Is Gallego Helping Fast-Track ‘International Polluter’s Bill of Rights’?

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It appears every major environmental and labor organization in the nation is lined up against this one. No wonder there’s an effort to “fast track” the trans-Atlantic and trans-Pacific trade deals. Briefly, the agreements would continue to outsource U.S. jobs, gut international environmental protections and food safety, and put the multi-nationals in the driver’s seat by including investor-state dispute settlement language that removes virtually any means “by which governments might seek to defend their citizens or protect the natural world.”

gallegoAfter being elected with serious support from environmental organizations, Texas’ own Pete Gallego appears to have gone rogue after initial objections to fast-track and the Pacific trade deal. (Added 01/28/14: See Gallego’s comments at bottom of this post.)

Of the fast track and trade deals, Friends of the Earth writes:

TPP and TTIP would allow foreign investors to seek awards of money damages from business-friendly tribunals in compensation for the cost of complying with environmental and consumer regulations — even the “cost” of lost opportunities for future profits.

Mining, oil drilling and infrastructure construction, like ports and pipelines, are all frequent topics of litigation under existing international investment agreements. For example, La Oroya, Peru, is one of ten most polluted places on earth. Renco, a U.S. company, has repeatedly failed to meet its contractual and legal deadlines to clean up the pollution caused by its metallic smelter at La Oroya. Renco has sued Peru before an international investment tribunal, seeking $800 million in damages for the cost of complying with Peru’s environmental and mining laws.

Climate measures are also put at risk by the TPP and TTIP investment chapters. A wide array of energy policies could be challenged, conceivably including TPP attacks on any decision to stop construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. In the same way, local efforts to block fossil fuel export terminals in the U.S. might well be challenged before tribunals at the World Bank or the Permanent Court of Arbitration, applying investor rights under TPP or TTIP.

Other provisions in the agreements would undercut essential environmental and climate initiatives. Regulatory coherence and other chapters of the TPP and TTIP encourage inappropriate use of cost-benefit analysis, inhibiting government regulators from applying the “precautionary principle” when assessing the safety of toxic chemicalsfood imports and genetically engineered products, among others.

Overbroad concepts of “discrimination” could lead to TTIP challenges to the European Fuel Quality Directive for its unequal treatment of tar sands oil from North America based on its threat to the climate. Regulatory constraints on high carbon exports of oil and liquefied natural gas could run afoul of prohibitions on export controls in international trade law.

The privatization of nature would also be encouraged. As just one  example, a leaked version of the TPP chapter on intellectual property provides international legal protections for patents on plants and animals, giving corporations monopolies over the use of parts of the genetic code that are our common natural and human heritage. Corporate control of water resources is another threat.

(Read the full post.)

If you’re in South Texas, consider this message from (written by Alyssa Burgin of the Texas Drought Project and forwarded to me by) a friend at the San Antonio Sierra Club that I received earlier this month. Hopefully there is some great misunderstanding in play, as Gallego was consistently a strong supporter of important environmental legislation as a state rep before he was elected to Congress last year.

In the last few days, a disturbing pattern has emerged in the fight on Fast-track authority for the Trans Pacific Partnership. Congressman Gallego, who has been so swayed by pro-TPP arguments that he switched sides, has been denying that his office has received any outcry, any message at all against the agreement. We know that it is not true. We also recall another Congressman who made the same argument, even though thousands of phone calls came into his office from friends and colleagues of ours to ask that he vote for the Waxman Markey climate bill. He lost the next election.

We ask that you contact the Congressman through BOTH his chief of staff Rene Munoz AND Irma Gutierrez (very important!) at the following numbers, or send emails: (202) 225-4511rene.munoz@mail.house.gov  AND Irma Gutierrez, 210-927-4592email at irma.gutierrez@mail.house.gov   It is VITAL that to get this message to the Congressman, you contact both staffers!

I contacted the source on this info* today and they said that labor interests have since met with Gallego and that he is indeed seriously “on the fence” on the issue and could use some hard pushes. You can see Gallego signed onto this June letter against fast-track, but is suddenly absent in November when three-fourths of the Democratic Caucus restated their objection

Give him a ring. Let me know what you hear back. (The two other Texas Dems not signed on in opposition to fast-track, according to Daily Kos, are San Antonio’s Henry Cuellar and DFW’s Marc Veasey.)

Though considered a long shot, Obama hasn’t given up on fast-track and has been involved in a major shaking down of Dems as he prepares for his State of the Union and a final round of trade negotiations in the Pacific next month.

* That is, the information as I received it. (See comments.)

Email comments received by Congressman Gallego on January 28:

Thanks for the coverage & the compliments in your blog.

Growing up as a small town boy, I learned there isn’t much you can do about the rumor mill, though it is sometimes best to make a few basic counterpoints.

Here are a few things I would say:

(1) I wrote to Levin reinforcing your very concerns some time ago.
(2) The debate is evolving and we are pushing for more of a role in the process.
(3) There is no imminent vote approaching, and that’s a good thing.
(4) I have in fact met with many grassroots leaders in the labor and environment community (including the Sierra Club)  to make sure their voices are heard.
(5) I want to be a part of fixing this fast track bill, and to make sure folks in District 23 are not being shut out of the process.

With his commitment to “fixing” the bill, I asked what changes would be required to secure his support.

He replied:

You put your finger on the exact thing I’m trying to learn through my meetings with the various groups. I need to know from the stakeholders what I should be advocating for/against as alternatives are developed.  That’s what legislating is all about.

My challenge is that the conversations in and around DC quickly turn into conversations about the politics of an issue.  I’ve never been much about the politics.  I’ve been about policy.  That’s what served me well in the Legislature – and that’s what I try to do in Congress.

Read a recent analysis of the Camp-Baucus Fast Track Bill by Public Citizen (pdf).

Top image courtesy of Occupy.com.

4 responses to “Is Gallego Helping Fast-Track ‘International Polluter’s Bill of Rights’?

  1. Hmmm, pretty sure I wrote that letter up there. Also pretty sure I don’t represent the Sierra Club. Wanted to make certain that didn’t give the wrong impression.

  2. Nice piece Greg. I dont know how much you can elaborate on your labor sources or on which unions are mtg w/ Gallego, but I’d love to hear more. We had folks from Texas Sierra meet with the Congressman and may be able to give you a comment.

    • If I were hunting interviews for an assignment I’d probably be starting with the three named Democrats, but please feel free to add anything you think needs amplification here on the comments thread. If I find the time to develop anything beyond this quick Sunday afternoon blog post lifting from the work of so many good orgs, I’ll be in touch.

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