NAFTA 2.0 better, but still bad
Congress recently passed the U.S. Mexico Canada Trade Agreement (aka NAFTA 2.0). Thanks to efforts by local, state and national labor unions, environmental organizations and consumer protection groups, including our own Colorado Coalition for Fair Trade, the outcome is better than both the original and the 2018 revision signed by Trump. While NAFTA 2.0 does reflect a marginal improvement, it is still far from a good trade agreement.
Perhaps the most important improvement is elimination of corporations’ ability to sue nations in private international tribunals in order to negate domestic laws protecting the public, workers and the environment from corporate neglect and abuse.
However, there is one huge exception. Several big U.S. oil corporations were exempted, so they can still sue Mexico for passing laws protecting Mexican citizens and their local environment from predation by fossil fuel giants. This exemption plus the agreement’s failure to mention, much less address, climate change, its failure to significantly improve inadequate environmental protections and a notable failure to eliminate provisions that enable corporate challenges to local environmental regulations led most environmental organizations to oppose the agreement.
Another important change was the insertion of language strengthening labor protections and enforcement in Mexico. The country is notorious for corrupt company unions and violence against independent labor unionists. Other provisions increasing Mexican wages to $16 per hour for 40-45% of workers producing motor vehicles exported to the U.S. and Canada, and upping North American-produced content of the same to 75% will slightly narrow the wage gap between U.S. and Mexican workers. These improvements led the AFL-CIO, though not all its member unions, to accept the agreement.
Elimination of draconian Big Pharma monopoly patent protections on many life-saving drugs was a key improvement, without which many in Congress would have voted no.
NAFTA 2.0 is far from ideal. Many troubling provisions remain that harm small farmers, weaken internet privacy protections, retain buy-American waivers that harm local businesses and job creation on federal government projects, weaken food safety protections and maintain incentives to export environmental pollution to Mexico where regulations are lax.
New labor and environmental provisions may improve conditions for Mexican workers, but will not bring back jobs to the U.S. as Trump likes to claim. Much more work is needed to infuse a fair-trade philosophy into this and many other trade agreements that favor corporate profits and rich investors over workers, public health and the environment.
Change thinking on energy
Most of us want to see a future free from fossil fuels. That’s a given. How we get there is another matter. How we wrestle with the oil and gas industry elephant in the room is key. They hold political sway. They also hold a key scientific advantage: beneath the surface where oil and gas fields exist, temperatures in the rock range between 300 and 700 degrees Fahrenheit. Why is that an advantage? Because of the co-produced water which comes to the surface along with the oil and gas extracted. The problem is, the 25 billion barrels of co-produced water across our country, water hot enough to drive geothermal turbines, is discarded and not harnessed for its energy potential.
According to university studies conducted in Texas, there is enough co-produced water in coastal Texas and Louisiana to run all power plants in Texas. That is the magnitude of what I am talking about. Colorado? How about putting a huge dent in the power requirements for Tri-State electric from all the co-produced water from oil and gas wells across Colorado?
Paul Brown’s article “Politicians, not markets, slow new energy dawn” (Re: Boulderganic, Jan. 2, 2020) points out “there have to be positive policies from governments to switch from fossil fuels.” While working at the Department of Energy’s Golden Field Office for Renewable Energy, I was witness to the best of those policies. One of the technologies funded there develops abundant super-hot water that is traditionally discarded by the oil industry in the Texas Permian Basin and in the geological formation running between Eastern Texas and Western Louisiana.
How do we expand this effort? Start by providing the right incentives in Colorado and nationwide, to make the industry do something environmentally responsible that they’ve avoided. Co-produced water has always been treated like a pain in the ass by them. It’s up to us to make them see the error in their ways of discarding the fluid (reinjecting it into the ground, sending it to cooling ponds, etc). The fluid often has a high salinity and/or heavy metals content. In the DOE-funded efforts, when geothermal technology is incorporated, thermally driven processes, such as forward osmosis, are utilized to purify the water, which after cooling can be used for irrigation or industrial uses. In the process, electricity is generated to power not only oil and gas rigs nearby (instead of using fossil fuels to do the work), but the energy generated is sent to the power grid. Bottom line: Less fossil fuel is burned to meet our energy needs.
When oil and gas at the well dries up, hot rock underground will remain. With naturally occurring or injected water, oil and gas companies will continue to have a clean power reservoir to exploit. With all the tax breaks the industry has received, no tax breaks have gone for such a venture. It is time that changes. Since those of us who champion renewable energy sources have been so busy bashing the oil and gas industry, we’ve not taken notice of this “loophole” in thinking. It is time for a paradigm shift on both sides of this issue. With the right tax policies, maybe we can determine how much petrol is being used, versus how much super-heated water is utilized to meet our power requirements. How much are we all willing to sacrifice to make this work?
Watch Gardner on Trump
Senator Cory Gardner is up for re-election. Time to watch his impeachment vote. Anyone who thinks this careless president is “OK” should have his funding checked. Is Gardner reaping the benefits of Trump’s changing our Environmental Protection Agency to Environmental Destruction Agency, for instance? Something to consider in Colorado with both energy industry and tourism: dirty air and dirty water are cheaper for the bottom line. Who funds Gardner? Most of all, does Gardner think a president is above the law? What will the Senate trial’s new witnesses provide for facts, if the Republican-heavy U.S. Senate actually fulfills its duty and has a trial?
Watch Gardner’s impeachment vote. Help protect our democracy and freedom of all kinds. If he votes that President Trump is “OK,” replace Gardner with his challenger, come election time.
Lynn Rudmin Chong/via internet