Environmental Group Assails 'Polluter-Friendly' Obama Trade Deal

"The TPP poses a panoply of threats to our climate and environment."
A Sierra Club report on the Trans-Pacific Partnership criticizes the failure of the deal negotiated by the Obama administration to protect the environment.
A Sierra Club report on the Trans-Pacific Partnership criticizes the failure of the deal negotiated by the Obama administration to protect the environment.
Mustafa Yalcin/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

WASHINGTON -- The Sierra Club on Wednesday released a report on the final text of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, concluding that the landmark trade deal would be a significant setback in efforts to combat climate change and protect the environment.

"In its more than 6,000 pages of binding rules, the deal fails to even mention the words 'climate change,'" the report reads.

The Obama administration has led TPP talks for years with a group of nations that eventually expanded to 11 trading partners. The final text was released to the public this fall, after being treated as classified information.

Supporters of the pact say it will expand U.S. exports and check China's growing global economic influence, pointing to enforceable labor and environmental standards included in the deal.

But the U.S., including the Obama administration, has never effectively enforced labor or environmental standards in trade pacts, and the Sierra Club report concludes that the broader effects of the deal will overwhelm the narrow environmental language intended to deter illegal wildlife and timber trading.

Much of TPP's negative impact on climate change will come from outside the chapter dedicated to the environment. The Sierra Club said the deal will encourage fracking by expanding natural gas exports, eliminate tariffs on coal, shift industrial manufacturing activity to countries with poor pollution controls and empower corporations to challenge environmental regulations before an international tribunal.

"The TPP poses a panoply of threats to our climate and environment," the report reads, calling TPP a "polluter-friendly model" for international trade.

The report comes as Obama has been pressing for bold, coordinated international action to combat climate change at a major conference of world leaders in Paris, serving as a reminder that many environmental groups believe Obama's trade platform may undercut his other efforts.

The Sierra Club has been one of the most persistent critics of the trade pact through years of negotiations, along with Doctors Without Borders, Public Citizen and American labor unions. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has been among the TPP's supporters, although some corporate interests, including the pharmaceutical industry and Big Tobacco, have been disappointed in the final text.

Congressional Democrats, led by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), have generally opposed TPP, as have many tea party Republicans. Obama and GOP leaders have strongly backed the deal.

During negotiations over the text, the Obama administration frequently vowed to include unprecedented labor and environmental protections in the final deal. But the administration raised hackles among human rights watchdogs when it upgraded Malaysia's human trafficking rating in order to include the country in the deal -- despite the discovery of a mass grave for human trafficking victims in Malaysia earlier this year. While most environmental groups had opposed the pact, a few, including Defenders of Wildlife, have supported the deal on the grounds that it would curb illegal trafficking in endangered species. Defenders of Wildlife switched its position after the text was released.

"It is disappointingly clear that this is not the tougher language we had hoped for," said Defenders of Wildlife President and CEO Jamie Rappaport Clark. "The environment chapter is weak."

TPP's fate lies not with environmental groups, but rather with congressional Republicans, who control both the House and the Senate. Over the summer, Congress granted TPP fast-track status, barring lawmakers from amending or filibustering the final agreement.

Read the full Sierra Club report here.

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