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The Planet

The Planet
October 1998 Volume 5, Number 8


Canada Bows to NAFTA; Trade Vote Looms

Ethyl even argued that the parliamentary debate, a normal exercise of democracy, had damaged its 'good reputation.'

The unthinkable occurred in July. Canada buckled to corporate pressure and put its citizens at risk by rolling back an important public-health law under pressure of a lawsuit filed by a corporation under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

Said Dan Seligman, Sierra Club Senior Trade Fellow, "Four years ago, the decision by Canada's parliament to ban MMT - a gasoline additive that reduces engine knocking - would have been considered a normal exercise of constitutional government authority. After all, MMT is a suspected neurotoxin that can cause psychosis, memory loss, even death."

But that was before NAFTA's "investor protections" gave corporations the right to sue for compensation if an environmental law threatens their profits.

Virginia's Ethyl Corporation, the maker of MMT, sued for $250 million under these provisions, charging that Canada's action expropriated its "property." Ethyl even argued that the parliamentary debate, a normal exercise of democracy, had damaged its 'good reputation,' said Seligman.

Expecting certain defeat before NAFTA's special investors' court, Canada caved in, and agreed to pay $13 million in damages. In so doing, Canada agreed to become the only nation where MMT is sold. And it agreed to claim to its citizens that "MMT poses no heath risks."

It's just a matter of time before a foreign company doing business in the United States uses NAFTA provisions to attack one of our own environmental laws. Just think what might have happened to Yellowstone National Park's rivers and wildlife if Noranda, the Canadian mining giant, could have invoked NAFTA to curtail efforts to stop its New World gold mine on the park's borders.

Rather than pause to consider the sobering lesson of the MMT case, however, House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) and Senate Republican Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) have a September surprise. They plan a vote on fast-track trade legislation. (Either H.R. 2621 or a similar Senate bill that lacked a bill number at this writing.) This is the very same legislation that the Sierra Club helped to derail last fall. It would allow approval without amendment of major new trade agreements, such as the Multilateral Agreement on Investment, which would expand NAFTA's investor rules around the world. And it would bar negotiators from making environmental improvements to trade agreements.

Fortunately, this time the Clinton Administration is working with Democrats in Congress to block fast track. The administration suspects Gingrich of using the fast-track vote against vulnerable Democrats in export-dependent farm states.

To Take Action: Call your representative and senators and ask them to oppose Fast Track.

Yosemite Lodge Plan Flawed

The 1980 General Management Plan for Yosemite National Park calls for reducing the development in the valley and increasing protection of the valley's ecology. "The floods of 1997 helped that plan along by damaging lodging units and employee housing on the Merced River floodplain," said Sam Cogswell, chair of the Sierra Club Yosemite Committee.

But the National Park Service's proposed Lodge Plan would rebuild and relocate the lodging and housing units, destroying a currently undisturbed woodland area. It would also relocate the valley's Northside Drive even closer to the river, paving over riparian zones and degrading the river and its surrounding habitat.

Citing flawed, piecemeal planning, the Club has filed a complaint in U.S. District Court against the Park Service. It's arguing that in approving the Lodge Plan, the Park Service violated the National Environmental Policy Act by failing to prepare an environmental impact statement for the proposal. In addition, Yosemite activists charge that the plan violates the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, would place three-story employee dormitories next to the valley's lone walk-in campground and would further urbanize the lodge area. Said Cogswell, "The environmental review of the proposed Lodge Plan is terribly inadequate."

To Take Action: The National Park Service needs to see public opposition to this plan and to its violations of NEPA. Write, call or fax:
Robert Stanton
Director, National Park Service
Department of the Interior
Washington DC 20013-7127
(202) 208-4621
Fax (202) 208-7889.
Tell him to produce a new plan that restores the river and protects the woodland "unimpaired for future generations."
In addition, send a copy of your letter to
Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt, Department of the Interior
1849 C St. N.W. Rm 6116
Washington, DC 20240; fax (202) 219-1220.
For more information: Contact Joyce Eden at (408) 973-1085, or visit the Web site at
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