Today the Obama administration is expected to formally adopt the Clean Power Plan with targeted reductions of greenhouse gas emissions from coal-fired power plants of 32 percent by 2030 compared to 2005 levels.
If readers care about mitigating the causes of global warming and ceasing the practice of dumping more than 110 million tons of CO2 into the atmosphere each day as if it were an open sewer, this is it.
This is the majority of the United States plan to reduce emissions at the 21st United Nations Conference of the Parties in Paris (COP21) this December. It’s what we plan, as a nation, to do about climate change.
Today’s adoption of the Clean Power Plan is expected to be greeted with derision, litigation, delay, obfuscation, contempt, denial and politically correct, but meaningless statements.
They range from this:
“Starbucks signed the Ceres letter supporting the EPA Clean Power Plan.”
“We don’t have a position on the EPA’s proposed Clean Power Plan, and Target does not support the US Chamber’s position.”
“Cargill is part of Risky Business to lead a dialogue across the philosophical spectrum about the long-term impact that climate change could have on the ability to produce food and the ways that agriculture can adapt to ensure global food security. We believe progress can best be made by engaging with groups and discussing our point of view. In fact, Greg Page, former CEO of Cargill, briefed Tom Donahue, president and CEO of the US Chamber of Commerce, this summer about the Risky Business project and its findings. We also spoke with the Farm Bureau about the Risky Business report and asked their advice about how to effectively engage farmers on the climate change issue.”
“Caterpillar filed comments with EPA opposing the coal-plant rules. The company said: ‘Caterpillar strongly urges EPA to withdraw the Proposed Rule in order to (1) reevaluate the agency’s legal authority to establish requirements on both the entire electric sector and end-users of electricity; (2) conduct a more full and realistic estimate of the economic impacts of its proposed rule; (3) consider changes that avoid the adverse impacts outlined in these comments; and (4) provide guidance to states so that they have the tools necessary to minimize adverse impacts as they construct compliance plans.’ In its sustainability report, Caterpillar says: ‘We support intelligent, responsible public policies addressing climate and energy issues.’”
Gov. Terry Branstad has been critical of the proposed clean power rule, saying it will push energy costs higher and “hurt Iowa consumers and cost Iowans jobs,” according to the Des Moines Register.
If everyday Iowans don’t support the Clean Power Plan, then what? Doing nothing is not an option when it comes to mitigating the causes of climate change, and the Clean Power Plan is something.
There are few better options to take climate action than supporting the Clean Power Plan. Letting government officials know of your support is part of the picture, but what matters more is making the discussion part of everyday life. We may be accused of being “political” in our social circles, and that may be better than suffering the consequences of inaction, now and going forward. The Clean Power Plan is a solution worthy of our support. As the administration adopts it today, so should we.
Practical Farmers of Iowa, Cover Crop Solutions and the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation Present Webinar on the Basics of Cover Crops
Thursday, July 30, at 1 p.m.
Mark your calendar for a webinar to be held on July 30 that will offer great tips from experts for those new to planting cover crops. Explore what works, what doesn’t and understand the benefits of cover crops. “Fall planting of cover crops has really taken off in Iowa. during recent years as more farmers are seeking information and are beginning to understand the benefits,” said Rick Robinson, IFBF environmental policy adviser.
Sarah Carlson from Practical Farmers of Iowa and Tracy Blackmer from Cover Crops Solutions will be the speakers. Join the webinar by keeping this email and accessing the webinar page shortly before 1 p.m. this Thursday, July 30, by clicking here.
Audio will be through your computer speakers. At any time before the webcast, please click here for information or to to test your computer’s ability to participate.
D-Day March & Pilgrimage for Climate Action
LA to DC walkers continue trek to Paris for UN Climate Summit
DES MOINES — On Veterans Day, Nov. 11, two men who last year walked across America for action on climate change will set-out from the coast of Normandy, France, walking nearly 200 miles (320 kilometers) to arrive in Paris on Nov. 28 — just before the start of the United Nations Climate Summit, an event seen as pivotal if the nations of the world are to take affective, timely action on climate change.
Last year, Ed Fallon of Iowa and Steve Martin of Kentucky walked over 3,100 miles (5,000 kilometers) across America with the Great March for Climate Action. The March was conceived by Fallon, a former Iowa state lawmaker, as a dramatic way to build public awareness about the urgency of the climate crisis. A core group of 35-50 marchers walked 15-20 miles (24-32 kilometers) six days a week for eight months, engaging thousands of Americans in one-on-one conversations about climate change. Fallon and Martin were two of five marchers who walked every step of the way.
Having reached the east coast of the United States last fall, and with the all-important UN Climate Summit in Paris looming, Fallon and Martin felt called to continue their trek. Beginning the D-Day March & Pilgrimage for Climate Action on the coast of Normandy, where Allied troops launched the successful liberation of Europe in 1944, holds great significance for Fallon as he tells the story he shared with people he met during last year’s Climate March.
“My Dad would tell me about World War II and the home-front mobilization,” Fallon mused. “He was a kid at the time, the son of Irish immigrants growing up in the South Bronx. Military advisers warned of mounting atrocities in Europe and the South Pacific, and my Dad could not understand why America wasn’t responding.
“Finally, America woke-up and it was all hands on deck,” Fallon said. “My Dad would go down to the railroad tracks and collect tinfoil from cigarette boxes for the scrap metal drives that were crucial to the war effort. And the nation as a whole got involved, retooling an entire economy in a matter of months to fight and win the defining crisis of the 20th century.
“Last year, I shared my Dad’s story with hundreds of people as I walked across America, coast-to-coast” concluded Fallon. “It’s time again for America to listen to the experts, in this case the scientists, who warn us of the urgent threat of climate change. It’s time for America to wake-up like we did in response to World War II and help lead a global response to the crisis that threatens our very survival.”
For his part, Martin was deeply moved earlier this year by Pope Francis’ encyclical on climate change. Martin continues what he calls a pilgrim’s walk, “a walk that began long before my memory can be trusted,” he said. “No one is the enemy in the struggle for climate action. All of us are participants, and we all have the power to reaffirm life, if we choose.
“Making footsteps is a practice that links our common spirit to the change we hope to see,” said Martin. “In the end, I believe the human heart will triumph.”
With the comparison to America’s mobilization in response to World War II, Martin sees a very important connection to the climate struggle: “Democracy represents the will of the people only when we become collectively engaged in a common cause, just as another generation did at Normandy.”
Martin is from western Kentucky, a region possessing the highest CO2 emissions rate per kilowatt hour anywhere in the country. It is an area of the country where coal is king. Yet last year, Martin found himself on a pilgrimage to walk every step across America with the Great March for Climate Action. He began in Los Angeles with the main group of marchers. In eastern Colorado he diverted from the March to connect his footsteps with the People’s Climate March in New York City. At the Sept. 21 event that drew 400,000 people, Martin was the only participant to have walked across the entire country to attend.
Martin anxiously awaits these new footsteps to Paris, and hopes that they contribute in a small way to a successful UN summit and decisive action to address climate change.
Fallon and Martin intend to walk about 20-25 kilometers (12-16 miles) five to six days a week. In both the U.S. and France, they hope to network with organizations addressing climate change, environmental concerns, churches, other communities of faith, and veterans organizations. In the tradition of pilgrims throughout history, they will travel simply and with faith in the goodness of humanity.
“Understanding the Pope’s Encyclical on the Environment” will be the subject of a public presentation and group discussion at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, July 23, at Loras College in the campus center.
Father Robert Grant of St. Ambrose University, professor of theology with a specialty in environmental theology, will summarize the message and the historical background of Pope Francis’ recent letter, “On Care for Our Common Home.”
David Cochran, professor of politics and director of the Archbishop Kucera Center at Loras, will discuss how people of faith and others can work together in their circles of influence and in the public square to meet the challenges that the pope identifies.
“This event will explore the meaning of the pope’s encyclical on our earthen environment and the justice issues posed by human stewardship of our common home,” said Tim Moothart, co-chair of the Resurrection parish social justice committee. “We want people of all faiths or no faith to join us, because the concerns cut across religious, social and cultural boundaries.”
The Church of the Resurrection is co-sponsoring the meeting with Green Dubuque and State Rep. Chuck Isenhart, with support from the Fr. Ray Herman Peace & Justice Center at Loras College.
Green Dubuque is a community-based grassroots network of advocates focused on economic and environmental resiliency. State Rep. Chuck Isenhart of Dubuque is ranking member on the Environmental Protection Committee in the Iowa House of Representatives.
“I am eager to learn what my constituents think about the pope’s research and the ethical perspective he brings to the serious social, economic and environmental issues we are facing,” Isenhart said. “What are the implications for public policy that elected officials like me need to address? Do people care, and what do they expect of us?”
According to Paul Schultz, Green Dubuque board member, “This eco-encyclical confronts the exploitation and wasting of resources impacting the Earth, other species, the poor and future generations.
“The pope’s letter tells us that the cry of the Earth and the cry of the poor impacts us all,” Schultz added. “We look forward to meeting with others who share similar concerns and want to respond to Francis’ plea to develop positive relationships between ecology and a common good economics — the principles we use to manage the habitat we share.”
Group discussions will follow the presentations. The event is free and open to the public.
For more information contact Tim Moothart, 563-581-7690; Paul Schultz, 563-845-1714; or Chuck Isenhart, 563-599-8839.
Iowa recreational lakes have become a nutrient-rich soup in which blue-green algae thrives. The Iowa Environmental Council won’t say what I will: nutrient runoff from agriculture, and to a much lesser extent from home lawn applications, is a key ingredient in this toxic soup.
Algae can produce microcystin bacteria, which is toxic to humans and animals, and is only intermittently monitored outside Iowa DNR beaches. That means people who participate in low-impact water sports, like canoeing and kayaking may not get sufficient warning of the presence of microcystin bacteria.
While adventurers develop protective safety protocols for dealing with the unknown, the end result of recent warnings of elevated levels of bacteria was a scene where the homes of affluent locals looked on an abandoned beach on a brilliant summer day.
The Iowa Environmental Council made this press release on Friday:
Toxic algae blooms pose threat to human, animal health
DES MOINES– Summer is in full swing, and many Iowans are heading to the state’s lakes to swim, paddle, relax and cool off with family and friends. However, many Iowans are being greeted by an unwelcome sight at their favorite swimming spots: toxic blue-green algae blooms.
This type of algae, caused by a combination of high levels of phosphorus pollution and increased temperatures can produce harmful microcystin toxins that can make people sick and be deadly for dogs, livestock and other animals.
The Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has posted 14 swimming advisories cautioning Iowans to stay out of the water at 11 different State Park beaches so far this summer due to high microcystin levels. Independence Day weekend, one of the busiest outdoor recreation weekends of the year, the DNR posted microcystin warnings at five Iowa beaches – the worst week yet. Included on this summer’s list are Lake Darling, Pine Lake, Red Haw Lake and Twin Lake West beaches – all first-time toxic blue-green algae offenders.
“The threats posed by toxic blue-green algae blooms are serious,” said Water Program Director Susan Heathcote. “Iowans need to be aware of this problem, the health risks, and know how to recognize and respond to toxic blue-green algae blooms.”
Toxic blue-green algae blooms create green, murky water, visible surface scum and a foul odor. The blooms can spread across the water but tend to accumulate in shoreline areas. Beach warnings are posted by the DNR when microcystin levels exceed 20 ug/liter, a guideline established by the World Health Organization. Contact with water at or above this level can result in breathing problems, upset stomach, skin reactions, and even liver damage. Inhaling water droplets containing toxic blue-green algae can cause runny eyes and nose, cough, sore throat, chest pain, asthma-like symptoms, or allergic reactions.
After tracking microcystin poisoning cases in Iowa as part of a national pilot project, Iowa’s public health leaders recently announced plans to add “microcystin-toxin poisoning” to the list of conditions doctors must report to the Iowa Department of Public Health.
“To rid Iowa of toxic blue-green algae blooms and ensure our lakes are safe and healthy for our families and pets, we must improve our water quality and reduce phosphorus pollution caused by agricultural and urban runoff and wastewater treatment systems,” Heathcote said. “This pollution not only puts our health at risk, but also has negative economic impacts on communities that depend on lake tourism, as well as our environment.”
The DNR monitors 39 State Park beaches for microcystin on a weekly basis between Memorial Day and Labor Day, issues advisories and posts warning signs when conditions are unsafe for swimming. The weekly beach advisories can be found on their website. Last summer, the DNR posted 22 beach warnings for high levels of microcystin during the recreational season.
At this time, DNR only monitors State Park Beaches, so if you swim at other public or private beaches you need to be aware of the potential for toxic blue-green algae this time of year. Not all blue-green algae is toxic, but when in doubt, stay out of the water and call the DNR Beach Monitoring Hotline at 515-725-3434. If you think you or your pets may have been exposed to toxic blue-green algae, thoroughly wash it off with fresh water. If you or your pet are experiencing symptoms associated with high microcystin levels after suspected exposure, seek medical or veterinary care immediately.
Records showing State Park beaches with documented Microcystin levels exceeding 20 ug/L dating back to 2006 are available on the Iowa Environmental Council’s website.
~ The Iowa Environmental Council actively works in public policy to provide a safe, healthy environment for all Iowans. The Council focuses on public education and coalition building to give Iowans a voice on issues that affect their quality of life and to protect Iowa’s natural resources for current and future generations. For more information, visit iaenvironment.org.
Climate Reality Leadership Corps founder and former vice president Al Gore gave his slide show, an updated version of the one used in the film An Inconvenient Truth, in Cedar Rapids on May 5.
It’s the third time I’ve seen him do so in person. There were differences in emphasis, but the big message of day one came from the panel on renewables and policy.
“Go solar,” said Warren McKenna, president of Farmers Electric Cooperative, Kalona.
In significant ways, these two words sum up what’s needed to meet world energy needs, replace fossil fuels, and move civilization toward sustainability.
In an hour, sunlight shining on Earth provides enough energy to meet our collective needs for a year. Whether we realize it or not, fossil fuels represent ancient sunlight stored for millennia in the ground. Which is more accessible?
According to multiple speakers at the conference, most of proven reserves of fossil fuels cannot be burned if we seek to retain Earth’s livability.
What makes solar an attractive solution to the climate crisis is the cost of installation is plummeting. At the point solar electricity generation reaches grid parity it will be an easy financial argument to make that fossil fuels should stay in the ground in favor of the less expensive alternative.
It’s not just me saying this.
The Way Humans Get Electricity is About To Change Forever is an article that appeared on Bloomberg Business last week. Author Tom Randall outlines shifts in electricity generation that will transform markets in the next 25 years. Randall predicts investments in solar will surge into the trillions of dollars, including distributed generation in the form of rooftop solar panels.
Companies such as Berkshire Hathaway Energy (BHE) already like solar, wind and other renewable energy generating capacity.
BHE accounts for six percent of U.S. wind electricity generating capacity and seven percent of solar according to Warren Buffet’s 2014 letter to shareholders.
“When BHE completes certain renewables projects that are underway, the company’s renewables portfolio will have cost $15 billion,” Buffet wrote. “In addition, we have conventional projects in the works that will also cost many billions. We relish making such commitments as long as they promise reasonable returns–and, on that front, we put a large amount of trust in future regulation.”
Solar is not without it’s problems. Natural resources must be exploited to make photo-voltaic panels, and the issue of conflict minerals continuously gets pushed aside. There are manufacturing, labor and transportation issues with solar. Problems notwithstanding, the argument for solar boils down to do we want a future, or not?
What we know is dumping 110 million tons of CO2 pollution into the atmosphere every day is not sustainable, and already we are seeing the impact of global warming and related climate change damage the lives of tens of millions of people.
There are no simple answers to solving the climate crisis. As industry demonstrates the viability of renewable energy, the only thing holding us back is a lack of political will to take unavoidable steps to mitigate the causes of global warming.
The economic argument provided by declining solar electricity generating costs will be a potent weapon in the political fight.
DES MOINES—”We have a water problem,” Mayor Frank Cownie said at the state convention of the League of Women Voters of Iowa on Saturday.
Like all municipalities, the Des Moines Water Works must comply with the Safe Drinking Water Act and the Environmental Protection Agency standards for maximum contaminant level in water processed and sent into its system. Peak nitrate levels in source waters have taxed the city’s ability to meet its obligations.
The problem is nitrates in the water, however, the bigger problem for Des Moines is nitrate discharge into drainage districts in Buena Vista, Calhoun and Sac Counties which feed its source.
“The current denitrification technology is outdated and cannot continue to operate with rising nitrate levels and increased customer demand.” according to the Des Moines Water Works. “Continued high nitrate concentrations will require future capital investments of $76-183 million to remove the pollutant and provide safe drinking water to a growing central Iowa.”
Nitrate runoff is an unrecognized environmental cost of farm operations. The lawsuit filed in the case asserts that the drainage districts named are point sources of nitrate runoff and should be regulated as such.
There is a lot of chatter about the lawsuit the Des Moines Water Works filed to establish a cost to people who use nitrogen fertilizer that contributes to water pollution. Here is their rationale from their website:
- Des Moines Water Works filed a complaint in Federal District Court – Northern District of Iowa, Western Division, on March 16, 2015.
- The complaint seeks to declare the named drainage districts are “point sources,” not exempt from regulation, and are required to have a permit under federal and Iowa law.
- The complaint states that the drainage districts have violated and continue to be in violation of the Clean Water Act and Chapter 455B, Code of Iowa, and demands the drainage districts take all necessary actions, including ceasing all discharges of nitrate that are not authorized by an National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit.
- In addition, damages are demanded to Des Moines Waters to compensate for the harm caused by the drainage districts unlawful discharge of nitrate, assess civil penalties, and award litigation costs and reasonable attorney fees to Des Moines Water Works as authorized by law.
- Des Moines Water Works’ mission is to provide safe, abundant and affordable water to our customers. Des Moines Water Works is fighting for the protection of customers’ right to safe drinking water. Through this legal process, Des Moines Water Works hopes to reduce long-term health risks and unsustainable economic costs to provide safe drinking water to our customers, via permit and regulation of drainage districts as pollutant sources.
- Continued insistence from state leaders that the voluntary approach of the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy is working does not give solace to the 500,000 central Iowans who must now pay to remove pollution from their drinking water.
While this lawsuit is specific to Des Moines, there are a lot of unrecognized environmental costs in diverse business operations. Set all the partisan chatter about this issue aside and the fact remains there is a tangible cost, that someone should pay. It is a cost measured in risks to human health, environmental degradation and inadequate financial models in business.
Thanks to the Des Moines Water Works, we can begin to put a dollar figure to it.
The tactics of the moneyed class have been to attack the messengers who would reduce air pollution, presenting so many falsehoods about climate change it’s hard to keep up. (Here’s a list of 175 global warming and climate change myths and brief responses to them). By the sheer volume and repetition of falsehoods, people are beginning to believe there is doubt about the science of climate change. There isn’t much, if any, cause for doubt.
A lot is at stake. In Iowa more than half of our electricity is generated by burning coal, which creates a sickly brew of substances breathed in by people who live near the plants, and those down wind. These substances have names: oxides of sulfur, arsenic, beryllium, cadmium, chromium, mercury, nickel, dioxins, fine particulate matter, and others.
Air pollution is directly linked to the leading causes of death in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control. A reduction in coal burning would yield an improvement in health outcomes, including a reduction in mortality from heart disease, malignant neoplasms, respiratory disease and stroke.
The latest target is, and has been for a while, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Clean Power Plan. First proposed on June 2, 2014, the plan represents a common sense approach to cut carbon emissions from power plants, setting rules for the first time. While the political class pursues an agenda that would weaken the plan, and at worst continue to allow coal burning operations to dump an unlimited amount of carbon pollution into the atmosphere, their actions are based on moneyed interests, not science or the benefits to people living in society.
While eyes focus on the Clean Power Plan, what is missed is it is only the first of multiple actions needed to reduce air pollution in a way to improve human health. In particular, EPA should develop strong standards that would reduce the leakage of methane from oil and gas operations.
Because the discussion is about the power of money in politics, and not about developing rational or logical approaches to solving problems that affect real people, the EPA’s efforts under the Clean Air Act are under constant attack from the supporters of the fossil fuel industry and their ilk. The plain truth is intransigent interests have a lot of money and are willing to spend it on protecting their assets.
“God’s still up there,” said U.S. Senator James Inhofe (R-Oklahoma) on Voice of Christian Youth America’s radio program Crosstalk with Vic Eliason, March 7, 2015. “The arrogance of people to think that we, human beings, would be able to change what He is doing in the climate is to me outrageous.”
Because corporate media is obsessed with conservative politics we hear more about the arrogance of environmentalists than about the influence of money in politics. This summer Pope Francis is expected to release his encyclical about the need for climate action to protect our home planet. We don’t need religious leaders to see the obfuscation of the truth that air pollution is having a deleterious effect on human health. We can and should do something about it, and it begins with developing the political will to take action.
Nov. 30 the United Nations will convene the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP 21) in Paris in hope of reaching an international agreement on climate. Each country is to create its own goals to mitigate the causes of climate change. Whether the U.S. will be able to develop meaningful goals and ratify an agreement made in Paris is an open question. If the current U.S. Senate has their way, little or no action would be approved coming from COP 21, just as the preceding Kyoto Protocol was never ratified.
Robert F. Kennedy famously said, “There are those who look at things the way they are, and ask why… I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?” The scientific knowledge and technology to address the climate crisis has been emerging. Because cost-effective solutions to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels are rapidly becoming reality, it is time to use our power as an electorate to demand our elected officials take action.
It can start with a phone call or email to our U.S. Senators urging climate action. Importantly, we can challenge the myths we hear in our daily lives, and work toward reducing the influence of money in politics. There is plenty we could do, and Earth is hanging in the balance, waiting for us to act.
Even though the boat may have sailed in the US senate, there still may be time to help stop it in the House. The following press release and letter were sent by the National Caucus of Environmental Legislators including Iowa State Representatives Charles Isenhart, Marti Anderson, John Forbes, Bruce Hunter, Jerry Kearns, Dan Kelly, Charles McConkey, Art Staed and State Senator William Dotzler.
Representative Charles Isenhart: (563) 5998839, email@example.com
Senator Virginia Lyons: (802) 8283616, firstname.lastname@example.org
Representative Denise Provost: (617) 8728805, Denise.Provost@mahouse.gov
STATE LEGISLATORS FROM ACROSS NATION SIGN LETTER URGING CONGRESS
REJECT FAST TRACK TRADE PROMOTION AUTHORITY
Bipartisan group of 110 state legislators from 41 states oppose Fast Track bill; raise concerns about secret trade negotiations, private investor remedies that threaten progressive state environmental and energy policies
State legislators from across the country have sent a letter to Congressional leadership and Senate and House members urging a “no” vote on the Trade Promotion Authority legislation as voted out of committee. The letter (below) was circulated by Iowa State Representative Charles Isenhart and Vermont State Senator Virginia Lyons, both of whom are members of the National Caucus of Environmental Legislators (NCEL) and environmental leaders in their states and nationally. The letter was signed by 110 legislators from 41 states.
“Congress has a unique opportunity to protect our democracy, environment, and workers by rejecting fast track authority. Free trade negotiations go beyond tariffs and include policies that can threaten state environmental regulations,” said Lyons, who serves on the Vermont
Legislature’s Joint Energy Committee and is CoChair of the state’s Commission on International Trade and State Sovereignty.
“Emerging local renewable energy and other businesses lose when large multinational organizations determine rules of trade and rules of regulation all behind closed doors,” Lyons stated. “So-called ‘fast track’ authority limits Congressional oversight over a process that lacks transparency and threatens the fabric of our democratic system of state sovereignty. ”
Rep. Charles Isenhart echoed these concerns. “Trade agreements are negotiated in secrecy and state legislators are not at the table,” he said. “While virtually every investor group is well represented among the USTR’s more than 600 ‘citizen’ advisors, almost no legislators are. Yet these agreements can put at risk important state initiatives including clean energy policies and advanced biofuel incentives.”
Isenhart is the Ranking Member of the Iowa House Environmental Protection Committee and also serves on the Economic Growth Committee and Ways and Means Committee. He added, “Changes in the current Trade Promotion Authority legislation fall far short of fixing fundamental flaws in both the negotiation process and the agreements themselves, including the system of private justice that sidesteps our courts and gives foreign investors greater authority over policy than elected officials. Whatever the promises of the current administration, there are no guarantees that future administrations will follow through on the commitments of this one. In other words – as state legislators, we have no say, we can’t see, and we reap what others sow.”
Among the signers of the letter was Massachusetts State Representative Denise Provost, who spoke to negotiators of the TransAtlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) during the 9th round of negotiations in New York City in April.
“As an elected official, I am particularly concerned about provisions in these agreements that subordinate our domestic legal systems to Investor State Dispute Settlement tribunals, which betrays constitutional principles, and represents the worst kind of corporate domination,” Provost said.
The legislators’ letter raises concerns not only about the pending Trade Promotion Authority legislation but also about likely provisions in the TTIP, the Transpacific Partnership (TPP) and the Trade in Services Agreement (TISA) with the potential not only to undermine existing state environmental laws and regulations but also to chill future state policies inconsistent with the terms of these agreements. All would be covered by the speededup review and approval process known as Fast Track.
Letter Re: Trade Promotion Authority (Fast Track)
Dear Majority Leader McConnell, Speaker Boehner, Senate Democratic Leader Reid, and House Democratic Leader Pelosi:
As elected members of our state legislatures from across the United States, we write to urge you to reject the “Fast Track” version of trade promotion authority legislation as currently drafted and instead support a new process that is transparent, democratic, and accountable.
In July, we wrote to the Senate Finance Committee with suggested changes to the Fast Track legislation as introduced. We stated then, and reiterate now, the need for a new trade authority to provide significant and substantive opportunities for Congress to hold executive branch negotiators accountable. We remain eager to work with you to develop a process that can achieve the level of review and oversight intended by the U.S. Constitution. We believe such oversight to be absolutely necessary for modern international agreements with the breadth and reach of a Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) or Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Agreement (TTIP).
The lack of transparency – indeed, extreme secrecy – of the trade negotiation process, coupled with the failure of negotiators to meaningfully consult on the far-reaching impact of these agreements on state and local laws, even when binding on our states, is of grave concern to us. As state legislators, we are not at the table. Of the more than 600 cleared advisors to the U.S. Trade Representative, two state legislators have been invited to participate. Thus, we depend on Congress to create a new mechanism that provides for Congress to conduct the in-depth review and oversight these powerful international agreements require. When Congress abdicates much of its authority, as it does in the Fast Track process, our democracy suffers.
Moreover, requirements for “regulatory coherence” and “minimum standard of treatment” provisions included in these trade agreements, and the investor-state system of private justice that can be invoked by investors to challenge federal, state and local laws and regulations, threatens the U.S. system of federalism enshrined in our Constitution. Our federalist system reserves significant authority to state legislators to regulate to ensure a level playing field for workers and businesses and to implement meaningful human rights, labor and environmental standards – authority that is threatened by these trade pact provisions.
The Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) procedures included in recent and pending trade agreements, including the recently leaked TPP investment chapter, are of particular concern. ISDS allows foreign investors the right to sue governments directly in offshore private investment tribunals, bypassing the courts or allowing a “second bite” if the investors do not like the results of domestic court decisions. Although the investor-state tribunal has no power to directly nullify U.S. federal, state, and local laws, in practice, when a country loses to an investor, it will change the offending law, or pay damages, or both. Moreover, a country need not even lose an ISDS case for the chilling effect of a case merely being threatened or filed to impact its future policy making deliberations.
Indeed, in our own experience as state legislators, we have directly experienced that chilling effect. It is not uncommon for investors and foreign governments alike to seek to chill non-discriminatory state legislative action on matters of public health, safety and welfare, with threats of legal challenges based on international trade agreements. State legislative examples we are aware of include electronic waste producer responsibility laws, regulation of water extraction, tax haven restrictions, GMO labeling, and regulation of toxics in consumer products. Current ISDS litigation includes many challenges to environmental regulation, including oversight of hydraulic fracturing and mining.
State legislators have a longstanding and clear position opposing investor-state dispute settlement clauses in trade agreements, memorialized in the policy of the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), which represents all 50 states and the District of Columbia: “…NCSL will not support any BIT or FTA that provides for investor/state dispute resolution. NCSL firmly believes that when a state adopts a nondiscriminatory law or regulation intended to serve a public purpose, it shall not constitute a violation of an investment agreement or treaty, even if the change in the legal environment thwarts the foreign investors’ previous expectations.” [Readopted August 2013: http://www.ncsl.org/ncsl-in-dc/task-forces/policieslabor-and-economic-development.aspx#trade ]
The undersigned state legislators strongly endorse this position, and urge you in your oversight capacity to remove any investor-state dispute settlement clause from inclusion in the TPP, TTIP or other international trade or investment agreement that may be negotiated in the future.
Many of the undersigned legislators serve on the environment and natural resources committees of our legislatures and have leadership roles advancing environmental protections in our states. We are deeply concerned about public reports of potential provisions in both the TPP and TTIP agreements that would undermine these protections, including provisions on or related to investment and energy exports. With respect to TTIP, we are troubled by reports that the European Union is seeking binding provisions that would facilitate expanded exports of both liquefied natural gas and crude oil. With respect to the TPP, we are very concerned that the U.S. Department of Energy would lose its ability to even review whether exports of natural gas are in the interest of the public, should that agreement include national treatment for trade in gas.
The trade negotiation process is deeply flawed, and it appears to be resulting in deeply flawed trade agreements, namely the TPP and TTIP. Congress has the ultimate responsibility to oversee these agreements and put a stop to overreaching provisions that usurp the legitimate, non-discriminatory exercise of legislative authority to protect the public health and welfare. The pending Fast Track/Trade Promotion Authority legislation undermines this Congressional responsibility. We urge you to reject this approach and instead engage in robust, transparent and inclusive oversight of both the negotiation process and the agreements themselves.
(unable to reproduce signatures due to technical difficulties)
Considering the way that the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) has set up the Investor-State Dispute Settlement or ISDS process the only logical step for corporations who claim to be frustrated by US laws is to move their corporate headquarters out of the United States. Then they can be in a position to sue the United States to overturn laws and regulations that they feel get in their way. The corporation also gets the benefit of tax laws for corporation headquartered overseas.
This is a new corporate process called inversion. Currently the incentive for a corporation to invert itself, that is to move their corporate headquarters out of the country they primarily do business in, the United States, to a country where they have much lesser interests is to take advantage of loopholes in the US tax laws. Burger King bought itself a whole lot of bad publicity and nasty headlines when they bought Canadian doughnut maker Tim Horton’s with the express purpose of moving their HQ to Canada to avoid US taxes.
Burger King felt they could weather the bad publicity because America has the attention span of a gnat. The move is in process and based on media coverage Burger King bet correctly. Their move is no longer covered and it is business as usual while avoiding US taxes.
Walgreen’s announced they were going to invert their structure but called off the move in the face of some blisteringly bad publicity.
Now Monsanto, like Burger King and Walgreen’s, is making an offer to buy the much smaller Swiss based agribusiness Syngenta. Should the takeover take place then Monsanto has made no bones about moving their HQ from St. Louis to Switzerland to save up to $500 million per year in taxes. They have no loyalty to the country that gave them the means to grow.
Now along with the tax savings, Monsanto will be able to take their complaints about US laws and regulations to an ISDS arbitration board. Since treaties can supersede US laws, this may put corporations in a great position to attack laws and regulations that they have claimed over the years to be detrimental. We saw a small example of that just last week when the WTO ruled that the US can no longer require country of origin labeling for meat. Plan for many more disputes like tis from TPP and its Atlantic twin, the TTIP.
By the way, this should remind folks that corporations are not people despite what 5 members of the Supreme Court ruled. There is no loyalty to the US. With TPP corporations may finally have the tool they have always wanted to control US laws to their liking.
commondreams.org discusses Monsanto’s maneuver, noting the corporate “win-win” that Monsanto will reap:
Earlier this month, Monsanto made an initial offer to purchase the Swiss-based Syngenta. The deal, if completed, would allow Monsanto to move its headquarters from outside St. Louis to Switzerland, thereby reducing U.S. corporate tax payments. According to financial analysts at the investment firm Piper Jaffray, Monsanto would gain – and U.S. taxpayers would lose – about $500 million per year in tax revenues.
Monsanto, in fact, can attribute much of its growth over the last decade to past trade deals. Most other countries around the world, including key markets in the European Union, have taken a more precautionary approach to genetically engineered crops than in the U.S. – both in approvals for agricultural production, and in requiring clear labeling for consumers. In collaboration with the U.S. Trade Representative, Monsanto and the agrichemical industry have aggressively used trade rules in bilateral agreements as well as at the World Trade Organization (successfully challenging Europe’s biotech regulatory regime) to try to strike down higher-standard public health and environmental requirements for GE foods in other countries.
There seems to be no limit to the lengths to which the Obama administration will go to support Monsanto and the biotech industry. Earlier this month, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack accused the European Union of undermining efforts to address global hunger, because of a new EU proposal to allow its member countries greater power in regulating GE crops. Vilsack threatened that the EU’s decision raises “serious issues” about the future of TTIP, and officials in Washington have threatened another WTO challenge. The EU’s regulatory approach is troubling to Vilsack and Monsanto because their collective goal is to eliminate what they call sub-federal regulations. In the case of Europe, it is country-level regulations. In the U.S., it is state-level mandatory GMO labeling laws.
Both TPP and TTIP include intellectual property rules that protect Monsanto’s patented GE crops. They also include special corporate rights provisions, known as investor-state rules. These provisions would grant corporations legal rights to potentially challenge new laws, like state-level labeling of genetically engineered foods, that inhibit investors’ expectations.
Don’t forget, Iowa’s senators, Grassley and Ernst, are 100% behind these trade deals.