Archive | Justice

Financial Metrics

The internet has been around a long time, but finding information about green technology and finance on the internet, that’s something new entirely. Take EcoWorld’s “Green Chips” index, for example. Established in 2000, it is possibly the first, and still one of surprisingly few attempts to map publically traded green companies and green funds for investors.

Camino Energy’s “Energy Navigator”
Four new indexes of publically traded
sustainable energy companies

Social responsibility funds in general aggregate companies that embrace many phenomena, of which “green” (itself wildly subjective) is only one of a variety of social benefit criteria.

Along with actual funds, of course, are indexes, and in both cases, in the last 18 months we are seeing a lot more attention being paid to green criteria.

If you restrict your “green” criteria to energy, the scope of the job is narrowed, but no easier, when selecting companies to include in a green energy fund, or green energy index. One new online source, is doing a good job indexing public companies in the green energy space.

As Camino Energy’s CEO Mark Henwood explained, the name of the website, “camino,” or “road” (in English) is chosen to indicate the green path we seek toward having a sustainable energy economy. Along this road, sustainable and clean criteria are overlapping yet distinct attributes, and Camino Energy’s green energy public company indexes target energy companies that are developing sustainable energy, which is, as Henwood puts it “energy technologies that push back the date of energy shortages.”

These are interesting distinctions that highlight the difficulty there is in determining “green” criteria – something you would think were monolithic from the passion of many green activists, but in fact is multi-faceted and multi-dimensional. In choosing companies, for example, you have classic green, which are enterprises that embrace practices or provide services embracing and advancing social justice, you have “sustainable” green, which looks at practices and extrapolates to see if in the long-term there are depletions or degradations that in-turn we must seek to avoid, you have “renewable” which some are saying might even apply to nuclear power, and you have “clean” which means no pollution, which in-turn may or may not include CO2.

All of these criteria only scratch the surface of what is green. Henwood’s site is helpful in this tangle of interpretations and agendas, because he has designed a matrix that graphically tracks energy from resource to application, with a set of icons and flow diagramming that is probably the best I’ve ever seen. A small replica of Henwood’s informed and thoughtful schematic is depicted in this post, if you click on it you will see the complete larger version on the Camino Energy website.

With hundreds of public companies from around the world included in his database, with their financial metrics updated automatically, Henwood has created a resource that is hard to find and very useful. With four indexes, Renewable Gencos (geothermal, wind), Solar PV Producers, Fuel Cell Producers, and Ethanol Producers, Henwood is focusing on the green energy sectors with a critical mass of public companies worldwide. He believes, like I do, that even though the photovoltaic sector has done very well in the past few years, and may be a bit overhyped today, it is still the best long term investment.

If you intend to invest in public green energy companies, look to – their indexes provide invaluable insights, which along with additional vital financial information on green energy companies, makes this website a must-visit.

Posted in Energy, Energy & Fuels, Geothermal, Justice, Nuclear, Science, Space, & Technology, Solar, Wind0 Comments

Global Warming Litigation

Here come the lawyers. There is an excellent recent Business Week article entitled “Global Warming: Here Come the Lawyers” that summarizes the impending wave of global warming lawsuits. Did global warming cause hurricane Katrina to devastate New Orleans? If you think the answer is yes, then naturally, it’s time to sue the oil companies and their fellow travelers.

There are several problems with this. We really aren’t convinced industrial greenhouse gas is the cause of global warming, and even if it is, we are extremely skeptical that anything effective can be done about it. Read our many global warming commentaries before deciding to jump on the bandwagon. Or read our feature stories “Climate Catastrophe?” and “Global Warming Facts.” authored by noted global warming skeptic, Dr. Richard Lindzen, an atmospheric scientist at MIT. Are we going spend trillions of dollars, curtail important freedoms, and pressure other nations to the brink of war – to fight a problem that may not exist?

Amazon Deforestation
The Amazon Rainforest

Here are some points we’ve raised in our reports on global warming: Human industry only accounts for 3% of CO2 emissions on the planet. Deforestation, which has consumed 40% of the world’s forests, combined with desertification, has reduced the planet’s ability to absorb CO2 at the same time as it has created hotter global surface temperatures. Urban “heat islands” also contribute to global warming. Instead of countering this by replanting forests and urban trees, we are now accelerating deforestation to plant “carbon neutral” biofuel plantations (read “Deforestation Diesel”). This is a disaster, and must be challenged.

Here’s more: Global warming models predict that most of the effect of increased levels of CO2 has already happened. Ice melt in Greenland and Antarctica is being offset by increased snowfall in the interior of those land masses. Projected ice melt from Greenland will increase sea levels by only 1.5 inches per century. All measured warming over the past 150 years is only about .5 centigrade, and this amount of change does not exceed statistical margins for error and cannot yet be scientifically considered a trend. The only scientific consensus that currently exists is that there has been slight climate warming over the past 100 years, not that this is an alarming trend, nor that increased levels of CO2 are the cause.

A further concern we have is that many proponents of action to stop greenhouse gas emissions are under the mistaken impression that by doing this we will eliminate air pollution. If California’s Global Warming Bill is any indication, this is completely false. As we report in “Filthy Air With Less CO2,” California’s 2006 Assembly Bill 32, hailed by environmentalists and politicians all over the world, mandates modest reductions in California’s CO2 emissions, but mandates absolutely nothing in terms of reducing emissions of actual pollutants, such as sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide, microscopic particulates, lead, ozone, and nitrogen dioxide. This is unacceptable.

We’re not going to indulge in the predictable lawyer-bashing that one regularly finds in the business press. Sometimes the courts are the only place left to find justice, and in America the justice system forms an essential check on the power of the legislative and executive branches of government. But for elected officials to abuse the legal process is worthy of criticism. California’s outgoing Attorney General, Bill Lockyear, has been using the power of his elected office to sue automakers, and even worse, harass atmospheric scientists who still question to what extent industrial greenhouse gas actually causes global warming. This is reprehensible. It constitutes government harassment of free speech and scientific inquiry. It is cynical grandstanding, it is dangerous to American rights and freedoms and it will stifle the truth.

So don’t blame the lawyers. They go where they are called, and often they are our only hope. Instead help to expose scientific corruption, political opportunism, environmental non-profits who have acquired new momentum by milking this hysteria, and irresponsible members of the media who have abdicated their duty to seek to report the truth.

Posted in Air Pollution, Causes, Justice, Office, Other, Ozone, Policy, Law, & Government1 Comment

Fighting Monocultures of the Mind

Indian scientist and writer Vandana Shiva sees globalization as a threat to biodiversity
Vandana Shiva
Vendana Shiva
curriculum vitae

Editor’s note: Robert Shapiro, former CEO of Monsanto, and someone who passionately believed in his work, stated “The application of contemporary biological knowledge to issues like food and nutrition and human health has to occur, for the same reasons that things have occurred for the past ten millennia. People want to live better, and they will use the tools they have to do it. Biology is the best tool we have.” Whether or not bio-engineered food is healthy for humans and ecosystems is certainly open to debate. But the health and ecological safety of genetically modified crops is only one part of the issue. Equally important are the social consequences of powerful multinational corporations encouraging farmers in developing countries to buy genetically modified seeds, something which, since these seeds cannot be saved and reused, can trap the farmers in a cycle of debt and economic servitude. In some cases, small farmers in developing countries have actually been sued for using seeds they have used for millenia, because multinational corporations acquired the genetic “intellectual property” of their seeds. Multinational corporations argue that genetically modified crops, protection of the intellectual property therein, and privatization of water resources and other “commons” are necessary to feed the world’s burgeoning population and fund development. Vandana Shiva, a scientist and activist from India, does not entirely agree. Here is her story.

Time magazine depicted her as a hero who “has made it her mission to fight for social justice in many arenas” and a major environmentalist who is leading a noble fight for “the preservation of agricultural diversity.”

However, some advocates of biotechnology have expressed different views. For Michael Fumento, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, “if developing world farmers took her one-tenth as seriously as do Western activists, her proclamations would lead inexorably to massive famine. She was born into wealth and her soft palms have never worked a plow. Hunger to her is something she reads about in the newspapers.”

The controversial figure in question is the well-known physicist and writer Vandana Shiva, from Doon Valley, India. For more than twenty years, she has been dealing with issues like sustainable development, biodiversity, ecofeminism and globalization through international publications, books and lectures at conferences and universities worldwide.

Research Foundation for Science, Technology, and Ecology Logo
Research Foundation
for Science,
Technology & Ecology

In 1982 she established the Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology, an organization which works with local communities in India to promote sustainable agriculture. A member of the Indian National Environmental Council and ecology adviser to the Third World Network, Vandana Shiva has been involved in many international NGO’s (non-governmental organizations) and forums, such as the International Forum on Globalization and the Convention on Biological Diversity.

The Indian author is also one of the leaders of the global citizen movements against water privatization. In March this year, as the Third World Water Forum was taking place in Kyoto, she co-organized the People’s National Water Forum in India, which issued a declaration of commitment to keep water as a common good.

“Ending the water crisis requires rejuvenating ecological democracy”, she wrote in her recent book Water Wars. “Water can be used but not owned. People have a right to life and the resources that sustain it, such as water. With globalization and privatization of water resources, new efforts to completely erode people’s rights and replace collective ownership with corporate control are under way”.

Along these same lines, Vandana Shiva criticizes the GATS (General Agreement on Trade in Services) because “its rules are shaped entirely by corporations without any input from NGO’s, local governments or national governments”. In her opinion, services related to water, the environment, health and education should not be subject to the WTO’s “unregulated power to hijack common resources”. Shiva sees the international treaties on intellectual property rights (such as TRIP under GATT) as an attempt by a few multinational corporations to seize the rights to life.

Monsanto Imagine Logo

In her book Biopiracy: The Plunder of Nature and Knowledge, Shiva describes patents on seeds and life forms as a new form of colonialism. “Corporations like Monsanto and Syngenta are pirating centuries of farmers’ innovation and patenting rice, cotton, mustard, corn, soya and practically all other food crops.” When Texan company Rice Tec claimed exclusive rights as makers, producers, sellers, distributors of seeds, plants and grains of the Basmati rice variety, the Research Foundation engaged them in a Supreme Court battle. RiceTec was eventually forced to give up the title of its patent.

“Seed, the source of life, has become a source of death in the hands of global seed and biotechnology corporations. Thousands of farmers have committed suicide since multinational corporations entered the seed sector,” Shiva wrote in a recent article.

Navdanya Logo

Transnational corporations are introducing GM crops to local farmers, promising increased resistance to pests and higher yields, she explained. The farmers are forced to buy new seeds every year, because these genetically engineered plants are sterile. If the crops fail, the poor farmers are left with unpayable debts, no food and no hope for the future. To counter this, Vandana Shiva started Navdanya (“nine seeds”), a movement which enables farmers to access native seeds for free through community seed banks and seed exchange networks and go back to organic farming. Navdanya is also an organic farm, with an attached college, called the Bija Vidyapeeth, which means the “School of the Seed.” The school offers courses on several topics related to sustainable development and ecology, with internationally renowned lecturers.

Bija Vidyapeeth Logo
Bija Vidyapeeth

All these initiatives are intended to promote biodiversity conservation. In Vandana Shiva’s vision of the world, “diversity is wealth, not a threat. Weaving harmony in agriculture implies bringing back the diversity which creates pest – predator balance and organic methods of breeding and production which produce resilient plants.” Navdanya, she says, has already rescued more than 3,000 rice varieties.

Rice is particularly important in India, where 200,000 rice varieties existed before the “Green Revolution” brought intensive monocultures and pesticides. In several of her books, including The violence of the Green Revolution and Monocultures of the Mind, Vandana Shiva described how the “reductionist paradigm”of the Green Revolution perpetrated violence to the Earth as well as to women and children.

“Suddenly agriculture in India was no longer the entire community working with the land in peaceful ways, it was men reduced to pesticide sprayers and tractor drivers. The women were left with no role in agricultural production. They had been turned into the dispensable sex, and having been made redundant, they were being killed in the womb”, she explained in Staying Alive: Women, Ecology and Development, describing the startling practice of “female feticide.”

Diverse Women for Diversity Logo
Diverse Women
for Diversity

The Indian author and activist was one of the founders of “Diverse Women for Diversity”. Vandana Shiva and the other women who started this project, Beth Burrows, Christine von Weizsaecker and Jean Grossholtz, think that it is vital to coordinate women’s grassroots movements so that their voice can be heard at an international level. They feel that women need to speak out for life, for cultural and biological diversity as a response to the threats posed by globalization. “The current globalization is based on the patriarchal paradigm of control, which requires uniformity. It is based on Cartesian reductionism and the Baconian ‘rape of nature’ as the ‘masculine mode’ of knowing.”

Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association Logo
Maine Organic
& Gardeners

Speaking at a conference on organic farming in Maine, Vandana Shiva said: “For us weeds are the basis of our survival, because weeds are what nature gives us in her generosity. They’re the medicinal plants. Lots of landless women in India make a living by having access to the free greens in the free commons. And that’s the fodder that goes to feed their one goat, their one cow, that then feeds their children. But all these weeds, this amazing diversity – and our studies show 250, 350 species on farms which have the generosity to be at peace between species – according to Monsanto, all these weeds are stealing the sunshine!”

In an article on biotechnology she wrote: “Global traders controlling production and distribution worldwide need square tomatoes and tomatoes that don’t rot. Small farmers and consumers looking for fresh produce do not. People need locally produced food, consumed as close as possible to the point of production.”

While it may be true that she has never worked a plow or gone hungry, and her idea of reintroducing trade barriers to protect domestic agriculture may be extreme, some of Vandana Shiva’s views on farming, ecology and patriarchy make sense and her works are definitely worth reading.

About the Author:

Paolo Scopacasa is a journalist based in Milan, Italy. After completing his studies in 1995 with a master’s degree in Conference Interpreting from the University of Strasbourg, France, Scopacasa has worked as an interpreter and translator in English, German and Italian. Since 2000 Scopacasa has been working as a freelance journalist, covering mainly environmental issues for Italian web magazines such as e-gazette, LifeGate Magazine and Blue Planet.

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EcoWorld - Nature and Technology in Harmony

Posted in Biodiversity, Conservation, Education, Justice, Nature & Ecosystems, Organizations, Other, Science, Space, & Technology0 Comments

Juliette Beck & Global Exchange: An Interview on Free Trade, Capitalism, & Global Integration

Interview of Juliette Beck by Ed “Redwood” Ring

The cold war is over. Capitalism has won. The brave new world of free trade and global integration is upon us. What does this mean? Who benefits? Who loses?

Technological advances and globalization have given rise to new ethical issues of staggering complexity. How can democracy be extended to international trade? Do multinational corporations currently exercise inordinate and undemocratic influence to manage international trade? Is the World Trade Organization just a puppet of multi-national corporations? At what point do the answers to these questions become obvious, and are they? If so, at what point is the time-honored American tradition of non-violent civil disobedience an acceptable option?

The issue of globalization moved to the forefront of international news coverage in 1999, when in Seattle nearly 50,000 protesters succeeded in literally bringing to a standstill the first meeting of the World Trade Organization ever to be held on U.S. soil. The sheer number of the protesters, along with their stunning success in paralysing a city and captivating television news audiences around the world, did not happen by accident. Long prior to these demonstrations, preparations were afoot throughout the world, particularly on the west coast, and perhaps more than anywhere, from a coalition of activist organizations based in San Francisco.

Global Exchange is headquartered on the third floor of an older building in the heart of San Francisco’s Mission District. Since 1988 this non-profit has worked to get their message of economic, social, political and environmental justice out to citizens around the world. They have engaged in traditional public education campaigns as well as actions that are somewhat more, shall we say, creative. To get ready for demonstrations against the World Trade Organization’s planned meeting in 11-99 in Seattle, Global Exchange hired a young University of California, Berkeley graduate named Juliette Beck. For over a year she worked with a disparate coalition of activist groups, and she has been annointed, possibly inaccurately, as one of the principal architects of the protests.

For her efforts Juliette Beck has become, at the ripe old age of 27, an international celebrity. She has had a feature about her in the New Yorker as well as the London Times, she has been interviewed by Charlie Rose and others, and when it came time for EcoWorld find an authority on the issue of globalization, we were fortunate enough to schedule an interview. When we called Beck she commented that December would probably be a good time for us to meet, since she didn’t plan on shutting down any international organizations that month.

We met with Juliette Beck on a mild, cloudy afternoon where the sun didn’t break through until it was setting on the horizon. Their office suite was broken up into several large rooms that were all warm and comfortable, with a multicultural group of mostly young people who seemed to be working hard and enjoying themselves. All the furniture was mismatched and all the workspaces were highly individualized. Posters with Global Exchange campaign messages hung on the walls along with art. Mobiles hung from the ceilings. The place quietly hummed with activity. Just outside the windows, swarms of pigeons wheeled through the air to settle on the nearby powerlines or onto the roof of the Raley’s market across the street.

Juliette Beck is a confident, engaging, knowledgeable and passionate advocate of the issues she represents. Like many we have met in the environmental movement, she appeared to have the serenity of someone who derives immense personal fulfillment from their work. Here is what she said:

How did you begin working at Global Exchange?

I came in to help organize the World Trade Organization campaign because for the first time the Geneva based World Trade Organization was meeting in Seattle in the U.S. and President Clinton was hoping to use this as an opportunity to launch a “millenium round” of trade talks. The backlash against corporate managed trade has been growing both in the U.S. and worldwide.

What were you doing before you came here?

At UC Berkeley I studied an interdisciplinary approach to the global problems and it broadened my eyes to the way that institutions based in the U.S. have major impact in the lives of people all around the world. It didn’t seem like it was very responsible the way that the World Bank and multinational institutions were carrying out their policies was very much in head-on collision with the limits of the natural ecosystems. It was obvious that this was going to become one of the pressing issues of my day and age and my lifetime. Unsustainable usage of resources are causing extinction rates that might not have occurred since meteorites hit the earth. These are the issues that started to preoccupy me back at UC Berkeley.

I didn’t know what to do till I discovered a group called “50 Years is Enough” which was formed on the fifty-year anniversary of the World Bank and the IMF about 5-6 years ago. They are part of a network along with Global Exchange and The Rainforest Action Network among the founding organizations, they are headquartered in Washington DC but I worked with the Bay Area Chapter. One of our first campaigns was about sweatshops. Clothes are a great window into the global economy, getting consumers to think about who makes their clothes. Are people who make their clothes being treated fairly? Some of the most heinous human rights abuse occurs in factories where our clothes are coming from.

How do human rights and environmental issues connect?

Even though my heart and passion is about preserving the environment for future generations, I realize you have to be able to speak to people and get people to change their practices and take action in order to stop the disruption that’s happening on a global scale. It’s important to be educating U.S. consumers on how to change the way that the people are normally taught to get their needs met. We are trying to promote a vision of global justice. Its not just about donating money to poor people in the global south to get life-saving medicines or a new well for their community, but also to promote awareness here in the U.S..

We incorporate both the environment and human rights into an alternative economic model that contrasts with the corporate model in our fair trade coffee campaign. This grew out of an effort in Europe to bring together producers, small farmers, who grow coffee in the tropical areas in the world with the go-between people who distribute and the purchasers and the consumers. When you bring all those groups together to sit around the table and say “what would be a fair price” you make sure that built into the trading process is a fair price so that the bottom line isn’t just making money for the middleman but guaranteeing a fair price for the people that grow the coffee.

Small farmers have to be organized into a cooperative that’s supporting one another in their community. They will have a guaranteed fixed price so that regardless of how the people on Wall Street are betting on the price they will be paid a fair amount. They will get credit, which is very important because the coffee producing families only get one payment per year.

What about the coffee plants that have now been developed that tolerate full sun instead of growing as understory crops?

It’s been a disaster. Coffee is an understory crop and these new strains have contributed to the destruction of the rainforest. They take these products that are developed in laboratories and plots in the U.S. by Navartis and Monsanto and other corporations and they are engineered to grow faster and have a higher yield but they aren’t sustainable, they require higher chemical inputs. These new high yield varieties are sold and marketed to developing countries, and the World Bank gives loans to buy these products and its been disastrous.

Do you think all genetically engineered food is bad?

I’ve been very alarmed at some of the studies that have been coming out showing that corn pollen from genetically engineered corn made the larvae of Monarchs unable to reproduce.

What about genetically engineered rice that contains vitamin A? Wouldn’t planting this rice prevent severe malnutrition, especially in Southeast Asia?

Its very tempting to look for a quick fix, but any nutritionist will tell you that the key to good nutrition is a balanced diet. There’s a lot of ethical problems with genetic engineering. There is a new term called bio-piracy. A Texas based company has shifted around a few strands of DNA and they are claiming ownership of a strain of rice that has existed in India for thousands of years. Chiapas has declared itself a bio-piracy free zone.

Can these organizations be reformed?

Yes, for example, they’ve got literacy projects in Turkey. I was emailed by someone on the ground there who said look at all the things we’re doing to improve literacy. The changes that have been made have been in response to popular uprisings by local communities who say they want more openness, transparency, participation by local communities; the World Bank has made small progress on all of these things. But countries now have huge foreign debts that they have to make interest payments on, and how do you generate hard currency? You turn your forests into cash and you turn your fisheries into cash.

Centralized development projects have turned these countries into exporters of one or two commodities, while at the same time the global commodity prices in all these raw materials have just plummeted.

The current World Bank ideology is growth uber alles, free market expansion, do what’s good for the multi-national corporation and somehow that’s supposed to benefit these countries, thou shalt attract foreign investors. We believe there should definitely be international institutions that should be involved in setting rules for the global economy but they have to incorporate different world views. The one that is being cooked up now at the University of Chicago and the London School is a very limited economic paradigm.

So to date they really haven’t made any significant progress towards reform?

If you’re a country that is already cash strapped you have to make very inhumane decisions, sometimes a country is paying five times as much for debt service as they are for health care. Countries in Africa have been forced to reject loans to deal with the AIDS epidemic because of the payments. The World Bank is reacting to mass protests in these countries to accepting new loans. This has been an extraordinary year for raising the issues we’re talking about, the World Bank is getting pressure from the outside, from inside Congress, from the right, from the left, from all spectrums.

Who is the anti-globalist coalition? Who was in Seattle? Who were they?

The call that went out for Seattle was that this trade affects everyone on the planet, we’re all affected, we should all be there and be represented. Form a group of people, a group of 15-20 people and create your message. Create your single sound bite that you want to deliver about what’s wrong with the WTO, the issue that your particularly passionate about. And people came with the most amazing creativity, I can’t even begin to fathom, what people came to express. It resulted in a very good picture of the widespread impacts of world trade, everything from people dressed up in turtle costumes to indigenous rights groups to people from faith-based organizations who formed prayer circles. There were hip-hop youth that came and did rap in the streets to demonstrate against the corporatization of culture.

Is this a culture war as much as an economic war?

There was an affinity group there that had a beautiful banner that said “life is not a commodity” and for me that pretty much summed up what was happening with the WTO who is really trumping other aspects of life, their spirituality, their education; there’s lots of spheres of our life that should not be commodified and turned into a vehicle for making profit and yet that’s exactly what the WTO is facilitating.

The general consensus in the mainstream of top political circles is that capitalism has won. The ideological struggle between capitalism and communism is over and capitalism has won. Whether or not that is true, do you think there is subtlety to the idea of capitalism? Are their kinds of capitalism that can exist in a way that is positive for these other values?

We all have our ideals about how we’d like to live but I’m more concerned about the present and the fact that we live in a capitalist and highly globalized society and how are we going to transition this system. Yes, capitalism has won, the cold war has ended, and there are very few examples of socialism left. How do we transition this to a more people-centered and environmentally centered system?

How many people were in Seattle?

There were 50,000 people, the labor unions alone mobilized 23,000 people. In SF there is the International Longshoreman’s Warehouse Union. I went and spoke at labor union halls for the ILWU everywhere from the Port of Stockton to San Francisco to San Diego to Los Angeles. They shut down the whole western coast during the WTO meetings in Seattle; they had a work stoppage from Vancouver to San Diego.

What’s the biggest problem the labor unions have with the WTO?

They’ve been really heavily hit by the de-industrialization of the United States. There’s such a huge trade surplus now, the trade is coming in and it’s not going out and the workers are paid by what they lift.

What were you doing during the Seattle demonstrations?

My main concern was how the corporate media was going to frame what was happening. I wanted to make sure that there we had really good spokespeople and that our communications were as professional as possible and that our press releases were going out in a timely way. We had a desk inside of the independent media center covering the WTO meetings; I worked with the Direct Action Network media team. We also had a number of meetings to organize the action beforehand – the action to shut the meetings down – of course when the people started getting arrested we had ongoing vigils and the response to the martial law that went out.

How did you coordinate your efforts?

We were a pretty high-tech group. Lots of cell phones. When I was in Seattle on the morning of November 30th, I went into the convention center where we were accredited by the WTO along with other NGOs, many of which are industry associations, so we actually had had a press conference on that morning inside the WTO’s hotel about how we intended to shut down the WTO.

Later on November 30th when the tear gas was flying and all hell was breaking loose in the streets I went into the main convention center and realized it was totally empty except for a few hundred people that had gotten there, so I thought, for these few hundred people who are here let’s invite them to have a dialogue. They are always (WTO) telling us “don’t go out and protest in the streets, be good, talk to us around the table,” so here we were. Three of us walked up to the podium at the front of the hall and said “We’re from Global Exchange and we’re here to have a dialogue about the way that human rights and the environment and labor standards are being undermined by the WTO’s rules.”

They didn’t like that too much and they grabbed us and as they threw us out we started screaming “where’s the democracy, where’s the freedom of speech?”

You guys were also at the WTO meeting in Washington DC in April and again over the summer at the conventions. Those weren’t quite as disrupted, is that because they were ready for you?

Oh yes, they had definitely studied us. The Philadelphia police and the Los Angeles police departments all had representatives in Washington DC to observe our strategy. I’m sure they were spying on us. What they did in Philadelphia right away was they came in and stole all of our art. One of the ways we were going to get a very creative message was through giant puppets and by creating a festival atmosphere. We wanted to blockade the streets with giant puppets; it’s hard to arrest a giant puppet. They came into the warehouse where the things were being made and just shredded everything. They put it all through a giant wood-chipper.

How do you keep turnout high on an issue like this? It’s not exactly like the Vietnam War years where people were being drafted and sent to Vietnam. It’s a little more cerebral, a little less tangible. How do you sustain this?

Well that’s really what our challenge is right now. There are people who have had their lives transformed by being part of a mass action, being with ten, twenty, thirty thousand people who passionately believe there can be a better world. Now we’re trying to figure out how to bring that back into their communities, their work, their professional lives. I doubt a lot of the people who were on the streets of Seattle can become a corporate lawyer; things have changed because of how they’ve been impacted. Things are going to happen through a groundswell of grassroots activity, talking to people who weren’t on the streets and explaining why we were there. Lots of public education, lots of campaigns, targeting corporations who often are headquartered in a particular city. We have our campaign against Gap sweatshops. Gap operates factories as part of a subcontracting regime in over forty countries worldwide. In Cambodia we are fighting for a living wage of about 60 dollars a month; they’re currently paid about 40 dollars a month.

How does that compare to wages for other jobs in Cambodia?

That’s a good question, but it’s not a subsistence wage.

What about the people in these countries? What are you doing in terms of working directly with local groups around the world?

The cross-border organizing is one of the foremost parts of our strategy, building global-local links. Often the head of the World Bank or the WTO or Clinton will say “you people in the U.S. are standing in the way of development when in fact it’s workers in this country and workers in another country where Ford Motors has relocated to that are the target. So now there are efforts to build global unions, to organize across borders. The work that I’ve been doing here in the wake of Seattle is looking at the next major international corporate managed trade negotiations; where the corporations are coming together, where they are in their coalitions. Right now it’s to negotiate the free trade area of the Americas, NAFTA expansion to all 34 countries in the Americas except for Cuba. This is the same flawed process of corporations sitting behind closed doors and meeting rooms that are laying out their agenda and there’s no democratic process. We don’t even have access to copies of the text.

Why can’t the U.S. be a force pulling countries in the right direction in these meetings, instead of taking advantage of the fact that they don’t have our environmental standards and labor rights?

That’s what’s behind the corporate accountability campaigns and codes of conduct we’re encouraging U.S. corporations to adopt. Many companies, for example, have committed to a set of business principles for corporations doing business in China. We’ve gotten Levis, Intel and other companies to sign to this.

Is there momentum with these code-of-contact campaigns? Is there light at the end of the tunnel?

I see shifts and changes being made in a lot of areas. The fact that socially responsible investment is the fastest growing sector of investments is really promising and shows that people are responding to the ways their consciousness is being raised with actual changes in the way they want to buy things and invest things. We’re seeing a lot of resolutions showing up in public company shareholder meetings addressing everything from the use of their rainforest products in construction to issues of income inequality.

In the U.S., whenever a union tries to organize, there is a threat to move the company overseas or bust the union. There is a much more conscious effort on the part of corporations to keep working standards low and to keep wages low. That’s why wages have stagnated to 1970′s levels. The threat of moving overseas has given corporations power over their work forces and compelled unions to accept lowering wages even in this time of a booming economy.

Are there opportunities coming up for your group to get the kind of exposure that you got in Seattle?

At the heart of these issues is democracy. This year we started to look very closely at the nature of democracy in the U.S. and we realized we are very far from having a true democracy. Corporations and their campaign finance contributions are calling the shots. There is no such thing as one person one vote, the electoral college gets in the way of that along with corporate influence in the election process. So we are launching a campaign to create true democracy, to democratize the political system of the U.S., to demand proportional representation, clean money reforms, easier voting and voting rights…

You mean going to a parliamentary system?

Right, it would not be winner-take-all. Most western democracies are parliamentary.

Wouldn’t that be a big shift for the United States?

We have to start somewhere. We hope that we have the attention now of the American public to also be questioning the archaic system and to overhaul the political system. For this December 18th we have put out a call for actions to occur in all the state capitols in the country when the electors go to cast their votes. The action theme will be to “create democracy now,” to “clean it, fix it, build it.” This is a theme we chose because we need to clean up our corrupt system and fix things like the Electoral College and build a true democracy and give people power and real representation.

There is an energy right now sweeping like a wave across the country of people thinking globally and acting locally like never before. There is a very complete, holistic view of what needs to be done. It’s not an either-or, where corporations are compelled to pay a living wage, but who cares what they do to the environment. People are really thinking about how to integrate social and environmental responsibility and that’s what’s different from even a decade ago. A movement’s occurring in the U.S. where the legacy of the environmental movement is now joining up with social justice advocates and forming new, more powerful coalitions. This is the wave of the future, people who want to form a socially just and environmentally sustainable system.

What kind of big project would you do if you had more resources and could really do something on a grand scale? What would you do?

That’s ambitious. Debt cancellation is probably the biggest impediment to sustainable and equitable development for people living in the global south. It hits me at a very visceral level. It’s a very immoral and usurious relationship that’s been created because of the way World Bank and IMF have loaned their money. When it comes to creating global equality it’s getting the boot off the developing country’s neck.

How do you deal with the plutocracy in these developing countries who are co-opted by multinationals?

You have to promote real democracy and empower people in different sectors, women and others, to have a voice. There are projects like micro-credit as opposed to a highly centralized development project. It’s happening right now, in Argentina there’s a mass revolt happening as we speak. It’s a global movement. There’s a new wave of awareness and resistance in the last few years. It’s a global movement that has its roots in peasant movements, anti-colonial movements, women’s rights movements, labor struggles. The growth of independent media centers has been a really important step to get accurate information to people instead of the corporate-filtered advertising barrage most people are reacting to. It’s really hard for us with limited resources to compete with the snazzy-groovy-sexy advertising campaigns of multi-national corporations.

Where can we go to buy clothes that aren’t made in sweatshops?

The problems with the sweatshops are systemic; they’re throughout the garment industry. If you really wanted to reform the whole garment industry you’d have to start with the way the cotton is produced. For every pound of cotton produced there is a third of a pound of chemicals. There needs to be a market for organic cotton. There would have to be a campaign that brought together organic cotton growers with unions and workers that are turning it into a textile, and then the mills that pay living wages to the workers that create the actual garments.

It would be nice to identify the good guys, and if you could drive people into the companies that are doing the right things, that might be a way to induce the other ones to follow suit.

Definitely, and some areas are easier than others. We’ve had some good progress with coffee. We demanded Starbucks sell fair-trade coffee, and they have started to do this.

How do you get these values into the mainstream?

That’s the challenge. There are studies showing that over 50 million people in the U.S. share these same values. They want to see systemic change, they don’t want to be wasting the earth’s precious resources, and they want to buy products that are from companies that are socially and environmentally responsible.

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Free Market Environmental Protection

Futuristic Artwork by Tim Cantor
image – Tim Cantor


When the twenty-fifth anniversary of the first Earth Day arrived this past spring, there was much to feel good about. Significant strides have been made in protecting the earth’s biological envelope, and environmental awareness has surely been heightened. But there was also a sense of foreboding. In news comments on the occasion, came expressions of concern that pending legislative reforms such as compensation for regulatory takings, the imposition of limited cost-benefit and risk analyses, and revisions of the Clean Water Act world roll back 25 years of progress. Some even suggested that were it not for federal laws, there would be no environmental protection at all, implying that communities nationwide would stand idly by as their home territories became open sewers.

Though unreasonably costly and at times misguided, the threatened federal regulation has nonetheless provided a massive mechanism for protecting environmental quality. Yes, the air is cleaner than it was 25 years ago, more miles of rivers are swimmable, and lots of contaminated soil has been hauled from Superfund sites. But change is in the works. Even EPA has admitted that the priorities for action forced on the agency do not match the real needs for reducing environmental risks and improving air and water quality. Meanwhile memberships in national environmental groups seem to be peaking. By contrast, grass roots activities are burgeoning.

Surely there is room for improvement. We know that no other industrialized country has a Superfund program as costly and ineffective as ours. No other advanced economy relies as heavily on centralized command and control regulation, and practically every other industrialized nation is light years ahead in organizing river basin associations and similar decentralized organizations for managing water quality.

Today, the U.S. alone seems trapped in a regulatory pit that emphasizes uniform command-and-control regulation, penalties and confrontation, while paying scant attention to outcomes. In short, we rely on an antiquated, inflexible, top-down regulatory structure that was designed for a 1970 smokestack economy. Our command-and-control system was once justified by its ability to assemble and apply costly and scarce information. Yet we live in a new global age where microchips, low-cost information transmission and decentralized decision making rule the day.

Think of the changes that have transpired worldwide in the last quarter century while the basic regulatory blueprints hardly changed at all. When our basic environmental statutes were being designed, there were no FAX machines. There were no personal computers. There was no Internet for E-mail for giving instant information on polluter behavior. There was no CNN to inform the world of environmental calamities. Indeed, there was no way to monitor stack emissions, so that one could write emission trading contracts. There was no low-cost technology for reading tailpipe emissions from automobiles or for scanning the multiple dimensions of water quality. Smog was a mystery. And the notion of continuous monitoring of environmental use by satellites was just a gleam in some scientist´ s eye. In the early 1970s there was no International Standards Organization responding to marketplace demands for a higher quality workplace and giving private sector certification of environmental control. Today, all this and more is as routine as self-rising flour in grocery stores.

Now consider some of what we have learned about environmental hazards from 25 years experience in dealing with pollution. We now know that industrial discharge is not the source of most carcinogens and other environmental hazards. Indeed, we know that industry today ranks well below government operations and nonpoint sources as the major source of pollution. We have learned that the threat of acid rain is not critically associated with sulfur dioxide emissions, that life expectancies are increasing and that forests are flourishing.

Over the course of the last two decades, we have learned that the demand for environmental quality that comes with rising incomes is a powerful force for delivering environmental improvements, one that will not be denied. Factories, farms, municipal treatment plants, and federal government facilities cannot get by with haphazard treatment of the environment. CNN, Internet, E-mail and desk-top publishers will tell. And ordinary people, the ones we see each day in the market, will bring actions to protect their environment. In other words, there is no danger of seeing an unconstrained “race to bottom.” Now is the time, I believe, to replace costly smokestack regulation with the beneficial forces of the market.


Just what are these beneficial market forces? And what steps can we take to build strong linkages between environmental protection and the actions of millions of uncoordinated people? Is it possible for people to do the right thing without even thinking about environmental quality.? First off, the market process reflects social norms and rules of just conduct embodied in law and custom. Market action is driven by prices that emerge when some people own things that others want. For example, when investors have to give up something they value to obtain a site for building a factory, they are suddenly struck with a conservation ethic. Because they must pay, they carefully consider just how much land they really need. They shop. They search. They become creative. Markets and prices provide incentives. And if factory builders must pay the holders of environmental rights before building or polluting, or suffer the consequences, the investors will work even harder to avoid environmental harms. When environmental rights are protected, environmental protection becomes consistent with profit maximization.

Property rights´ definition and protection form the keystone to the market process. If factories and municipal treatment plants are told that they can pollute within certain limits if they have an EPA permit, then each time we get another certified plant we will get more polluted air and rivers. And if regulators tell industry official s how to design plants and they give their stamp of approval only when the specified technology is in place, then industry has no incentive to search for lower cost technologies and less damaging sites. If owners of downstream property lose their right to sue and stop polluters who damage their property, as our statutes do in some cases, industry incentives are blunted even further.

If cities and states are able to use political powers to locate incinerators and landfills without compensating neighboring property owners for damages, then environmental justice becomes an issue. If in the pursuit of protecting endangered species or sensitive wetlands, government can take property rights without paying, then property owners will have incentives to destroy endangered species and to plow under wetlands before they are observed. On the other hand, if property owners are paid for harboring endangered species and for converting land to public use, then wetlands and endangered species will be more secure. The incentives generated by markets, prices, and property rights can replace a large number of environmental policemen.


How might we apply these market principals to the existing statutory framework? First, we might attempt to modify the rules. With few exceptions, the legislative blueprints for regulating air and water pollution require command-and-control regulation that results in end-of-pipe, technology-based standards. Generally speaking, regulations focus on inputs, not outcomes. There is a fixation on point-sources — individual machines and in-plant processes. Hardly any attention is directed toward ecological systems, like river basins, complete aquifers and watersheds. The rules leave little room for innovation and can actually penalize firms that devote attention to unidentified but important sources of pollution while overlooking smaller but specified sources that are listed in the rules.

Put in the simplest terms, air and water pollution control from stationary sources is based on national or large geographic area standards that call for uniform approaches to be taken by broad categories of polluters. There are new-source/old-source standards that penalize expansion of plants and protect existing firms from competitive entry. There are stricter standards for particular regions. And there is little focus on overall outcomes. Indeed, after 25 years, we are just now becoming serious about the provision of extensive monitoring data that inform us about relative improvement.

How might we modify the existing blueprint? Allow me to offer a few suggestions.

1) Ditch command-and-control regulation in favor of performance standards. Identify specific goals to be achieved and allow managers to figure it out from there. Let flexibility and the desire to minimize cost become the guiding principals. Let the regulators focus on outcomes.

2) Eliminate new-source/old-source biases. Let competition work at all margins.

3) Establish a complete national emissions monitoring system and, by statute, provide a detailed annual report card that gives reliable data on the environment, by pollutant, river, major lake and stream.

4) Expand emissions and effluent trading to encompass all criteria pollutants. To facilitate emission trading between and among facilities with diverse ownership, provide baseline data and systems analysis so that all contracts can be written and enforced.

5) Require experiments with river and air-shed management systems where all rules for plants and other individual sources are relaxed and the river or air shed is given a measurable environmental goal to be achieved. Include point and nonpoint sources of pollution in the basinwide approach.

For hazardous waste, better known as superfund:

1) Make Superfund a public works project with, for example, a 75/25 percent local/federal sharing of cost, with the proportion based on the expected share of benefits.

2) Eliminate strict joint and several liability as basis for recovery of costs. Replace with joint and several liability only for polluters who violated laws at the time waste was created at a site.

3) Involve states and communities in establishing a triage system that based on intended use identifies sites that should be cleaned, those that should be paved or fenced and guarded, and those that should be monitored for potential cleanup.

4) Eliminate drinking water as the standard to be met from a cleaned Superfund site. Replace with ambient standards accepted by a population for their rivers and lakes.


So much for tinkering at the margins of smokestack regulation. Starting with a clean slate calls for careful examination of the fundamental role of government. We must ask 1) what is the purpose of government in the context? and 2) what level of government? Under a market approach, government has the responsibility of protecting citizens from the harm of others, protecting property rights, and reducing transaction costs among parties who seek to solve environmental problems. These duties relate to governing at all levels — the community, the state, the nation, and with regard to issues involving national boundaries. As to the level of government, we should consider the dimensions of the environmental problem being addressed, which is to say the extent of the harm that might be generated by a polluter or group of polluters.

A classification of environmental problems — activities that impose harm on other people, their property or things they prize — will surely yield a matching of some problems with each level of government. For example, a hazardous waste site that does not pose a risk to an aquifer is surely a local problem. One that contaminates a multistate aquifer will require another level of government. Air pollution that imposes costs within a state´ s boundaries is one thing; pollution that imposes costs across a region or across a national boundary is something else. Making such a list will carry us some distance in identifying the appropriate level of government for protecting property and reducing transaction costs among parties who seek to resolve pollution problems.

Decentralizing the problem breaks the national monopoly, generates a multitude of experiments, and allows citizens to vote with their feet. All evidence suggests that the costs of environmental improvements will fall, that those who have the greatest incentive to address environmental concerns will have a larger voice in determining outcomes, and that those who reap the benefits will bear the costs.

But what about the mechanisms that might be used? A review of the nation´ s history and consideration of the experience of other countries inform us of alternatives. For several hundred years, environmental rights were protected by the common law of nuisance and trespass. Cases involving water, air, odor and hazardous waste pollution were adjudicated in common law courts. Where many receivers of pollution were involved, citizens turned to public prosecutors and the public nuisance law. Where pollution crossed state lines, a state attorney general brought suit in behalf of citizens. Just prior to enactment of federal statutes, federal common law was emerging for protecting environmental rights among the states. To a large extent, that fertile field of control was snuffed out by legislation.

We cannot know how common law would have evolved in the absence of monopolized regulation. Perhaps specialized courts would have developed with special masters dealing with highly technical issues. Yet, like statute law, common law did not work perfectly, but the remedies were tough — injunction and damages. Of special importance, only those who could demonstrate harm or potential harm could bring action. A passerby had no standing to bring suit against a polluter whose activities were legitimate in the eyes of the courts and community members.

The common law process has something else to recommend it. It is impossible for a special interest to lobby all common law judges and obtain uniform rulings across the entire country. Put differently, it is very costly to seek rents through the courtroom.

But does common law really work? Today, practically all of the freshwater fish in the United Kingdom are owned by private parties, and have been for generations. The property of the angling clubs is protected by common law. If a polluter, be it a city, and industry or government enterprise, damages a fishery, the angling clubs brought suit. In the last 20 years, some 2,000 suits have been brought. Five have been lost. The result: The rivers of England are clean, in some cases cleaner than drinking water standards require. Market forces can protect water quality.

Prior to the formation of EPA, multistate compacts and commissions were at work dealing with water and air pollution. Ordinary people with good sense recognized that dimensions of environmental problems did not necessarily coincide with the dimensions of existing political bodies. The Ohio river basin commission, which included the states of New York, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio, was one of the better known operating systems. Through the joint effort of several states, the Ohio river was cleaned, continuously monitored and managed. At the time of EPA´ s founding, there were discussions underway to expand the Ohio river system to include states that bordered the Tennessee River. Quite possibly, river basin associations and multistate compacts would have eventually encompassed all major rivers. Federal legislation ended all that.

Today, in France every major river, their tributaries and coastal zones are managed as six systems with independent governing bodies that work to manage discharges to and withdrawals from all bodies of water. Major rivers in Germany, Scotland and Australia are similarly managed. Efforts are underway in Mexico, Ecuador, Brazil and Canada to develop similar approaches. There is no command-and-control. Water users are given performance standards to meet. In some cases, discharge and withdrawal fees are imposed. In Australia, pollution rights are traded to minimize the cost of controlling salt infusion.

One such experiment is now operating in the U.S., just one. It encompasses North Carolina´ s Tar River where point and nonpoint dischargers are working together in a river basin association. EPA´ s command-and-control regulations are relaxed. As a result, the Pamlico Sound, the receiver of waters from the Tar, is recovering. Costs are reduced dramatically by members of the association.

A review of history and current experience suggests the following:

1) Levels of governmental control and assistance should match the dimensions of the environmental problem being addressed. In some cases, new governing bodies will need to be developed. Regional compacts will be needed. Enabling legislation that forms river basin associations may be required. The national government should focus its attention on environmental problems that are truly national in scope. In all such cases, the national government should focus only on setting performance standards, enforcing those standards, and reporting on progress. There should be no command-and-control regulation for stationary pollution sources.

2) States should be empowered to manage environmental quality within their boundaries with the means and instruments not specified. Multistate participation and river basin associations should be assisted by the national government. States should be left free to invigorate common law remedies or any other control instrument they desire. The emphasis should be on outcomes, not inputs.

3) When the federal government regulates, as in the case of air pollution that affects several states or in the case of mobile sources, the regulatory agency should be required to justify all actions on the basis of scientifically based risk assessment and cost effectiveness. The regulatory agency should be required to report annually on the status of each action taken, its justification, and measured effects.

4) The national government should strengthen its research and development activities and make its expertise available to other governing bodies on a fee basis. The national government should strengthen its role in monitoring environmental quality and regularly provide scientific evidence on the condition of the environment.

There is a role for government in protecting environmental rights and in protecting people from environmental harm. As mentioned here, it is a role that supports property rights, markets and competition. Until now, too much attention has been focused on procedures, process, inputs and on criminalizing the innocent behavior of citizens. As a people, we have chosen a high cost, low result route, and we have learned a lot. Indeed, we should know more about environmental regulation than any other people on the face of the earth. Now is the time to rethink what we are doing. to learn from our own experience and that of others, and to make the 21st century a time when we can truly take the environment seriously.

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Environmental Racism?

Issue #3

Summer 1995


Claims that the poor and minorities are exposed to higher-than-average

levels of pollution because they are more likely to live near industrial and waste disposal sites have sparked charges of “environmental racism.” These communities allegedly bear the brunt of industrial development while reaping few of its benefits. The Clinton administration has taken this misguided notion and built policy on it, but do not expect this to lead to greater environmental protection.

One of the first studies to allege a correlation among risk, race, and income was the government’s own Council of Environmental Quality’s 1971 Annual Report to the President. It stated that racial discrimination adversely affected the ability of urban poor to improve the quality of their environment. In 1979, Texas Southern University sociologist Robert Bullard described the futile attempt of a black neighborhood in Houston, Texas, to block the nearby siting of a hazardous waste landfill. He provided evidence that race, not just income status, was a probable factor in this local land-use decision.

“Environmental justice” became a nationally-recognized issue in 1982, when 500 demonstrators protested the siting of a landfill for polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB’s) in a black, low-income neighborhood in Warren County, North Carolina. In 1987, the United Church of Christ Commission for Racial Justice released a study which looked at all Enivronmental Protection Agency regions in the country and concluded that race, not income status, was the factor most strongly correlated to residence near a hazardous waste site. In addition, two major conferences on environmental justice were held in the early 1990s.

In response to these charges, the Office of Environmental Equity was officially established in late 1992, with a specific directive to deal with environmental impacts affecting minority and low-income communities. In Congress, nine environmental justice bills were introduced in the 103rd Congress. Twenty bills were also introduced in fourteen states during the 1993-94 legislative sessions, with bills signed into law in Arkansas, Florida, Louisiana, Michigan, Tennessee, Virginia, and Washington.

Linking environmental and racial problems, however, turns the concept of environmental protection on its head. A recent study of the St. Louis (Missouri) area over the past twenty years conducted by Washington University researchers Thomas Lambert and Christopher Boenrner found that the location of low-cost housing, as opposed to outright racial discrimination, was the root cause of claims of environmental racism. They note that “[r]acism may have been a factor in the subsequent migration of these residents to communities hosting polluting facilities,” but judge the problem to be rooted in economics rather than racial prejudice. To resolve the problem, they suggest that the community and local industries pay reparations to residents and provide more community amenities like parks and playgrounds.

The Clinton administration, on the other hand, choses to view the problem as a one-dimensional racial issue. As it has acted on previous issues relating to race, it has embarked on an extensive program aimed at achieving only a statistical balance. Executive Order 12898, issued in February of 1994, mandates that all federal agencies “make environmental justice a part of all they do.” Agencies were required to have environmental justice strategies in place within a year to “collect, maintain, and analyze information that assesses and compares environmental and human health risks borne by populations indentified by race, national origin, or income.” Each agency was additionally ordered to determine whether its programs have a “disproportionately high and adverse human health or environmental effects on minority populations and low-income populations.” As a result, the Environmental Protection Agency now boasts an Office on Environmental Justice, complete with a 24-hour hotline to record any cases of environmental racism.

But neither of these proposals will lead to the environmental goals they seek. The whole premise that environmental hazards are purposely located in minority and low-income communities, through either economics or racism, is misguided at its core. And reliance on bean-couting measures — which create a quick-fix in areas like employment practices and voting-rights — will not be effective in promoting environmental protection. Environmental harm is color-blind, and pays no heed to financial status. Proposed actions to provide only this statistical balance instead of the strong, informed decisionmaking on health and safety issues that is needed just will not cut it.

“Environmental racism” can be more properly understood as a multi-dimensional problem commanding the understanding of a variety of environmental, social, and economic factors. The one unifying concern, however, is the health and safety of the residents of affected communities.
For example, problems with pollution affect groups as diverse as Hispanic farm workers handling pesticides, Asian immigrants working with toxic chemicals in Silicon Valley, Native Americans living near nuclear waste facilities, or urban Blacks who assert that their neighborhoods serve as dumps for polluting industries. No one plan can handle the needs of all of these people and still be effective.

Due to the local community nature of these issues, broad federal solutions are clearly inappropriate. Fundamentally, the decision of where best to place industrial projects should be left with the industry, and should not be turned into a federal racial or social policy issue. Private industry has itself recognized the need to address these issues recognizing that, if ignored, they can lead to increased inspections, restrictive operating conditions, and increased community pressure. The Chemical Manufacturers Association, for example, has developed specific proposals to address “environmental justice” concerns, and now advocates a program called “Responsible Care.” They and others businesses believe that open dialogue between a community and the industries located ther can better respond to concerns of safety, health, and the environment than can the federal government.

Combining “racism” and “pollution” creates a political hand grenade. Attempting to address environmental risks on racial versus environmental grounds misses the point entirely. Toxins do not discriminate, and combatting their spread cannot be equated with a racial issue. Threats to public health must be resolved by any means necessary. Policies that are driven solely by statistics are doomed to failure because they will not address the underlying concerns over health and safety.

Whenever the threat of pollution affecting public health is found, we should address that problem head on. If there is a threat to human health or safety, neither the income nor the race of the neighborhood should matter.
It should never be acceptable to suggest that environmental hazards or toxic risks be addressed on the basis of someone’s race.

Nancie G. Marzulla is the president and chief legal counsel of Defenders of Property Rights.

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Property Rights – The Civil Rights Issue


Defenders of Property Rights

Washington, DC

When people think of civil rights, they generally tend to conjure up images of segregated schools or restaurants and the fight we had (indeed, are still having) in this country to ensure that all people — regardless of their skin color or nationality — can enjoy the same privileges of living under the rule of law in a free society. That right — the right to equality regardless of race, color, or creed — is guaranteed by the 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution. Today, however, another civil rights revolution is underway. At issue is another right, this one guaranteed by the 5th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution — the right to obtain payment of just compensation whenever one’s private property has been taken by the government for public use.

Just as segregation led to the racially-based civil rights movement in the 1960′s, so it is that incursions on property rights, largely in the name of protecting the environment, has sparked the property rights movement now some 30 years later. Starting in the 1960′s, federal, state, and local governments increasingly began to regulate property rights through environmental protection policies. Today, environmental regulations touch every conceivable aspect of property use and ownership often infringing directly upon private property rights protected by the Constitution. Through its ability to regulate, the government has steadily and increasingly tended to “take” whatever uses and benefits of property it wishes rather than condemning the property outright and paying for what it has taken.

The property rights movement today is comprised of thousands upon thousands of individuals across America who are being singled out by the government to bear the unfair burden of implementing land use and environmental policies the government itself is simply not prepared to pay for. The complaint of the property owner is not so much what the government is trying to achieve through its policies, but the means whereby it is achieving them.

A case in point is the decision last June by the United States Supreme Court in Dolan v. City of Tigard. At issue in Dolan was whether the city could demand from Florence Dolan approximately 10% of her land — which the city planned to use for a bicycle/pedestrian pathway and for a public greenway — in exchange for being granted permission to enlarge her plumbing supply store. No one, including the Dolans, objected to the city’s plans for a bike path or a greenway, but the fair thing — the constitutionally-mandated way of achieving the city’s objectives — was for the city to buy the land necessary to complete the project rather than holding Mrs. Dolan’s planned use of her property hostage as did the city of Tigard.

It is this infringement of rights in private property — not necessarily an objection to the objectives of the governmental purpose — that has provoked people to unite to form the property rights movement.

These people are objecting to an environmental regulatory regime that costs Americans $300 billion a year in compliance costs, and which ranks even the most insignificant snail’s interest as more important than human interest. Or to a wetlands program which delineates one to two hundred million acres of land — 75% of which is privately owned — as “wet” and must be maintained untouched by human hands. They are objecting to a criminal enforcement program which puts innocent people in jail for simply placing dry sand on existing dry sand, all on land which is privately-owned — because it violates the government’s policy of no net-loss of wetlands.

Until recently, the Supreme Court showed little interest in property rights law. Back in 1922, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes declared the bedrock principle of takings law: “The general rule at least is, that while property may be regulated to a certain extent, if regulation goes too far it will be recognized as a taking.” After this ruling, however, the Court did not select any cases that would advance this doctrine. This was apparent in 1978, When Justice William Brennan expressed his dismay over the Court’s inability to “develop any ‘set formula’ for determining when ‘justice and fairness’ require that economic injuries caused by public action be compensated by the government rather than remain disproportionately concentrated on a few persons.”

In 1987, however, the Court began a renewed interest in property rights, ruling on three cases. In First English Evangelical Church v. County of Los Angeles, the Court held the county could be required to compensate a church barred by a flood control ordinance from reconstructing summer camp buildings destroyed during a 1978 flood. In Nollan v. California Coastal Commission, the Justices ruled the public could not require the owner of a home next to a beach to donate a third of his land to the state in order to obtain a permit to rebuild the house without paying just compensation. Hodel v. Irving invalidated a regulation eliminating the right of Indians to devise to their heirs reservation lands.

In 1992, the Supreme Court again ruled for the plaintiff in Lucas v. South Carolina Coastal Council. The case involved two beachfront lots Mr. Lucas planned to develop that were rendered useless by a beachfront protection statute. The central holding of Lucas is that “[r]egulations that deny the property owner of all ‘economically viable use of his land’ constitute one of the discrete categories of regulatory deprivations that require compensation without the usual case-specific inquiry into the public interest advanced in support of the restraint.” In the aftermath of the case, the state was forced to purchase the property from Mr. Lucas. The state then put the property up for sale to potential developers — the exact purpose from which Mr. Lucas was barred. This shows how the attitude of the government changes when it is forced to bear the cost of its regulations — at least when the Fifth Amendment is applied.

Dolan was decided during this past term of the Court. In his opinion, ChiefJustice William Rehnquist noted: “We see no reason why the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment, as much a part of the Bill of Rights as the First Amendment, should be relegated to the status of a poor relation in these comparable circumstances.” The High Court reversed the decision of the lower court, sending it back to be retried — this time putting the burden on the city to prove why it needs to take the Dolan’s property.

The courts, however, are not the only place where the muscle of the property rights movement is being felt. The 103rd Congress has been active on three fronts — unfunded mandates, risk assessment analysis of regulations, and property rights bills

– which environmentalists collectively refer to as the “unholy trinity.” These three reforms have become dreaded amendments to regulatory reauthorizations in the eyes of the environmentalist movement.

In a memo to environmental leaders, a Natural Resources Defense Council lobbyist warned that regulations long overdue for reauthorization could not be passed during this session of Congress without one or more of the trinity amendments being attached. The strategy offered by the lobbyist was to keep most of the reauthorization bills off the table, allowing the environmental movement to focus on just one or two pieces of legislation. Regulations that were not reauthorized are in no danger of expiring because they remain valid until reauthorized.

Property rights was the focus early in the session, when Interior Secretary Bruce Babbit’s National Biological Survey — a plan to map the entire nation by ecosystems — was saddled with property rights amendments when it passed the House. The bill was never introduced in the Senate.

The importance of risk assessment analyses led to the downfall of the bill that would have elevated the EPA to cabinet-level status. When the bill arrived on the House floor for debate, the leadership would not allow consideration of a risk assessment amendment that had already passed by an overwhelming margin in the Senate. Angered over this move, congressmen voted down the rule on the bill, sending it back to committee — effectively stopping the bill.

Lawmakers with political ideologies as divergent as Senators Dirk Kempthorne and Carol Mosely-Braun have come to agreement on the issue of curbing unfunded mandates, with each sponsoring bills to reduce or even eliminate them completely. Unfunded mandates are federal legislation that seeks to achieve its goal by compelling states and localities to pick up the bill for their enforcement. These mandates are the bane of mayors and governors across America, and even the Clinton Administration has been forced to take notice of the problem. Environmentalists are particularly concerned about this since so many environmental regulations passed at the federal level compel the states to pay for their compliance and fiscal outlay — as well as forces them to set up their own programs in some cases.

The property rights issue has gained such prominence that the Senate has established a property rights caucus led by Senators Dole and Howell Heflin, a former chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court. In the House, Democrat Billy Tauzin is finding himself at odds with his party colleagues in the House leadership as he circulates a discharge petition to bring his “Property Owner’s Bill of Rights” to the floor for debate. Senator Phil Gramm, an oft-mentioned Republican candidate for the White House in 1996, has also introduced property rights legislation, and expressed interest in using it as a campaign issue in this fall’s elections (Gramm is the head of the National Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee).

Outside the Beltway, property rights is becoming a major issue in the states. Over the past legislative session, 37 state legislatures introduced almost 100 bills to protect property rights. Ten of these states have turned these bills into law. At the American Legislative Exchange Council’s 1994 conference, a whole morning was set aside to discuss the issue of property rights. Many states are eagerly awaiting the results of a vote to take place in Arizona in November, where voters will be asked to decide the fate of property rights legislation.

After a petition campaign rife with deceitful allegations that property rights legislation would ruin Arizona’s economy and ecology, environmentalists were able to force a referendum on property rights legislation already passed by the legislature and signed by the governor. Proposition 300, as it is now known, “would require state agencies, before a taking results, to examine their activities, including rules and other regulatory actions that effect the use of property, to determine if an action requires compensation from the state.” In addition to this important election battle out West, Massachusetts and Fl….orida are also putting property rights to a vote in referendums this fall.

From the very beginning of our republic, property rights have been considered sacred. The Founding Fathers envisioned a strong system of property rights as a means of protecting individual liberty. John Adams, in his Defense of the Constitutions of Government, said: “The moment the idea is admitted into society that property is not as sacred as the laws of God, and there is not force of law and public justice to protect it, anarchy and tyranny commence.” The Founding Fathers believed property rights to be of such overreaching importance that it is the only part of the Constitution providing money to be awarded to citizens for incurred damages: “[N]or shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.”

Property rights is truly the civil rights issue of the 1990′s and beyond. When the right to own and control property are infringed, the rights of free speech, association, and many others are put at risk. Who would dare speak out against a government that can take their land at any moment, with no restraint. Realizing this, the people have banded together, organized, and are actively fighting for their rights….

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