Environmental Groups Aren’t Buying The TPP’s Wildlife Provisions

CREDIT: AP Photo/Audrey McAvoy

Demonstrators, holding conch shells, line Kaanapali Beach in Lahaina, Hawaii, Wednesday, July 29, 2015, to protest the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement during negotiations. Since the final text was released, outcry has intensified.

The full text of the Transpacific Partnership — a 12-nation trade agreement — was released late last week, and as environmentalists, free internet advocates, and the general public pore over the document, strong opposition is forming.

Meanwhile, the White House is campaigning hard to gin up support for the deal, which will need Congressional approval. The White House is expected to sign the agreement in three months, and then Congress will have another two months to debate it. Under the fast-track authorization already — and controversially — granted by Congress, that body will not have an opportunity to make any changes to the deal, but rather will do a straight up-and-down vote.

President Obama on Tuesday published an opinion piece in Bloomberg News, asking Americans to analyze and judge the more than 2,700-page document for themselves.

“I’m not asking you to take my word for it. Instead, I’ve posted the agreement online,” Obama writes. He makes only one reference to the environment — “Provisions protecting the environment and combating wildlife trafficking make sure that economic growth doesn’t come at the expense of the only planet we call home” — and does not bring up climate change, which has otherwise been a focal point for the administration.

In fact, the TPP’s wildlife provisions have been called into question by several protection groups. Defenders of Wildlife, which had previously, tentatively, supported the agreement, came out against it after the full text was released.

“Now that the text of the Trans-Pacific-Partnership is available to the public, it is disappointingly clear that this is not the tougher language we had hoped for,” the group’s president and CEO, Jamie Rappaport Clark, said in a statement last week. “The environment chapter is weak and fails to provide the necessary requirements and stronger penalties desperately needed to better fight poaching, protect wildlife habitat and shut down the illegal wildlife trade.”

Defenders of Wildlife was still listed, as of Tuesday morning, on the White House’s list of supporters.

The Sierra Club, which was never in support of the TPP, doubled down on its opposition after the full text was released. “We now have concrete evidence that the Trans-Pacific Partnership threatens our families, our communities, and our environment,” executive director Michael Brune said in a statement.

Several environmental advocates have pointed out that the agreement makes no reference to climate change — considered by many to be the most pressing issue of our time. The environmental chapter is filled with vague and aspirational language, mostly on over-fishing.

On environmental issues, economist Jeffrey Sachs, writing in the Boston Globe on Tuesday, said, “The agreements are thin, unenforceable, and generally unimaginative.”

Moreover, investor protections included of the agreement have rankled environmentalists — as well as other groups.

“The whole union movement regards the labor chapter as window dressing,” Bill Waren, trade policy analyst for Friends of the Earth told ThinkProgress. The important chapter, he said, is the investment chapter. Under the agreement, corporations will be able to sue countries that pass laws which infringe on the companies’ investments. (A similar investor protection under NAFTA allowed a U.S. oil and gas company to sue Canada in 2013 after Quebec rescinded licenses to conduct hydraulic fracturing, due to concerned over the province’s water supply.)

“Big oil companies and polluting firms are the ones who make the most of these investment provisions,” Waren said. “This is clearly a dream agreement for Chevron and ExxonMobil and ArchCoal.”

Several groups have started organizing in response to the agreement. has a petition, and environmental activist group is encouraging its supporters to write a letter to Congress.

“I think it’s very much up in the air,” Waren said. “I don’t think that environmentalists should sit on their hands — we can win this fight.”