First blood was drawn by Defenders of Wildlife and the Monitor consortium of environmental groups, which sued the Clinton administration for allowing the Bureau of Reclamation to participate in a scheme that would imperil endangered species such as the panda, the Yangtze River dolphin, Temminick's cat, the stump-tailed macaque, and the South China siku deer. Rather than see the U.S. Supreme Court issue a ruling that might apply the Endangered Species Act to U.S.-funded projects abroad, and thus provide legal standing to dozens of other cases, the Clinton crowd pushed the Bureau of Reclamation into retreat. The Bureau of Reclamation took a walk, just as the World Bank had.
At this point, International Rivers Network, a group based in Berkeley, embarked on a direct anti-corporate campaign, denouncing Caterpillar and the other big corporations as welfare gougers, embarking on vast and destructive ventures only if they got taxpayers to guarantee their takings.
International Rivers Network staffers Juliette Majot and Owen Lammers devised an intelligent war plan. In the past, the Ex-Im Bank had no criteria for issuing loan guarantees other than the "creditworthiness" of the host government for any given project. (The creditworthiness of the country was duly assisted by the World Bank, in an unending shell game.) But the Rivers Network began pressuring the Ex-Im Bank to develop guidelines which addressed human rights and environmental concerns. It was these guidelines, adopted in 1995, that finally caused the Ex-Im Bank to issue an extraordinary eight-page rebuke to the U.S. corporations seeking the guarantees.
The fury of these corporations at being outed as welfare chisellers was expressed in the form of an assault on the Network in Forbes magazine two weeks before the Ex-Im Bank issued its verdict. The article was clearly designed to undercut the River Network's campaign against Three Gorges and other destructive projects in the Third World. Forbes writer Brigid McMenamin denounced the Rivers Network's "enviro-imperialism" and remarked angrily that the Ex-Im Bank and the World Bank have both "given a bunch of flaky radicals a say in [their] projects."
The best chance for Three Gorges dam probably expired back in April when Ron Brown's plane slammed into that hillside in Croatia. Sitting near Brown on that mission to reap corporate profits from war-torn Bosnia was John Scoville, president of Harza Engineering, a secretive Chicago-based firm that stood to make hundreds of millions advising the Chinese on the Three Gorges project.
Now China is down to one supporter of last resort: Canada. The Canadian consortium that planned the now largely doomed HydroQuebec project has time, equipment, and money on its hands. A decision from the Canadian export banking authority is expected within the next year.
Meanwhile, the International Rivers Network's successful campaign points toward the sort of militant new environmentalism embodied in groups such as Food and Water (based in Vermont) and the Environmental Research Foundation (publishers of the indispensable Rachel's Environment and Health Weekly). The strategy of these groups is to shun the sort of deal-making and underwriting that has largely corrupted the national green groups and go right for the corporate throat.