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“Clean-energy” deal does not “green NAFTA”

Site C Dam

A CBC headline this morning trumpets, “Clean-energy deal being signed today 1st step to green NAFTA”.

While there are no real specifics yet, the article tells us, “Canada, the United States and Mexico will sign a trilateral agreement Friday [Feb. 12] that could mark the start of discussions on the first North American accord on climate change and clean energy. …Sources tell CBC News the emphasis will be on a ‘low-carbon future’ for North America. This essentially kickstarts the detailed, behind the scenes work needed for a continent-wide agreement that will enable all three countries to work together on clean energy and options to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

It adds, “The U.S. Clean Power Plan allows coal-burning states to import clean Canadian energy that has come online since 2012 to reduce their emissions. Despite a recent court-imposed delay, most environmentalists believe that plan will eventually proceed with a big demand for Canadian hydro, solar and wind power.”

The Site C hydro-electric dam now under construction on Treaty 8 territory in northeastern British Columbia has been promoted as a project to export clean hydro to California. But as Greenpeace, the David Suzuki Foundation and other groups noted in an open letter yesterday, “Energy projects that violate human rights are not clean or green.”

Just three of the highly problematic aspects of NAFTA in relation to the environment include:

– Its Chapter 11 investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) provision. This clause allows transnational corporations with operations in one country to sue the government of one of the other NAFTA countries for lost future profits resulting from public interest legislation. In Jan. 2016, Calgary-based TransCanada Corp. launched a US$15 billion Chapter 11 challenge against the United States over US President Barack Obama’s rejection of its proposed 830,000 barrel per day Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. In Oct. 2013, Delaware-registered Lone Pine Resources filed a $250 million Chapter 11 challenge against Canada over Quebec’s moratorium on fracking for oil and gas underneath the St. Lawrence River.

– Its proportionality clause. This provision states that Canada is obligated to make a certain proportion of its total supply of oil and gas available for sale to the United States. It has been argued that this “affects the ability of Canada to reduce greenhouse gas emissions because a certain level of production must be maintained to meet our needs and the proportion that must be made available to the United States.” Gordon Laxer has commented, “Proportionality, the de facto, mandatory-exporting clause, [is in both the Canada-US FTA and NAFTA]. It applies only to Canada, since Mexico refused it.” Proportionality also applies to hydro-electric and other energy exports.

– Its Commission on Environmental Co-operation. This was established in 1994 so that NAFTA proponents could say that trade liberalization would be accompanied by environmental protection. It was meant to mitigate public concern about the trade deal by creating a mechanism that could look into public complaints about violations of national laws intended to protect the land, water and air. But if anything, its track record has proven the exact opposite. Between the 1994 and 2012, 80 complaints have been filed with the commission. Eighty-five per cent of those submissions have been dismissed or terminated.

Numerous environmental groups also oppose the Trans-Pacific Partnership – which includes Canada, the US and Mexico – because it contains a similar investor-state dispute settlement provision as NAFTA. Think Progress has reported The TPP Could Have Disastrous Results For The Climate, Environmental Groups Warn. Those groups include Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, and the Natural Resources Defense Council. A former Canadian diplomat speaking in favour of the TPP recently stated that the twelve country agreement “effectively allows us to update NAFTA”.

The Council of Canadians has also signed the Leap Manifesto which states, “We call for an end to all trade deals that interfere with our attempts to rebuild local economies, regulate corporations and stop damaging extractive projects.”

Further reading
CETA & TTIP could lock-in fossil fuel exports to Europe (Nov. 26, 2015)
WTO rules against the buy-local provision in Ontario’s Green Energy Act (Nov. 2, 2015)
Harper to block NAFTA commission from studying tar sands tailings ponds (Jan. 12, 2015)
Big Oil undermines EU climate legislation, secures deregulation in CETA (Oct. 7, 2014)