Chile's economy may be ready for free trade, but its environment is not
One of the few things President Clinton and the Republican leadership in Congress
agree on is their desire to bring Chile into the North American Free Trade
Agreement (NAFTA). They've got allies in Chile, where business interests are
eager to hitch South America's strongest economy to the free-trade bandwagon. But
in September Congress killed "fast track" legislation, which would have given the
president the power to negotiate trade pacts with minor congressional input. At
issue was the bill's silence on environmental and labor concerns.
Environmentalists above and below the equator celebrated.
During the early 1990s, after military dictator General Augusto Pinochet
reluctantly ceded power to an elected government, Chile's entry into NAFTA seemed
a done deal. Chilean government and business leaders viewed the agreement as a
kind of world seal of approval of the country's new political structure and
free-enterprise economy. But U.S. environmental groups-led by the Sierra
Club-have consistently blocked fast track, effectively stalling NAFTA. In the
meantime, Chile has signed a trade agreement with Mexico and is negotiating with
other Latin American countries and the European Union. In 1997 it signed an
accord with Canada that is virtually a carbon copy of NAFTA, right down to the
toothless promise that each country will enforce its own environmental laws.
That's why Chilean environmentalists dread NAFTA. Because Chile's environmental
laws are often only statements of good intentions, international corporations
could run roughshod over their country. In 1994, for example, Chile's Congress
passed its "Environmental Framework Law." But until a Chilean Supreme Court
decision in March 1997, compliance with its key provisions-including a
requirement to conduct environmental impact studies-was voluntary. A national
parks system theoretically protects almost 20 percent of Chile, but regulations
have yet to be implemented.
"There's an almost pathetic lack of enforcement," says Miguel Stutzin, who heads
the Committee for the Defense of Flora and Fauna. "We have over a thousand laws
and regulations covering the environment. But there's no political will to make
Chile's forests would be the first to feel NAFTA's effects. Only one-third of
this string-bean-shaped country is suitable for forestry, and Chilean firms have
already planted the most accessible land with pine and eucalyptus. What remains
are remoter areas blanketed with rare natives like the graceful alerce, the
Southern Hemisphere's version of the California redwood.
Officially, clearcutting of these native forests is illegal. But last July,
Santiago's daily El Mercurio published a front-page photograph showing land once
covered by coigüe, lenga, and other species unique to Chile that had been cut and
burned. "The law always leaves a loophole," says Stutzin.
Even government environmental authorities admit
the system exists not to reject projects but to "improve" them. It's no wonder
U.S. companies such as Boise Cascade and Trillium Corporation are planning major
logging projects here.
Chile's attitude toward pesticides is similarly lax, and their use could greatly
increase under NAFTA. Pesticide imports more than doubled when Chile's fruit- and
wine-export industry boomed in the 1980s. In 1995, labor ministry studies
revealed that most workers-some of them children, and many illiterate-don't
follow standard safety procedures when handling pesticides. Aerial spraying is
largely uncontrolled. Three of the "dirty dozen" pesticides banned throughout the
world-paraquat, pentachlorophenol, and parathion -are used routinely in Chile.
Entry into NAFTA is expected to make pesticides cheaper, worsening a bad
Three out of four Chileans believe that their laws don't adequately protect the
environment. When asked to rate protecting the environment against the need for
economic growth, 59 percent choose the former, while growth at all costs is
preferred by only 17 percent.
Over the past five years, Stutzin has watched NAFTA live up to warnings of
increased pollution, ineffectual enforcement, and attacks on existing
environmental law, and he worries that NAFTA's "seal of approval" comes at too
high a price. "We just don't have the measures in place to protect our
environment," he says. "We're not ready for NAFTA."
Doe Run Takes a Hike:
Ozark river lovers burst a polluter's lead balloon
On a warm summer evening in 1997, thugs set upon a Sierra Club activist in a
parking area along the Eleven Point River in southeastern Missouri. They beat
her, bound her with duct tape, and, as a calling card, stuffed a copy of the
Ozark Chapter's anti-mining brochure in her mouth. Then they left her in her van,
where she was rescued the next morning.
But the attack backfired. It served only to focus new attention on a potentially
disastrous proposal to prospect for lead in the watershed of the Ozark National
Scenic Riverways, a national park unit that draws 1.5 million visitors a year.
Now, under pressure from top federal lawyers, the Doe Run Mining Company has
called off its two-and-a-half-year campaign to drill in the ecologically fragile
"The Forest Service saw this as a routine administrative matter. We turned it
around," says Ken Midkiff, staff director of the Ozark Chapter. "This should send
a strong signal to extractive industries: some places are just too important to
let profit trump protection."
Indeed, the victory marks a stunning reversal for Doe Run, among the world's
largest lead producers and one of Missouri's most notorious polluters. Until
recently, the company seemed a lead-pipe cinch to win the needed permits to
prospect-and subsequently launch a full-scale mining operation-in a 7,900-acre
section of Mark Twain National Forest. Opponents warned that even exploratory
drilling would endanger the nation's first scenic riverway, a designation that
predates the 1968 Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. The classic karst topography of the
park unit, just two miles to the south, is characterized by sinkholes, caverns,
and underground drainage, adding to the likelihood that toxic lead tailings would
find their way into the region's rivers and springs.
"We drew a red line around this area years ago that said you're not gonna touch
this," says Midkiff. In response to Forest Service inertia, the Missouri Sierra
Club released a 40-page list of environmental violations by Doe Run over the past
decade, drawing press coverage throughout the Midwest. Activists generated
thousands of letters to the agency, including one from the state attorney
general. Finally Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman and Interior Secretary Bruce
Babbitt got involved, prompting complaints from House Resources chair Don Young
(R-Alaska) on Doe Run's behalf.
But the activists' "red line" held. In meetings with Doe Run, Interior officials
reserved the right to reject full-scale mining-even if commercial quantities of
lead were discovered-for the sake of the entire watershed.
And this may be a trend, says Babbitt, noting the administration's decision to
buy out a proposed gold mine near Yellowstone National Park. "Mining should not
be allowed to threaten very special places like Yellowstone and the Ozark
National Scenic Riverways."B.J. Bergman
Life After Death
The material is gingerly placed in a hermetically sealed container, encased in a
concrete-and-steel structure that weighs more than a ton, and then buried
Are they burying toxic waste? No, dear reader, they are burying you.
The excess packaging required by most U.S. cemeteries guarantees that your journey from "dust to dust" will
take many hundreds of years. Instead of a quick transformation into sweet earth,
you face centuries of slow putrefaction.
Cremation isn't much better. Burning a body produces carcinogenic dioxins, trace
metals, hydrochloric and hydrofluoric acids, sulfur dioxide, and
global-warming-inducing carbon dioxide. Only your bone chips return to earth,
assuming they're scattered. The rest of you becomes air pollution.
Your final resting place need not be unnatural. In Great Britain's "green burial"
movement, people are buried in simple shrouds or biodegradable coffins made of
flax, cork, cardboard, or recycled newspapers. Graves are marked with trees
rather than headstones, and the cemeteries double as wildlife habitat.
How can you expire without becoming toxic waste? In the United States, a company
called Memorial Ecosystems already has a nature-
reserve cemetery in South Carolina, and is planning many more. (For information,
call (864) 647-7798; www.memorialecosystems.com.) It is
legal in most states to be buried in the way you see fit on your own rural land. For the cost of a cemetery plot, you can buy an
acre or two that you can preserve-and nourish-as natural habitat forever.
Sierra Club members in Utah are puzzling over a
pamphlet called "How Parents Can Help Children Live Marijuana Free" by Gerald Smith, director of the criminology
program at the University of Utah. The pamphlet includes a "Letter to Parents" by
Utah's zealously anti-environmental Senator Orrin Hatch (R), and has a picture of
Hatch on the front. Page 20 lists the "Social Signs of Regular Users," which
include "excessive preoccupation with social causes, race relations,
environmental issues, etc."
It seems they forgot another classic symptom: paranoia.