Based on a tip-off
from the NonProfit Accountability Project, investigative reporter
Gregory Palast published this expose of the new trade in filth - and the
polluting of an environmental organization - in his Sunday column, Inside
Corporate America, in the LONDON OBSERVER [Manchester Guardian Media Group].
January 23, 1999
FILL YOUR LUNGS - IT'S ONLY BORROWED GRIME
Power has seduced an influential green group into backing
a pollution trade scheme. Frankly it stinks Up in the hills
of Tennessee, they just LOVE air pollution. Can't get enough
of it. In fact, they'll spend hard cash for more of it.
In May 1992, the Tennessee
Valley Authority paid a Wisconsin power company for the "rights"
to belch several tons of sulphur dioxide into the atmosphere, allowing
the TVA to bust above contamination limits set by law. Wisconsin
cut its own polluting to offset Tennessee's. This was the first
ever trade in emissions credits, an experiment in using market mechanisms
to cut nationwide pollution overall.
Why should you care if Billy
Hill is paying good money to suck soot? Because trading rights
to pollute, first tried on Tennessee, is the cornerstone for implementing
the Global Warming Treaty which will set the rules for industrial
production worldwide for the next three decades.
The treaty, known as the
Kyoto Protocol, aims to slash emissions of "green house gases" which
would otherwise fry the planet, melt the polar caps and put Blackpool
under several feet of water. (It will also have negative effects.)
As you can imagine, industry's
big lobbying guns have lined up against the Protocol. From
the US, leading the charge against the treaty is Citizens for a Sound
Economy, an ultra-right pressure group chaired by corporate super-
lobbyist Boyden Gray.
Squaring off against CSE
is the influential Environmental Defense Fund of Washington DC. So
committed are EDF's greens to the treaty that they set up a special
affiliate to help implement the protocol's trading system. EDF's
new Environmental Resource Trust is chaired by Boyden Gray.
How did Gray, top gun of
the anti-treaty forces and industry defender become chief of a respected
environmental group? Did he have a deathbed conversion? No,
Mr Gray's in fine health, thank you. Someone far more cynical than
me might suggest that Mr Gray and his polluting clients, having failed
to halt the clean-air treaty, have perfected a new way to derail
the environmental movement: If you can't beat 'em, buy 'em.
Covered in the sheep's clothing of a respected green organization,
polluters can influence the terms of treaty implementation to make
darn certain that they do not actually have to change their dirt-making
That's where the Tennessee
model comes in. By insinuating into the protocols a company's
right to meet pollution targets by buying unused emissions allotments,
US industry can blow up the treaty from the inside. Corporate lobbyists
try to keep their fingerprints off the filth-trading proposals.
Fronting the scheme is left to the Environmental Defense Fund. But
the real muscle behind limitless use of the contamination credits actually
originated with the corporate lobby Business Roundtable which, embarrassingly,
left a memo to that effect in a photocopy machine in November at the Buenos
Aires round of talks Activists made it public with much glee.
Other than the plain creepiness
of selling rights to pollute, what is wrong with such trades if they
painlessly cut emissions overall? Well, keep your eye on that
"if." I haven't yet found a single trade that took an ounce of pollution
out of the atmosphere. The free-market fix for dirty air was rotten
from the first deal. In the 1992 Tennessee case, the Wisconsin company
that sold its right to spew SOx could never have received state authority
to build another polluting power plant. The seller's reduction
in pollution was a sham, but the additional spume of poison into
Tennessee mountains was real and deadly.
Despite this sorry record,
US negotiators pushed emissions trading as a take- it-or-leave-it
condition of America's participation in the treaty. Tony Blair,
hearing the words "voluntary and incentive-based," could barely contain
his enthusiasm. Emissions trading, as a so-called "market mechanism"
for saving the biosphere, is the pride and joy of the Third Way,
the means by which New Democrats and New Labour hope to replace those
nasty old rule-by- command laws - 'THOU SHALT NOT POLLUTE' - with
efficient, retail transactions, possibly at your local TOXINS R US.
(The US already has a "stock exchange" where 15 million tons of sulphur
dioxide trade each year.)
Under US treaty proposals,
any US or European manufacturer who wants to crank up their Earth-baking
discharges will have to buy up rights from a green- minded company
which has cut emissions. But where in the world will they find
earth-friendly industries willing to sell their rights to pollute?
You'll never guess: Russia and Ukraine. In case you were
on holiday when Russia became an eco-paradise, I'll fill you in.
The treaty's rights to pollute are allocated based on air trash pumped
out in 1990. Up to that date, Russians under Communist rule
were forced to work in grimy, choking factories. Now they are
free not to work at all. Russia's industrial depression has cut
their emissions by 30%. Thus, the bright side of the impending starvation
on the Steppes is that it could generate enough credits to eliminate
90% of US industries' assigned reduction in pollution.
Is anyone fooled?
Did America's tree-hugging Vice-President Al Gore jump up and holler,
Fraud! Not a chance. To corporate applause, the VP has blessed
the bogus trading in filth credits. To protect his green credentials,
Gore has held had plenty of photo ops surrounded by recognized environmentalists,
i.e. from the Environmental Defense Fund.
It gets worse. The
Clinton Administration has just announced a scheme to give "early
credits" to US companies which cut emission before the treaty takes
effect. If a chemical company shuts a plant to bust its trade union,
for example, they get credits. A dozen top environmental groups are
up in arms about this windfall for phantom reductions in pollution
- but not EDF,
which takes pride in crafting the proposal's details.
How did EDF come up with
this bizarre idea? A reliable birdie has faxed to the Observer
copies of internal documents from the EDF unit chaired by Boyden
Gray. These state that, "most of the major utilities have been regularly
meeting with EDF staff to discuss this concept" - and they would pay EDF
fees for creating the early-credits market. An EDF staffer
admitted that the plan was drafted with Southern Company and American
Electric Power, notorious polluters, "looking over our shoulders."
The sale of crud credits
has chopped the legs off anti-pollution laws in the States; and now
it will be used to sabotage the Global Warming Treaty. We
know the attractions of the filth trade to government: it is the
ugly stepchild of the new mania to replace regulation with schemes
that pose as "market" solutions. It provides a pretense of
action to the public while giving winking assurance to industry that
the status quo is not disturbed. Marketing-not-governing schemes
spread like Tennessee kudzu. Don't be surprised when General
Pinochet claims to have purchased unused bone-cracking rights from
But what attracts environmentalists
to these schemes? Why do some enviros appear to act like Rent-A-Greens
for Boyden Gray and corporations they once blasted? It is not
venality. Rather, genteel alliance with industry is the ticket
that lets them hang out with Gore and the Big Boys in the deal-making
loop. Unfortunately, the collaborationists have confused proximity
with influence. As one old-style activist put it, gimmickry
will never replace guts in the battle against ascendent commercial
Guardian Media Group
Reproduced with author's permission
NonProfit Accountability Project -- PO Box 53238, Washington D.C.
20009 -- 202 333 1855