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Green Mayor of Santa Monica makes NY Times - 2 parts

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  • elevans@aol.com
    part 1 of 2 parts MIKE FEINSTEIN: mike feinstein, the green party s mayor of santa monica, is interviewed regarding nafta.  he is mentioned a little more than
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 11 12:58 PM
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      part 1 of 2 parts

      MIKE FEINSTEIN:
      mike feinstein, the green party's mayor of santa monica, is interviewed
      regarding nafta.  he is mentioned a little more than 1/2 thru the article.
      unfortunately the green party is never mentioned in the article.

      if you go to the nytimes webpage, there's even a nice picture of mike in the
      middle of a lotta blue-green machinery: the water power plant perhaps.

      greenly, roz

      ===================================

      http://www.nytimes.com/2001/03/11/business/11TRIB.html

                    March 11, 2001

                    Nafta's Powerful Little Secret

                    By ANTHONY DePALMA

                        Their meetings are secret. Their members                  
      are generally unknown. The decisions                   they reach need not be
      fully disclosed.               Yet the way a small group of international    
                tribunals handles disputes between investors               and
      foreign governments has led to national               laws being revoked,
      justice systems questioned               and environmental regulations
      challenged. And               it is all in the name of protecting the rights
      of               foreign investors under the North American Free            
        Trade Agreement.

                    The corporations — American, Canadian and               Mexican
      alike — that directly invest in               neighboring countries are
      thrilled that Nafta               provides some protection. But foes of the
      trade               pact say some of their worst fears about              
      anonymous government have become reality.               And as Western
      economies move toward more               free trade and globalization,
      environmentalists,               consumer groups and anti-trade organizations
                    are increasingly worried about how the tribunals              
      influence the enforcement of laws. The groups               are gearing up
      for a fight at the Summit of the               Americas next month in Quebec,
      where               President Bush will be pushing a vast new Free          
          Trade Area of the Americas, which would               provide for similar
      tribunals.

                    Protesters will attack the sweeping powers and              
      broad impact of the tribunals, along with their               very nature —
      ad hoc panels drawn from lists of               academics and international
      lawyers almost               unknown outside their highly specialized fields.

                    "What we're talking about here is secret              
      government," said Joan Claybrook, president of               Public Citizen,
      a consumer watchdog group in               Washington that has been critical
      of Nafta and               other trade agreements. Ms. Claybrook said the    
                16 Nafta cases that have been filed so far in the              
      United States, Canada and Mexico showed               how corporations were
      using Nafta not to               defend trade but to challenge the
      functioning of               government. "This is not the way to do the      
              public's business," she said.

                    The tribunals have been used in Nafta disputes for only a few
      years, but the complaints they have handled have already had many
      repercussions, including these:

                    • The Canadian government lifted restrictions on manufacturing
      an ethanol-based gasoline additive that it considered hazardous after an
      American manufacturer said that the ban hurt its business.

                    • A tribunal ordered Mexico to pay an American company $16.7
      million after finding that local environmental laws prohibiting a
      toxic-waste-processing plant that the company was building were tantamount to
      expropriation.

                    • A Canadian-based funeral company is asking the United States
      government for $725 million in compensation after a Mississippi jury found
      the company guilty in 1995 of trying to put a local funeral home out of
      business, and levied $500 million in damages.  The company contends that the
      jury sought to punish it because it is foreign. If the tribunal awards
      compensation, critics say, all jury awards involving foreign investors may be
      challenged.

                    • United Parcel Service, the package-delivery company, has
      filed a complaint contending that the very existence of the publicly financed
      Canadian postal system represents unfair competition that conflicts with
      Canada's obligations under Nafta.

                    Critics worry that if the tribunal upholds the U.P.S. claim,
      government participation in any service that competes with the private sector
      will be threatened.

                    It is clear that investors have gained a shield far more
      powerful than almost anyone had imagined when Nafta was written in the early
      1990's. "There is no doubt that these measures represent an expansion of the
      rights of private enterprises vis- à-vis government," said Prof. Andreas F.
      Lowenfeld, an international trade expert at the New York University School of
      Law. "The question is: Is that a good thing?"

                    The international tribunals are authorized under a Nafta clause
      called Chapter 11, dealing with investments. Investors who believe they have
      suffered a loss because of a breach in Nafta rules can bring a claim against
      the government of the country where they made their investment. They can have
      the complaint heard under one of two existing sets of rules — one from the
      United Nations, the other from an independent office of the World Bank.

                    These off-the-shelf mechanisms adopted by Nafta have commonly
      been used to resolve private disputes between corporations, and are thus
      intended to provide a great degree of confidentiality. Both critics and
      proponents agree that the provisions run headlong into demands for openness
      and accountability when public issues are involved.

                    "The fact that the drafters of Nafta chose this secretive
      process to resolve these disputes is further evidence that they weren't
      foreseeing matters of broad social concern coming before these panels," said
      Martin Wagner, director of international programs for the Earthjustice Legal
      Defense Fund, an environmental group in San Francisco.

                    Critics say the corporate victories have spawned even bolder
      and broader challenges, each one further undermining public policy. In a
      recent case that critics consider one of the most worrisome, the Methanex
      Corporation of Vancouver, British Columbia, is challenging California's
      decision to phase out the use of a gasoline additive containing methanol,
      which Methanex makes. The state considers the additive, MTBE, which was
      originally intended to reduce air pollution from motor vehicle emissions, to
      be a health hazard when it enters the water supply. Santa Monica, Calif.,
      with 93,000 residents, had to shut down most of its municipal wells when
      gasoline containing MTBE leached into the drinking water a few years ago.

                    Methanex contends that MTBE poses absolutely no health hazard
      and that the state's action would effectively destroy its market. "The work
      that was done to make the decision to move forward with the ban wasn't
      extensive enough to draw the conclusion that MTBE is hazardous," said Bradley
      W. Boyd, director of investor relations at Methanex.

                    The company recently amended the claim to include accusations
      that a decision by Gov. Gray Davis of California to ban the additive might
      have been politically motivated and linked to more than $200,000 in campaign
      contributions by the Archer Daniels Midland Company, which makes a competing
      product. A spokesman for the governor, Gabriel Sanchez, called the
      accusations "ludicrous."

                    Mr. Boyd said Methanex was not asking for the ban to be lifted,
      but rather for Methanex to be compensated if it was prevented from doing
      business in California because of the ban. The company wants $970 million in
      compensation, which rankles many Californians.

                    "It's the height of corporate moxie," said Michael Feinstein,
      an environmental activist who is the mayor of Santa Monica. He said he was
      worried that a precedent would be set if the MTBE phase-out was undermined.
      Even if the tribunals have no power to overturn laws, he said, a decision in
      Methanex's favor "would have a devastatingly chilling effect on all such
      future laws and standards because of the belief that they would not stand up
      to challenge."

                    The United States government, named as a defendant in the
      Methanex complaint, is also concerned that the case stretches Nafta beyond
      recognition. In a statement to the tribunal, the government contends that
      "Methanex's claim does not remotely resemble the type of grievance for which
      the states parties to the Nafta created the investor-state dispute mechanism."

                    Mr. Wagner has asked the tribunal to consider breaking with
      tradition and accepting written statements from third-party groups like the
      Bluewater Network, a citizens' environmental organization. The three- person
      tribunal hearing the complaint is unusual in that its members include former
      Secretary of State Warren Christopher. The tribunal determined in January
      that it had the right to accept written arguments, and said it would decide
      later whether to do so in this case.
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