With climate disruption increasingly affecting Maryland's priceless environmental treasures, it's time the federal government stopped bargaining with our natural resources and started protecting our future as it looks to import and export more resources overseas.
The Trans-Pacific Partnership — a massive trade pact between the U.S. and 11 countries along the Pacific Rim — could result in more environmental degradation, job loss, and more dangerous fracking affecting nearly every aspect of our lives, from the quality of our water to the quality of our jobs. And yet it has been negotiated with a lack of transparency that is a clear affront to the principles of our democracy.
Similar pacts have shipped millions of U.S. jobs overseas and have been used by corporations to challenge everything from clean energy programs to regulations related to toxic waste or mining.
Even more alarming is that, with introduction of the Bipartisan Congressional Trade Priorities Act of 2014, written by Sens. Max Baucus and Orrin Hatch and Rep. Dave Camp, Congress will soon vote on whether or not to "fast track" the approval of this trade pact.
Fast-track authority would limit the role of Congress to casting yes or no votes on the pact with limited debate and no opportunity for amendments. With fast track, Congress cannot make sure the contents of our trade pacts are in the interest of all Americans. If the job of Congress is to protect constituents, then the fast-track process omits a key aspect of the job description and makes an already secretive trade pact even more opaque.
Fast track is particularly inappropriate for a pact as expansive as the Trans-Pacific Partnership deal, which could have severe consequences for our environment and our economy. That's why we're calling on Maryland Reps. Chris Van Hollen and John Delaney, who have thus far remained silent on the issue while others have voiced their resistance, to oppose fast tracking the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
As trade expands in the Pacific Rim, the risks to our air, water and climate also increase. Ecosystems within the region are threatened by the exploitation of commercial fishing and the illegal timber and wildlife trades. At risk are some of the most biologically significant and diverse areas of Earth, including Australia's Great Barrier Reef, Peru's Amazon rain forest, and the Diabase Flatwoods conservation site in the Elklick Woodlands Natural Area Preserve in Virginia.
The TPP also presents a significant risk to American workers and jobs. An analysis by the Economic Policy Institute found that Maryland lost 1,500 jobs to Mexico after the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) went into effect. The Trans-Pacific Partnership is shaping up to be a mirror-image of the corporate-driven NAFTA, only much, much larger. It's time to stop letting big corporations ship Maryland's jobs overseas and dump our wages overboard along the way.
This pact would also require the U.S. government to automatically approve all exports of U.S. liquefied natural gas to countries in the agreement. The resulting increase in natural gas exports would open the floodgates for more fracking in our country, sacrificing our air and water quality. Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, is the dangerous process of drilling deep into the ground, cracking shale rock, and injecting chemically laced water into the ground to release natural gas. Japan, the world's largest liquefied natural gas importer, is a member of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, so the demand for more fracking in the U.S. could be sky-high.
In Cove Point, we could soon have one of the nation's largest liquefied natural gas (LNG) export facilities. Since the conditional approval for the facility in September, the Chesapeake Bay area now faces heavy traffic from huge LNG tanker ships and countless environmental risks associated with fracking and natural gas. If one of these tanker ships were to spill, billions of gallons of toxic fracking wastewater could leak into a waterway that connects local rivers, wetlands and forests.
Despite all these and other red flags, the American public has been blocked from seeing any draft texts of the pact. The public deserves a say in how trade rules are written, and Congress has a responsibility to ensure that trade pacts support communities, workers and the environment.
Betsy Johnson is the Political Chair, Sierra Club Maryland Chapter. Email is email@example.com.To respond to this commentary, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include your name and contact information.