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Fracking wells in McKenzie County, North Dakota. (Photo: Tim Evanson/flickr/cc)

Fracking wells in McKenzie County, North Dakota. (Photo: Tim Evanson/flickr/cc)

Warning: TTIP Aims To Defang Local Rules Against Hazardous Chemicals

New report finds that the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership poses a threat to state regulations against hazardous pesticides, products, and fracking chemicals

Sarah Lazare

The mammoth Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) under secret negotiation between the United States and European Union is poised to slash the power of local governments to regulate toxins—from pesticides to fracking chemicals—the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL) warned in a report released Tuesday.

Preempting the Public Interest: How TTIP Will Limit US States’ Public Health and Environmental Protections (pdf) is based on an analysis of the European Commission's proposed chapter on regulatory cooperation from the April 20 round of negotiations. The report follows other analyses of the text which conclude that the TTIP poses a threat to human rights, environmental protections, and democracy on both sides of the Atlantic.

Beyond the regulatory cooperation chapter, little else is known about the content of the closed-door negotiations over what is set to be the largest bilateral "trade" deal in history.

The chapter's contents, warns CIEL, highlight the direct threat the TTIP poses to public health and environmental protections on the U.S. state level. This is especially troublesome, the report argues, because federal regulations under the Toxic Substance Control Act have proven "egregiously ineffective"—and could be even further eroded, thanks to the influence of the chemical industry in Congress.

"The bottom line is if you're trying to make the U.S. compatible with an international standard, and you have minimal federal regulations on the U.S. side, and you have states that go beyond that, the provisions will be used to attack state chemical and pesticide regulations."
—Sharon Treat, report co-author

In contrast, some state governments have taken the lead in responding to the dangers posed by fracking chemicals, pesticides, and hazardous products by adopting "more than 250 laws and regulations protecting humans and the environment from exposure to toxic chemicals," the report says.

However, so-called "harmonization provisions" in the EU's proposal could force states to conform to the lowest common denominator—in this case weaker federal guidelines. As Sharon Treat, attorney, co-author of the report and former Maine state legislator, explained to Common Dreams, "The bottom line is if you're trying to make the U.S. compatible with an international standard, and you have minimal federal regulations on the U.S. side, and you have states that go beyond that, the provisions will be used to attack state chemical and pesticide regulations."

What's more, the report asserts, the proposed chapter calls for an imposition of "multiple procedural mandates—from an early warning system to regulatory exchanges to the trade and cost-benefit impact assessments—that will lead to a regulatory chill caused by delay, increased costs for government, fear of legal challenges, and heightened industry influence and conflicts of interest."

Beyond their demobilizing effect, such requirements could also expand the power of private interests in corporate tribunals, known as the investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) systems.

"If you are requiring state and federal governments to do more studies to review whether a regulation could be done in a way that is less of an imposition on trade or big business, then you could bolster the case of the ISDS systems to block regulations," explained Treat. "That would be tipping the scales even further in favor of international corporations running roughshod over regulations and procedures to protect public health and the environment.

Given the continued secrecy of the talks, it is not known how the U.S. responded to the proposed chapter, but the researchers at CIEL say the EU's language alone is cause for alarm. CIEL warns that the "largest chemical and manufacturing corporations on both sides of the Atlantic" are playing a role in pressing the TTIP's regulatory agenda—and that the U.S. is likely pressing for a similar race to the bottom for EU member states.

Meanwhile, the Obama administration is negotiating the TTIP alongside two other secret trade deals: the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Trade in Services Agreement. All three have come under stiff opposition from social movements and civil societies across the globe concerned that they will bolster corporate power at the expense of people and the planet. Some observers argue that these deals could collapse, in part due to their unpopularity and internal contradictions.


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