My wife and I spent time today with the Democrats, at the annual Jefferson County Democratic Fish Fry, a 30th anniversary of a highly successful gathering to support the Democratic Party. Given that there are no stated Republicans running for office in Jefferson County this year, I guess you can call it a victory party.
With the usual stump speeches by all the candidates, there was one that stood out in contrast to the others. Derek Kilmer, the District’s well loved US House of Representatives incumbent, gave a funny, thoughtful speech to the supportive crowd. However, one issue he touched on hit a nerve with me. He brought up the Trans Pacific Partnership and his belief in the benefits it will bestow on businesses here in Washington and the US. He sited NAFTA and how this is a logical extension of it. And that it will help bolster environmental standards (as well as labor) that we hold dear. Among the crowd, were many with anti-TPP buttons on. This is not a simple Democratic vote.
As for me, I thought Derek’s timing someone problematic. While he claims that this TPP will somehow ensure that our environmental standards are taken over “there”, we are staring at a horrible environmental catastrophe playing out a days drive from here, in British Columbia. The Mount Polley Tailings Pond collapse, into pristine Quenelle Lake, which flows into the Fraser and the Salish Sea, along with the subsequent absurd government comments that it’s not a problem and lack of even rudimentary cleanup in the last three weeks, points to the problem. We were told that NAFTA would bring out environmental stances to Mexico and further south. We didn’t need to mention Canada because most people believed that Canada is at least as good as we are. But the reality is that, since NAFTA, Canada has become an political monoculture of one party rule, allowing the dismantling of all environmental regulations, and those not dismantled are ignored. Just this year, thousands of lakes were removed from environmental protection, the main science library for the country was defunded. The books with over a century of research were literally thrown in the trash, and what little passes for environmental law was reversed by small type insertions into existing laws. Their Federal Government has passed laws allowing oil and gas exploration (and subsequent drilling) in Banff and other National Parks. Can you imagine if we decided to allow such drilling in Big Sur, Yosemite, or elsewhere? Yet the average Canadian seems to be more interested in hockey than their parks, with some exceptions. It makes the attempts to gut US Environmental laws by James Watt during the Reagan Administration and Cheney under Bush, look like amateur hour. Canada now has some of the weakest environmental laws in the industrialized world, outside China. The air quality in some cities in Alberta resemble Peking at it’s worse.
The only real possible legal remedy that the US has is not NAFTA, but the 1909 Boundary Waters Treaty Act, which gives the US legal authority to negotiate with Canada over disputes on cross border waters. Since the pollution of the Fraser River with toxins from Mount Polley could create health hazards for decades for the Salish Sea, into which the Fraser flows, this could be a mechanism to force cleanup of the spill.
So there is great reason not to believe the political party line when it comes to TPP. What guarantees do we really have that any of our strong environmental protections will really be enforced ‘over there’? Who is demanding that Canada actually stop or slow it’s self destructive plunge to destroy it’s citizens health, it’s parks and it’s environment, just for the quick buck of this decades’ oil needs? Certainly not NAFTA. And as to NAFTA having created better environmental regulations in Mexico, well, just go to Mexico and see for yourself. Not happening.
Sorry Derek, I’ll likely vote for you, but on this one you are just wrong, you need to dig deeper. It appears to a casual glance that you are listening to the business interests over labor and environmental voices. TPP is not going to bring us anything that NAFTA or the other trade agreements have. It will put money in the pockets of huge multi-national corporations, who seem hell bent on moving corporate headquarters overseas to avoid paying US taxes.. If you want to prove us wrong, go get Canada to do something about the Mount Polley spill, before the mercury and other toxins reach the Salish Sea and our joint fisheries.