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Prevention of fracking harms would be shackled by trade deal


Monday 9 June 2014

Prevention of fracking harms would be shackled by trade deal

A new report concludes that fracking practices in NZ pose risks to health and the environment. The Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment has recommended that regulations be overhauled and tightened to protect New Zealanders from harm. But the Government’s secret trade negotiations would allow foreign fossil fuel companies to sue us if we do so. Again, this report demonstrates how the TPPA will undermine our sovereignty in addressing our most important public health issues like climate change.

Dr Alex Macmillan, acting co-convenor and spokesperson for OraTaiao: The NZ Climate and Health Council says the report’s conclusion “confirms concerns that were raised in a recent Open Letter to the Prime Minister from over 270 NZ health professionals on the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPPA)”.

The Letter highlights how diminished the Government’s powers to regulate harmful commercial activities would be under the proposed agreement. Foreign fossil fuel companies would be entitled to sue NZ taxpayers in an off shore tribunal if new domestic laws or regulations are introduced that are deemed to undermine the value of their investment or reduce their profits, even if they are introduced to protect health and the environment.

According to Dr Macmillan, “Fossil fuel companies have an extensive track record of making claims against governments under existing investment treaties such as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which is a forerunner of the TPPA”1.

“For example, right now in Canada a US oil and gas firm is seeking compensation of 250 million dollars from Canadian tax payers in response to a partial moratorium on fracking under the St Lawrence River until further risk assessment studies are completed2,” she adds. “The rules that allow these law suits tie the hands of regulators and make it very difficult for national or local governments to change their policies in response to emerging health risks” says Dr Macmillan.

“Even the threat of these rules being used can deter governments from introducing new regulations, despite overwhelming evidence of risks to health. We are already seeing health concerns take a back seat to transnational corporate profits in response to domestic laws on cigarette packaging in Australia. Hundreds of corporate advisors have access to draft texts of the TPPA, while health experts and the wider public have been kept in the dark,” she adds.

The potential risks of fracking to human health and the environment include contamination of land and water supplies with toxic chemicals and heavy metals introduced or generated during the fracking process3-7. The example of fracking demonstrates why current and future NZ governments must retain their sovereign right to regulate in the interest of public health without the threat of being sued by foreign investors. “This is why every New Zealander should be informed about the implications of the TPPA and realise that this proposed agreement would affect far more than just trade”, ends Dr Macmillan.


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