Environmental Groups Declare Victory After Trade Package Scuttled on House Floor

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By Ari Natter

June 12 — Environmental groups declared victory June 12 after House Democrats blocked trade legislation they say would expedite the approval of future trade deals paving the way for the export of fossil fuels and block climate agreements.

“This is a major victory for everyone who thinks trade should be fair and responsible,” Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune said in a statement. “The era of free trade deals that harm workers and the environment is coming to a close. Now, we must bury fast track and trade deals that threaten our air, water, and climate once and for all, and start fresh to build a new model of trade.”

The Sierra Club and dozens of other environmental groups urged lawmakers to oppose the Trade Act of 2015 (H.R. 1314), which would approve “fast track” trade promotion authority for international agreements.

The measure failed to advance after a title of the bill on Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) failed by a vote of 126-302. Though the Trade Promotion Authority title of the legislation passed by a vote 219-211, a successful vote on both measures was required for it to advance to the White House.

Another vote on the failed TAA provision is scheduled for the week of June 15, according to Brendan Buck, a spokesman for House Ways and Means Committee.

The bill's failure to advance comes after House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) spoke in opposition to the bill and its effect on the environment and climate change, moments before the vote.

“The connection between the environment and commerce is inseparable,” Pelosi said in her floor remarks.

Pelosi Links Bill to Climate Change 

Specifically, Pelosi said she objected to a separate trade bill, later approved by a vote of 240-190, that would limit what deals negotiated through fast track authority could achieve on climate issues by blocking the U.S. Trade Representative from negotiating on climate change.

Pelosi's remarks against the bill came despite a Capitol Hill visit from President Barack Obama, who came to lobby skeptical House Democrats to vote in favor of the trade package (H.R. 1314).

Environmental groups are concerned that passage of the measure, which would give Obama and the next president expedited trade negotiating authority for six years, could lead to trade deals that would allow crude oil exports and expedited liquefied natural gas exports between the U.S. and the European Union.

The EU “wants to use the leverage of the trade agreement to legislate away the crude export ban,” Ilana Solomon, director of the Sierra Club Responsible Trade Program, told Bloomberg BNA in an interview.

Most domestic exports of crude oil were banned in 1975 in the wake of the Arab oil embargo.

The U.S.-E.U. deal, formally known as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, is being negotiated in secret and isn't expected to be completed until 2017, Solomon said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Ari Natter in Washington at anatter@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Pearl at lpearl@bna.com