The Shameless Seven Ride Again

One of the great triumphs of grassroots environmentalism in this country was the battle in the late 1980s to ban the sale of "dolphin-unsafe" tuna--fish caught by nets that would also ensnare dolphins. Tuna fishing's toll on the dolphins of the eastern Pacific was horrific, killing more than seven million dolphins; a turning point in the campaign initiated by Earth Island Institute was the surrender of the Heinz subsidiary StarKist.
A U.S. law banning the sale of dolphin-unsafe tuna soon followed.

Unless opposition rallies in the next couple
of weeks, this triumph may well be reversed. The peculiarly unholy alliance now mustered against the dolphin includes major environmental organizations such as the Environmental Defense Fund, Greenpeace, the National Wildlife Federation, a posse of U.S. senators, Commerce Secretary Ron Brown, lobbyist and Clinton intimate Vernon Jordan, Undersecretary of State Tim Wirth, and Teresa Heinz, widow of the late Senator John Heinz and current wife of Senator John Kerry.

Last summer the Mexican government quietly let it be known that under the terms of NAFTA it should be permitted to sell its canned tuna in U.S. markets, even though its fishing fleets had taken no measures to ensure that dolphins were not part of the regular haul.
The Mexican position was duly communicated to Mickey Kantor, the U.S. government's trade representative, and a man the equal of Commerce Secretary Ron Brown as regards his eagerness to service any corporate endeavor of plunder and rapine.

It will be recalled that at a crucial moment in the NAFTA battle in late 1993, the Clinton administration was able to brandish a statement of support for the free trade agreement from seven major environmental organizations. Among them were the Environmental Defense Fund, Natural Resources Defense Council, World Wildlife Fund, and the National
Wildlife Federation.

The leaders of these groups--swiftly dubbed the Shameless Seven--boasted that they had negotiated a side agreement that would allay the charge of NAFTA's critics that the trade agreement between the United States, Mexico, and Canada would "level down" environmental laws to the lowest rung and that this "downward harmonization" would wreck years of legislative achievement. John Adams, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, boasted that it was the support of his group and the rest of the Seven that had "broken the back of the environmental opposition to NAFTA."

So NAFTA passed. Now, two years later, we have before us the first clear proof that the NAFTA critics had it exactly right. The side agreement was worthless and the dolphin will be the first to pay the price.

Primed by Kantor, the Clinton administration adopted the view that the Mexican request was entirely legitimate, but that the big green groups had to be trotted out once more, to provide the necessary political camouflage. Closed-door sessions were held at the Mexican embassy in Washington, D.C. Participants included the Environmental Defense Fund, National Wildlife Federation, Greenpeace, World Wildlife Fund, and the Center for Marine Conservation. Excluded were anti-NAFTA groups such as the Sierra Club and the dolphin's fiercest advocates, Earth Island Institute and the United States Humane Society. Also excluded were members of Congress and their staffers, who had written the original
dolphin protection law.

Thus secure from any unwelcome questions or criticisms, the parties at the September embassy session drafted what soon emerged in the light of legislative day as Senate Bill 1420, introduced by Ted Stevens, Republican from Alaska, and John Breaux, Democrat from Louisiana. Also jumping aboard were Breaux's mentor, Bennett Johnston, the senior (and imminently retiring) Democrat from Louisiana and John Chafee, Republican from Rhode Island, who is often described as the environmental conscience of the Senate. Breaux and Stevens have long been courtiers to the fishing industry, most powerfully represented by such titans as Don Tyson, the chicken and fish king from Arkansas.

The language of the dolphin death bill was drafted by staffers at the Environmental Defense Fund and National Wildlife Federation along with Bud Walsh, an attorney who has labored for the Wise-Use movement. The Stevens-Breaux bill fronted by the big green groups repeals the current dolphin protection law and will permit the unlimited sale of dolphin-lethal tuna in the United States. There are many devious components to this legislation, but perhaps none more egregious than language that will allow the Mexican tuna to be marketed under the "dolphin-safe" seal, even though such tuna may have been caught by the "chasing and encircling method" known to kill thousands of dolphins each year.

The aim is to rush the bill through the Senate before popular sentiment can be rallied. Meanwhile, a House version is being prepared by Don Young, another Republican from Alaska who is chairman of the House Resources Committee and a taxidermist by training.
As part of the sneak attack, the Clinton White House wants Stevens to attach the bill as a rider to the Magnuson Fisheries Conservation and Management Act, which has already been approved by both houses and is now being fine-tuned in conference committee. Attaching the bill as a rider bypasses any debate on the merits of the bill.

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