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A Toxic Trade Bill Just Dropped In Congress

Thu, 04/16/2015 - 12:51

BREAKING: Today, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), Ranking Member Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and House Ways and Means Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) introduced “TPA-2015,” which is legislation that would grant “fast track” authority for trade deals including the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). And unfortunately, it’s just as bad as we expected. If approved, fast track legislation would allow the President to send the TPP and similar trade deals through Congress for limited debate, no amendments, and a simple “yes-or-no” vote. This means that there would be no opportunities for meaningful input from the elected officials we voted into office to represent our voice.


Take a look at Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune’s blog post, “A Fast Track to Disaster” to see what’s at stake with this legislation:


The United States is at the tail end of negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) -- a massive trade deal with Mexico, Canada, Japan, Vietnam, and seven other countries. The negotiations have been conducted in secret. Now Congress will soon decide whether to grant the Obama administration "fast track" authority to have the "final" pact approved as is -- meaning strict limits on congressional debate and no amendments. That's a terrible idea for lots of reasons -- not least of which is that the TPP could sabotage the ability of the U.S. (and other nations) to respond to the climate crisis.

Senator Elizabeth Warren put her finger on the problem in an op-ed for the Washington Post:"Who will benefit from the TPP? American workers? Consumers? Small businesses? Taxpayers? Or the biggest multinational corporations in the world?" Here's a hint: The answer is definitely not "all of the above." Multinational corporations -- including some of the planet's biggest polluters -- could use the TPP to sue governments, in private trade tribunals, over laws and policies that they claimed would reduce their profits. The implications of this are profound: Corporate profits are more important than protections for clean air, clean water, climate stability, workers' rights, and more.

This isn't a hypothetical threat. Similar rules in other free trade deals have allowed corporations including ExxonMobil, Chevron, and Occidental Petroleum to bring approximately 600 cases against nearly 100 governments. Increasingly, corporations are using these perverse rules to challenge energy and climate policies, including a moratorium on fracking in Quebec; a nuclear energy phase out and coal-fired power plant standards in Germany; and a pollution cleanup in Peru. TransCanada has even intimated that it would use similar rules in the North American Free Trade Agreement to challenge a U.S. decision to reject the Keystone XL pipeline.

Remember how scientists and experts have warned that at least three-quarters of known fossil fuel reserves must stay in the ground in order to stabilize our climate?A new studypublished in the journal Nature even spells out in detail which reserves must stay untapped, including almost all of Canada's tar sands, all of the oil and gas in the Arctic, nearly half of global natural gas reserves, and 82 percent of global coal reserves. But do trade pacts like the TPP take that into account?

Not a chance. In fact, as a result of the TPP, the United States Department of Energy would actually be required to approve more fossil fuel exports. The deal would greenlight fracked gas exports to countries in the pact -- including Japan, which is the world's biggest importer of natural gas. A consequence would be more fracking; more pipelines, more export terminals, and more climate pollution.

It has never been more urgent for countries to tackle the climate crisis. Now is the time to ensure that the rules of the global economy support climate action. Now is not the time to be rubber-stamping trade deals that could undermine our prospects for a better future and safer climate. Congress has a responsibility to do its job and ensure that trade pacts protect workers, communities, and our climate.

A fast track bill could be introduced any day -- so it's time to speak out now. Please, join me andwrite to your representative and senators and ask them to oppose fast track legislationfor trade deals like the Trans-Pacific Partnership.  We can win this fight for a fair economy and a safe climate, but we need all of your help.

Michael said it in March, and it’s even more relevant today: the time to speak is now. You can take action today to defeat fast track and help build a new model of trade that’s fair, responsible, and sustainable.

Ilana Solomon From Compass

Tilting at Windmills: The Coal Industry’s Vain Attempt to Stop Carbon Pollution Safeguards

Wed, 04/15/2015 - 12:16


If you are looking for the latest sign that the coal industry is desperate, look no further than the three lawsuits coal companies and their defenders are bringing before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit on Thursday. Big Coal -- led by the infamous Bob Murray and Murray Energy -- and a handful of allied Attorneys General are trying a long shot legal strategy to stop the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from implementing the Clean Power Plan, the agency’s first-ever program to cut climate-disrupting carbon pollution from fossil fuel-fired power plants. The Sierra Club will be fighting back in court on Thursday, and here is why.


These power plants account for about a third of the climate pollution emitted in our country - including 30 percent of greenhouse gas emissions and 37 percent of carbon emissions. The Obama administration has recognized that a dramatic cut in emissions from these sources is essential if we have any hope of tackling the climate crisis. In response, the EPA has proposed two programs that serve as the marquee pieces of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan: first, carbon pollution standards for new and modified fossil fuel-fired power plants; and second, the Clean Power Plan, which establishes carbon pollution standards for the existing fleet of plants. These proposed standards represent the agency’s first effort to limit climate-disrupting pollution from these sources. And, thanks to the Clean Air Act -- passed by Congress in 1963 and strengthened in 1970, 1977, and 1990 -- the agency is well within its legal authority to do just that.


Setting aside for a moment the many compelling reasons for reducing this dangerous pollution, the U.S. Supreme Court has already ruled in three separate cases that the EPA can legally regulate climate-disrupting greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act. In particular, the Court has expressly affirmed EPA’s authority under the law to curb carbon pollution from existing power plants. But, the coal industry and its defenders have never let the facts or the law stand in the way of their bogus claims.


Big coal and Bob Murray have rolled out a series of illusory legal theories in the hopes that federal courts will stop EPA in its tracks. In Thursday’s hearing, Murray Energy and a group of Attorneys General led by West Virginia are jumping the gun and challenging EPA’s proposed carbon pollution safeguards. These lawsuits are not only meritless but premature.


It is a fundamental principle of law that an agency’s action must be final before it can be challenged in federal court. As such, federal courts -- including the D.C. Circuit -- have made clear time and again that they simply have has no jurisdiction over challenges to proposed rules. The coal industry is fully aware of this finality rule but has decided to waste the court’s time and taxpayer resources by bringing this suit anyway. Big coal and its allies are trying to derail a train while it’s still in the station, ignoring the barriers that courts have set up to prevent this sort of action.


The finality rule is not only a binding, long-time precedent, but it also safeguards the public’s right to participate in the rulemaking process. It enables federal agencies to make decisions based on an open process and to fully consider all public comments on its proposed actions. Nowhere is this more clear than with the Clean Power Plan: EPA is currently considering upwards of 8 million public comments in support of cutting carbon pollution as well as detailed technical comments from stakeholders. The finality rule is also essential to provide the judges reviewing those decisions with a fully developed record and the benefit of the agency’s expert analysis.


You would have thought the coal industry would have learned its lesson by now, but these lawsuits follow two earlier premature challenges to EPA’s proposed standards for new power plants which the courts promptly dismissed based on the finality rule.


It’s not just that the timing is wrong for these challenges; the industry’s legal arguments are wholly meritless, too. Murray Energy and its allies insist that because EPA has already curbed one set of dangerous air pollutants (namely, airborne toxics such as mercury) from power plants, it must now give those plants a free pass to emit an unlimited amount of an entirely different set of dangerous pollutants (greenhouse gases such as carbon). In other words, the coal industry would have the public pick its poison, rather than letting EPA do its job as laid out by Congress and the Supreme Court to protect our families and our communities.


Even more nonsensically, Murray Energy’s distorted interpretation of the law wouldn’t even prevent EPA from curbing carbon pollution in the long run, which is the coal industry’s stated goal. Instead, it would allow the agency to set standards for both carbon pollution and airborne toxics, but only if it issued carbon standards first. In this case, the coal industry is essentially claiming that since carbon standards came second, they aren’t valid, an absurd outcome that Congress never intended. It’s an argument that, if successful, would needlessly delay protections for our communities that are threatened by the coal industry’s dirty and dangerous practices. Incredibly, the industry bases its claims on the 1990 Clear Air Act Amendments, which comprehensively strengthened the law’s protections and were hailed by supporters as the most important piece of environmental legislation in decades.


The fossil fuel industry and its defenders will do whatever it takes to attack these widely-popular, critically-needed steps to curb carbon pollution, tackle the climate crisis, and protect the health of our families and our communities. They’ll bring on hired guns like Laurence Tribe to launch false legal attacks. They’ll use the Koch network and a PR flack known as “Dr. Evil” to launch a smear campaign against EPA and climate action. They’ll even follow the lead of Bob Murray and Murray Energy -- the fossil fuel industry’s poster children for neglecting the safety of its workers, the health of American communities, and the sanctity of our clean air and water in an endless race for profits.


It shouldn’t work. Congress passed the Clean Air Act and its subsequent amendments with huge bipartisan majorities in both houses, the Supreme Court affirmed that the law permits—indeed, requires—EPA to curb carbon pollution from power plants, and the President is now implementing rules to carry out that mandate. It’s a textbook example of how government should operate: all three branches coming together on a critical matter of law and policy. The success of this process is exactly the reason the coal industry is now fighting so hard to stop it. But, as we have shown, their attacks have neither merit under the law nor a proper forum in court. The legal basis for rejecting their lawsuits is strong, and we are confident the D.C. Circuit will do so.


That’s important because the momentum for climate action is rolling ahead quickly. The transition from coal to a clean energy economy is moving forward at a pace few expected even a few years ago as grassroots action across the country is helping lead the way. The U.S. is steering the course on global climate action, securing a historic deal with China to reduce emissions while nations like the U.K. have followed suit and pledged to effectively go coal-free. The Clean Power Plan is a key element that makes these commitments possible, creating the opportunity to reduce emissions and grow the clean energy economy that we need to secure a significant deal in Paris at the COP 21 climate negotiations later this year.


Still, no matter what happens with these desperate challenges, the Clean Power Plan is just the start of our ambition for clean energy and climate action. The clean energy market and citizens around the world aren’t waiting around for the coal industry and their desperate arguments to get out of the way. Instead, we’re going around them -- locally, nationally, and globally -- in the months and years to come.

Joanne Spalding From Compass