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
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.

Gregory Palast

        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 ways.
        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 Pol Pot.
        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 authority.
Guardian Media Group
Reproduced with author's permission

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