Today, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced Japan’s intention to enter the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact (TPP). With Japan’s entry, the trade pact will now include 12 nations along the Pacific Rim, including the United States. It’s similar to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) – only way, way bigger. And the threats it poses to the health of our families and the future of our planet may be much more severe.
One of the reasons that Japan in interested in joining the trade pact is that countries in the bloc will likely get automatic access to U.S. natural gas. Normally, the Department of Energy is required to examine whether exporting U.S. natural gas is in the public’s interest before it makes a decision on whether to export. That is a critical step in building a responsible energy policy that protects the public and the environment. But this crucial requirement is waived for countries which have signed a free trade agreement like the TPP with the U.S.
This means that the United States could be forever ceding its ability to manage our own natural gas resources. It also means that even if U.S. exports are found to harm our economy and the environment—as there is every indication exports would—the U.S. would still be forced to send natural gas overseas to our trading partners without any review or delay. As the world’s largest natural gas importer, Japan will fundamentally change U.S. energy policy as we know it by joining the TPP.
Here’s what’s at stake for our health, our environment, and our economy:
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Increased exports would require us to produce more natural gas, which means more fracking across the United States – in our backyards, near our schools, and next to our hospitals. Fracking contaminates drinking water and pollutes our air, exposing communities to serious health risks. Moreover, the highly energy-intensive process of cooling, liquefying, and transporting gas across the world has tremendous effects on our climate. The emissions associated with exporting natural gas, in fact, are said to be even larger than emissions from burning coal. The risk to public health and the future of our planet is too important to overlook.
Japan's entry into the trade pact may have other serious implications for the environment. A leaked version of the pact's controversial chapter on investment reveals that—like NAFTA and more recent trade pacts—the TPP would give broad rights to foreign corporations. The pact goes so far as to allow foreign corporations to sue a government in a private trade tribunal for unlimited cash compensation over new laws, policies, or regulations that hurt the corporation’s bottom line.
More than 6,000 Japanese corporations have operations in the United States—many in the oil, gas, and mining industries—and each could challenge new U.S. laws and policies designed to protect our air and water. They could easily follow the example of a U.S. energy firm that recently filed its notice of intent to sue Canada over Quebec’s moratorium on fracking using similar investment rules. The energy firm was essentially asking Canadians to forfeit their clean air and water for their own profits. As another example, Swedish energy firm Vatenfall is suing Germany over the government’s phase-out of nuclear power and new coal regulations. Once again, trade rules are being abused to ratchet up the profits of dirty fuel interests at the expense of whole communities and their health. Japan’s entry into the TPP throws the door wide open to more outlandish cases like these.
And finally, it’s important to note that we cannot fully understand the broader implications of Japan joining the trade bloc since we don’t have access to the text of the pact. Despite the fact that negotiations have been under way for years and may conclude as early as this October, we still haven’t seen a single word of draft text or a single U.S. proposal. Transparency—a basic principle of our democracy—is crucial, particularly as the trade deal continues to inflate. We must have a meaningful chance to engage in how our trade and energy rules are set before it's too late.