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Trade Is Good For The Environment, Administration Says

A big, new administration report promoting administration deals as "Trade For A Greener World" promises new protections for endangered wildlife and plants. But the phrase "climate change" doesn't appear.

Last updated on July 3, 2018, at 1:16 p.m. ET

Posted on May 20, 2015, at 7:59 a.m. ET

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WASHINGTON — The Obama administration is expected to promise Wednesday that proposed trade deals with Europe and the Pacific Rim will be a boon to the environment, pushing back on some of the president's most ardent trade policy critics in the environmental advocacy community.

A big new report from the United States Trade Representative and the State Department entitled "Standing Up For The Environment: Trade For A Greener World" is set to be released widely by the Obama administration late Wednesday morning. BuzzFeed News obtained a draft copy of the report Tuesday.

The report promises the trade pacts will bring strict new protections for fish and wildlife, animal trafficking, and illegal logging. The 56-page draft document only mentions the phrase "climate change" once — in a boilerplate section detailing the history of the State Department.

An administration official said the White House position on climate change is clear and that numerous global agreements to combat greenhouse gas emissions signed by President Obama prove that combatting climate change is a key goal of U.S. foreign policy. The lack of the phrase "climate change" was not intentional and not meant to telegraph a changing commitment to climate change, according to the official. The report, the official said, is not about climate change. An upcoming State Department report will detail the department's commitment to climate change and what it has done to advance the administration's agenda, the official said.

But the lack of a climate focus in an Obama administration environmental document is uncommon, and will likely grab the attention of trade opponents in the environmental community who have said for a while now that Obama's trade deals will be a climate nightmare, leading to a dramatic increase in domestic fracking and carbon emissions overseas.

The report — which repeats the oft-used administration phrase "the most progressive trade agreement in history" when describing the Trans-Pacific Partnership — promises administration trade deals will have a positive impact on many progressive conservation goals, such as illegal trade in wildlife, illegal logging, and unregulated fishing.

The report casts environmental threats as potential threats to U.S. national security.

"Trafficking in wildlife and timber is not a threat solely to the environment. Criminal elements of all kinds, including terrorist organizations, are believed to be involved in illegal logging and charcoal trade, and poaching and transporting ivory and rhino horn across and out of Africa," the draft reads. "Insurgency groups like the Lord's Resistance Army have benefitted substantially from poaching and trafficking of ivory and other wildlife products, while terrorist organizations like al-Shabaab benefit from trafficking in wildlife and timber products. In some cases, these networks are the same or overlap with those that deal in other illicit goods such as drugs and weapons."

The report casts TPP and a potential trade pact with Europe as much stronger on the environment than trade deals that have gone before them. Through case studies on past trade pacts, the draft report details what the administration calls "Environmental Progress Through Trade" in member countries of trade deals signed by the Bush administration with countries in Central and South America, Oman and Morocco. But the administration vows to go even farther with the TPP than the protections included in NAFTA, CAFTA-DR and other recent trade pacts.

The report is part of a high-pressure lobbying campaign by the Obama administration to get just enough Democratic support for its trade proposals to pass them through the Republican-controlled Congress. The White House always expected to rely on Republicans to pass its trade agenda, but efforts by the activist left drive Democrats away from the president on trade have been more successful than some of Obama's trade allies expected. Promises of environmental and labor improvements through trade deals have been used by the White House to shore up Democratic support, and Obama has taken to staking his reputation in public on what he calls progressive aspects of the trade deals. White House allies have been frustrated by what they see as a lack of trust among liberals for the president on trade deals. Obama has expressed frustration at continued Democratic opposition.

The aggressive environmental trade report goes right at that opposition, casting the trade deals as a major step toward environmental protection.

Climate does get a mention in a section on illegal logging — unregulated logging is "jeopardizing the climate stabilizing and pollution control effects of the world's forests," the report says — but the phrase "climate change" does not appear anywhere in the report itself. The only mention comes before the introduction to the document in a short overview of State Department history dating back to 1789.

"The U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs (OES) advances U.S. foreign policy goals in such critical areas as climate change, wildlife trafficking, water, polar issues, oceans policy, infectious diseases, science and technology, and space policy to name a few," the section reads in part.

The environmental activist community, like much of the activist left, has been working to stop White House trade policy proposals from becoming law. While the report attempts to directly addresses many of their concerns about environmental impacts of trade policy and promises unprecedented protections for conservation programs dealing with animals and trees, it's unlikely the report will change many minds among the hardened anti-trade environmentalists. Like other progressive trade opponents, they've complained about the negotiating process and that past trade deals haven't lived up to their promises to the left.

Specifically related to the environment, opponents have warned that the Pacific trade deal opens up new markets to fossil fuels collected in the United States, meaning, they say, more fracking, more polluting processing infrastructure and more chances for a catastrophic pipeline, train or sea-borne tanker leak. They also question the administration's commitment to losing a trade negotiation on the issue of climate change. A February document leak purported to reveal U.S. trade negotiators removing the phrase "climate change" from trade deal language.

The USTR told Politico the leak was "misleading" at the time and said it "obscures the full range of potential environmental benefits being negotiated in the TPP."

The big new report from USTR and State sets out to cast the Obama trade deals as an environmental win.

"Today's environmental challenges are global in nature and require an international response," reads the report's introduction. "Strong environmental protections in trade agreements, like the ones we're negotiating in the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement can be a key part of this response."

Read the report: