White House Says Enviros Love This Trade Pact, But Enviros Say Otherwise

04/03/2015 04:41 pm ET | Updated Apr 07, 2015
NICHOLAS KAMM via Getty Images

WASHINGTON -- The Obama administration has angered a host of environmentalist organizations with an Internet campaign that suggests green groups broadly support the controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership, which environmentalists have in fact been fighting for years.

"So many groups and organizations who care about climate change have repeatedly bashed this corporate giveaway -- and suggesting otherwise is nothing short of misleading cynicism," said Karthik Ganapathy, a spokesman for 350.org, a group focused on mitigating climate change. "Decision-makers should know better than to try and distort our movement's position."

The White House hasn't technically lied about anything. In a March 31 White House blog post reprinted by the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, Obama advisers Brian Deese and Christy Goldfuss accurately quoted a handful of environmental groups offering praise for parts of the TPP pact. But Deese and Goldfuss didn't quote any of the objections or concerns that those groups also presented, and they ignored the general alarm that other environmental groups have been sounding on the pact for years. (They did link to full versions of the groups' statements, however.) USTR reiterated the green-friendly framing in a tweet linking to the post:

USTR did not respond to a request for comment, but several environmental groups did.

"The White House took some of their statements and spun them out," said Jake Schmidt, director of the Natural Resources Defense Council's international program. "There are a large number of environmental groups that came out pretty clearly and said ... 'What we've seen on TPP doesn't look good.'"

Officials from Oceana, the Humane Society, the World Wildlife Fund and World Animal Protection all told HuffPost they had not endorsed the TPP pact and are waiting to see the final agreement before rendering a verdict, although the White House quoted all of these groups praising elements of it.

TPP is a massive trade pact between 12 nations that has the potential to affect everything from prescription drug pricing to beef tariffs. The deal is still being negotiated, and the Obama administration is treating its terms and its negotiating texts as classified information, making it difficult for outside organizations to have an informed opinion. Corporate lobbying groups, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and Republican leaders in Congress strongly support the deal, while congressional Democrats are overwhelmingly opposed. TPP's backers say the final deal will boost economic growth, while critics argue that it could exacerbate income inequality and undermine key financial and environmental regulations.

The Obama administration's somewhat selective quotations exploit a real divide in the environmentalist community, however. Some animal welfare groups, including those cited in the White House blog, think U.S. proposals to fight trade in illegal wildlife could help curb the market for rhino horns, tiger parts and other poaching products. WWF and World Animal Protection, for instance, may ultimately endorse TPP if the administration lives up to its wildlife protection commitments in the final deal. But green groups that work in a wider policy arena -- Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, Earthjustice, Sierra Club, the Union of Concerned Scientists, Rainforest Action Network, Defenders of Wildlife and many others -- see very big problems in other chapters of the agreement that have leaked to the public.

The TPP investment chapter grants multinational companies the political power to challenge domestic laws and regulations before an international tribunal. Green groups worry that environmental standards will soon be targeted, and that polluters will use this power to pressure countries against adopting new rules. Environmentalists are also concerned that the final pact will provide trade preferences to fossil fuels or dangerous chemicals.

"Any potential benefits of the environment chapter would be overwhelmed by the destructive effects of other parts of the deal," said Ilana Solomon, director of the Sierra Club's Responsible Trade Program. Solomon warned of "broad new rights to big polluters and [increasing] our dependence on dangerous fossil fuels."

Most trade experts believe President Barack Obama will ultimately need Congress to grant him so-called "fast-track" authority in order to pass TPP. Fast-track would preclude filibusters on trade deals, and would bar members of Congress from amending the deal. In January, more than three dozen environmental organizations signed a letter urging members of Congress to oppose fast-track.

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