galvão of Friends of the Earth. “The president should start by telling Republican leadership and the public that the provision in the customs amendment is unacceptable.”

“President Obama cannot credibly claim that trade deals will force other countries to raise their environmental standards if he allows the same deals to secure a pass for the U.S. to keep dumping carbon into the planet’s atmosphere,” Galvão added.

The Fast Track legislation was already opposed by civil society and social movement groups around the U.S. and world—who criticize it as a tool for ramming through secret corporate-friendly deals, at the expense of people and the planet.

Karthik Ganapathy of 350.org said that this latest move could jeopardize Fast Track altogether: “Forbidding U.S. negotiators from ever addressing climate change in trade deals might might win over a couple of votes on the far right, but it’ll lose many more in the center and on the left because the new language is a disaster for our climate.”

Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) derided the maneuver, declaring, “Now Republicans want to use [Fast Track] to prevent any new climate change standards in our trade deals.”

All eyes are on the vote, expected to take place Friday, with many high-profile politicians, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), remaining mum on how they will vote.

Patrick Woodall of Food & Water Watch declared in a press statement Thursday, “With Fast Track for the Trans-Pacific Partnership now on its way to the House floor, it’s time for our Representatives to stand up to the so-called free trade attacks on common sense protections for public health, the environment and consumers.”

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‘Climate Denial, Plain and Simple': Feds Approve Shell’s Arctic Drilling Plan

Budapest Shell gas station in July 2012 to protest the company’s plans to drill

“Not only does it put the Arctic’s pristine landscapes at a huge risk for oil spills and industrial development but it’s utterly incompatible with President Obama’s rhetoric to address the climate crisis.”

By Nadia Prupis

The Obama administration has given conditional approval to Shell to start drilling for oil and gas in the Arctic this summer, dealing a major blow to environmentalists who have sought to protect the vulnerable Beaufort and Chuchki Seas from fossil fuel exploration.

“Arctic drilling is climate denial, plain and simple,” Jamie Henn, co-founder of climate activist organization 350.org, tweeted after the announcement. “Shameful decision by [President Barack Obama] to allow Shell to drill.”

Abigail Ross Hopper, director of the Interior Department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, said in a statement on Monday, “As we move forward, any offshore exploratory activities will continue to be subject to rigorous safety standards.”

However, environmental activists have long warned that there is no way to fully protect against the dangers of offshore drilling, particularly in areas that are hard to reach by emergency vessels. Not only does fossil fuel exploration harm endangered species which rely on the Arctic’s pristine ecosystems to survive, but an accident in those remote waters could be more devastating than the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill which killed 11 workers and poured millions of barrels of oil into the Atlantic Ocean, activists say.

Furthermore, green groups point out that the only way to avoid climate catastrophe is to leave untapped reserves of coal, oil, and natural gas unexploited.

Calling Shell’s drilling scheme “the largest, loudest and dirtiest exploration plan ever proposed in the American Arctic Ocean,” Friends of the Earth said the Interior Department’s approval “is unconscionable given that the latest science says Arctic oil must be kept in the ground in order to have a chance at keeping the planet safe.”

The White House first granted drilling approval to Shell in the summer of 2012, but that project was derailed by numerous safety and operational problems. According to the New York Times, the Interior Department’s new approval (pdf) of the plan “was conditional on Shell’s receiving approval of a series of remaining drilling permits for the project.”

That was of little comfort to environmental groups which say that the oil giant has not demonstrated it can drill safely in the ecologically delicate region.

“Once again, our government has rushed to approve risky and ill-conceived exploration in one of the most remote and important places on Earth,” Susan Murray, a vice president of Oceana, told the Times. “Shell’s need to validate its poorly planned investment in the U.S. Arctic Ocean is not a good reason for the government to allow the company to put our ocean resources at risk. Shell has not shown that it is prepared to operate responsibly in the Arctic Ocean, and neither the company nor our government has been willing to fully and fairly evaluate the risks of Shell’s proposal.”

Henn later tweeted, “Giving Shell ‘conditional’ permission to drill in the Arctic is like giving a drunk keys to your car and asking them to please drive safe.”

“It’s deeply troubling to see the Obama administration give the oil industry the green light to drill in the Arctic,” Rebecca Noblin, Alaska director at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement on Monday. “Not only does it put the Arctic’s pristine landscapes at a huge risk for oil spills and industrial development but it’s utterly incompatible with President Obama’s rhetoric to address the climate crisis.”

Noblin continued:

The Interior Department bent over backward to rush Shell’s permit through the regulatory process so it could move its drillships into the Arctic this summer. Considering Shell ran its drillship aground in Alaska in 2012, it’s hard to fathom how the federal government can rationalize rubber-stamping Shell’s second try at Arctic drilling.

Arctic drilling is a step in the exact wrong direction. Scientists tell us that if we want to avoid the worst effects of climate change, we need to keep Arctic oil in the ground. Arctic drilling gives us a 75 percent chance of an oil spill and a 100 percent chance of climate catastrophe. Interior should send Shell packing.

Erik Grafe, a staff attorney with environmental legal nonprofit Earthjustice, added, “This decision places big oil before people, putting the Arctic’s iconic wildlife and the health of our planet on the line. The agency should not be approving such threatening plans based on a rushed and incomplete environmental and safety review. Ultimately, Arctic Ocean drilling is far too risky and undermines the administration’s efforts to address climate change and transition to a clean energy future. These fossil fuels need to remain in the ground.”

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