Trading away democracy |

Trading away democracy

The U.S. government is currently being sued for nearly $1 billion under an obscure clause in NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement). MTBE is the gasoline additive that was supposed to protect our air quality but has contaminated 30 public water systems and over 10,000 groundwater sites in California. In 1999, the governor agreed to phase out this carcinogen, and Methanex, the world’s main producer of MTBE, wants $970 million in compensation for “loss of market share and future profits.”

NAFTA’s Chapter 11 was supposedly crafted to protect investors from the takeover of a corporation’s assets by a foreign government. However, by exploiting the intentionally ambiguous phrase “tantamount to expropriation,” private investors have already received over $4 billion from the Canadian, U.S. and Mexican governments in “compensation” for policies enacted to protect the public good.

Under the terms of NAFTA, all disputes are decided behind closed doors by a three-person tribunal of international lawyers. Shortly after the treaty had been signed, Carla Hills, lawyer and senior NAFTA negotiator, promptly offered her services to an American tobacco company to challenge a Canadian health regulation. Canada backed down. If the price of enacting any kind of public health, land use, food labeling or environmental legislation is forking out hundreds of millions to private investors, you can bet governments will be blackmailed into making the wrong choices.

These days, many corporations demand to be insulated by taxpayers from the risks of the marketplace. If you produce a chemical additive that turns out to be carcinogenic, well, too bad. Do better research next time, make a different chemical now.

If the secret tribunal awards $970 million taxpayer dollars to Methanex, the federal government will likely take the cost out of California’s state budget, or perhaps advise us to revoke the MTBE ban.

NAFTA’s Chapter 11 represents the loss of local control and accountability. As Californians, we can choose between contaminated wells or losing a huge chunk of taxpayer dollars based on a hearing to which we are not invited and based on a treaty we had no say in negotiating.

Lisa Rowe

Nevada County Green Party

Nevada City

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