While many concerns have been raised on the left that the Trans-Pacific Partnership gives too much power to corporations that would like to see environmental protections removed as a barrier to their pursuit of profits, Congressional Republicans are apparently concerned that President Obama will use TPP and other trade deals to take action on climate change.
Yesterday, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Rep. Paul Ryan inserted language into a customs and trade law enforcement bill currently being considered alongside fast track legislation. According to the exact wording of Ryan’s amendment, it is meant to “ensure that trade agreements do not require changes to U.S. law or obligate the United States with respect to global warming or climate change.’’
If passed with this climate change amendment, the customs bill would essentially tie the hands of the US Trade Representative in negotiating TPP, even if the Obama Administration is granted fast-track authority, or trade promotion authority. The House is expected to vote this Friday on both the customs bill and fast track legislation.
If trade promotion authority passes, Congress would only be allowed an up-or-down vote on the final agreement negotiated by the Obama Administration, with no opportunity to debate or amend its provisions. House Republicans have said they will reject any agreement that does not meet the objectives laid out in the customs bill.
According to The National Review, Doug Andres, a spokesman for the House Ways and Means Committee, Ryan’s climate change amendment is “intended as an olive branch for House Republicans fearful that the president might use his trade negotiating power to take action on climate change.”
It’s not hard to find Republican members of Congress who are, indeed, fearful of this very opportunity.
“If given this ‘fast-track’ authority what could President Obama include in a trade agreement? He could mandate a reduction in the use of natural gas and coal at home and abroad, implement his controversial climate change agenda, and impose radical environmentalist regulations,” Republican Rep. David McKinley wrote in an op-ed last February. McKinley represents West Virginia, a heavily coal-reliant state.
Bill Snape, a senior counsel at the Center for Biological Diversity with more than two decades of international trade law experience, speculates that House Republican leadership is getting nervous about having enough votes to pass fast track, as there are likely to be more far-right legislators like McKinely who are just as worried about granting the administration fast track authority as those on the left are, though for vastly different reasons.
“Ryan is sending a signal trying to speak to the far right, saying, ‘No, I’m going to keep a check in the underlying law to make sure the president isn’t advancing an environmental agenda too much,” Snape says.
That signal will be received by Democrats, as well, some of whom are already on the fence about fast track. There’s a chance the Ryan amendment could be the undoing of Obama’s push for fast track authority altogether, as it is sure to further polarize an already heated debate.
“This Ryan maneuver may ironically out the whole thing for what it is all along, taking democratic control away from the people,” Snape says.
Snape says he’s troubled by Ryan’s amendment. “It’s sweeping,” he told DeSmog. “Customs is the check on all imports and exports, if there’s some sort of climate-restrictive language, that’s problematic and would create bureaucratic chaos.”
Even without Ryan’s amendment to the customs bill, however, Snape is no supporter of TPP, saying, “The biggest problem this trade agreement has is it continues the idea that corporations can sue local, state, and national governments to stop environmental laws like fracking bans. That should concern the right and the left.”
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