USMCA: How Green Is It?

Some environmental groups and Democratic Members of Congress are expressing regrets that the U.S.-Mexico-Canada (USMCA) trade pact that the House is set to vote on this week does not do anything to address climate change.  However, the agreement does add language on protecting whales, fish and other marine wildlife from pollution and overfishing, according to a summary of the agreement in The Washington Post, with Mexico specifically agreeing to stop its fishers from illegally fishing, and to no longer subsidize fishing of overfished stocks.

Why This Matters:  The USMCA agreement may not be very green, but it is blue-er than NAFTA for sure.  Speaker Pelosi argues that the agreement will be “substantially better” than NAFTA and “removed all doubt that trade and the environment are linked.”  But some Democrats who are concerned about climate change will be studying the legislation before they decide whether to support it, according to E&E News Three of the most politically active environmental groups sent a letter to Members of Congress last week saying that they wanted to see a set of “fixes,” some of which do not appear to be in the final deal.  And then ten organizations wrote another letter urging Members of Congress to vote no.  This could be a tricky problem for some progressive Members of Congress, like Pramila Jayapal and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who may ultimately vote against Pelosi because the agreement does not address climate change directly.

What The Environmental Groups Wanted In USMCA

The groups set out seven “essential environmental priorities”  that they wanted to see improved over the NAFTA Agreement’s environmental provisions and the original USMCA deal negotiated by the Trump Administration, but they final agreement does not meet any of them, according to the 10 groups:

  • Binding climate standards, backed by 110 members of Congress, to curb outsourcing of climate pollution and jobs and to ensure the U.S. and its trading partners fulfill commitments to the Paris Climate Agreement — FAIL
  • Binding clean air, water, and land standards to halt the dumping of pollution in Mexico — FAIL
  • Obligations to fulfill commitments under an array of key multilateral environmental agreements — PARTIAL FAIL
  • A new, independent and binding enforcement system to stop environmental violations — FAIL
  • Removal of corporate polluter handouts that support tar sands oil and fracked gas — FAIL
  • Elimination of broad rights for corporate polluters to sue Mexico over environmental policies in tribunals — FAIL
  • Elimination of rules that would help corporate polluters weaken and delay our environmental regulations — FAIL

The groups that signed the letter strongly urging on behalf of their combined 12 million members that the Members of Congress vote “no” on the deal are: 350.org, Earthjustice, Food and Water Action, Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, League of Conservation Voters, Natural Resources Defense Council, Oil Change International, Sierra Club, and Sunrise Movement.

Ben Beachy, a trade expert with the Sierra Club, told In These Times that the deal has a major loophole for Mexico — it retains private tribunals that oil and gas companies use to sue for compensation for the costs of the other government’s environmental policies.  Beachy said, “The approach the NAFTA 2.0 deal takes is recognizing there’s a problem but then allowing some of the worst offenders to perpetuate it.  It’s an unabashed handout to Exxon and Chevron: It’s like saying we’ll protect the hen house by keeping all animals out, except for foxes.”  And he added, “the deal overall ‘dramatically undercuts’ the ability of the U.S. to tackle the climate crisis.”

To Go Deeper:  Read the Sierra Club analysis of how the USMCA does not meet their conditions by clicking here.  And to see the list of 110 Members of Congress who wanted to see a more “binding” set of environment and climate standards in the deal, click here.

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