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Clean Air Fouled by The “Free Market’ ‘ BY NORMAN SOLOMON THE NEWS SHOULD HAVE caused a national uproar: a global trade authority ordered the United States to allow higher levels of air pollution or pay huge fines. But if you blinked, you may have missed the story entirely. In a decision with momentous implications, the new World Trade Organization ruled that the U.S. law known as the Clean Air Act is unacceptable because of restrictions it places on pollutants in imported gasoline. The decree could result in higher levels of toxic auto emissions. “This is a major blow to the ability of the United States to protect public health,” said a senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council. But, when the news broke in mid-January, it was a fleeting blip on the media screen. Since then, follow-up coverage has been almost impossible to find. Why did such a dramaticand importantstory drop from sight so quickly? Because none of this nation’s top movers and shakers wanted to make a big deal out of it. The White House preferred that the story disappear, pronto. After all, the World Trade Organization owes its existence to the GATT trade pact that President Clinton pushed through Congress in late 1994. Back then, Clinton vowed that the accord would not interfere with U.S. anti-pollution laws. His trade representative, Mickey Kantor, even claimed that the GATT agreement “will help improve environmental protection.” Yet, in the wake of the WTO’s outrageous ruling January 17, leading Republicans were not well-positioned to turn it into a campaign issue. Senator Bob Dole has lamented the enormous power of the WTO, but there’s no escaping the reality that he voted to create it in the first place. So did Phil Gramm and Richard Lugar, the other senators seeking the GOP presidential nomination. And publishing magnate Steve Forbes has always been enthusiastic about the organization. Media critic Norman Solomon’s writing appears in Fair, the magazine of Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting. In fact, among this year’s major candidates for president, only Pat Buchanan opposed the GATT treaty. And he has a tough time sounding righteous about the WTO’s assault on the Clean Air Act. Buchanan loves to make passionate speeches about American sovereignty, but he happens to despise federal regulations that protect the environment. In keeping with his brand of political theology, Buchanan defines environmentalism as the antithesis of all that’s holy. “Easter’s gone,” he declares angrily. “Now it’s Earth Day. We can all go out and worship dirt.” On Capitol Hill, most Democrats eager to cover for Clintonare remaining silent about the WTO’s action. This makes for notable hypocrisy. For instance, the newest member of the Senate, Oregon’s Ron Wyden, has presented himself as a Democratic defender of the environment since his recent election to fill the unexpired term of Senator Bob Packwood. Republicans in Congress are “just going on a bender with respect to clean air, clean water and environmental laws,” Wyden charged. Unfortunately, Wydenwho helped to establish the WTO by voting for GATT in the Housefailed to denounce the WTO for going on a bender with respect to the Clean Air Act. Stymied by public opinion that has forced congressional Republicans to back off from efforts to gut laws like the Clean Air Act, many corporate polluters now view the World Trade Organization as a godsend. Multinational oil companies are quietly savoring the WTO’s decision. They see big dollar signs ahead, with surging U.S. imports of dirty gasoline from outmoded foreign refineries. What about environmental organizations? The sad truth is that the largest ones have gotten into the habit of muting their voices in deference to the White House. One of the most independent advocacy groupsPublic Citizen, founded by Ralph Naderhas not minced words. “Under the WTO, countries and their democratically elected representatives are very limited in what they can do to implement and enforce environmental objectives,” says Lori Wallach, director of the group’s Global Trade Watch. Because of the WTO ruling on gasoline, Wallach told me, the United States must make “an unacceptable choice between allowing more polluted air or facing enormous sanctionsone hundred fifty million dollars a year.” Welcome to global “free trade,” WTO style. After extolling the creation of the World Trade Organization, big media outlets have a responsibility to examine the threat it now poses to environmental safeguards. Too often, debates over trade policy seem ideological or theoretical. But there’s nothing abstract about the air we breathe. 4 11:”` WI Sea f17.1 Horse i 1 ai r .\\\\.aiLthic 11. pH \\ mcp:11.11c. I. Ilr ai$ 4 / ’11/\(///\(‘ I //i\(vic\(\(ii \( /1\(117/ f OA \(. , \\I i \\ I I ‘4 fit 1423 llth Street 410 0″ l’ort. {1ransas, TX 78373 It Scan 749-5221 /in Rts-,\(.7 -,,,; …….00.4.1:44,14r Ik…. ………4,r 2″4. The United States must make //an unacceptable choice between allowing more polluted air or facing enormous sanctionsone hundred fifty million dollars a year.” f Inn I , r, K,t,h,:,,c11,,, \(..,,Nic 1 \\ . of,, e, /,,,,/,, I/1\( \(ital HI .11cHH ao _ai i , H o Hit .IllhoiL , 1\\loml lie I 20 FEBRUARY 23, 1996