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.

The litany of double-dealing is a familiar one. First, there is the Ozone Man himself,
Al Gore, who has already appeased Norwegian whaling interests earlier this year in the name of GATT and now seems intent on using his environmental credentials to forge a similar deal for Mexico on dolphins. Then there is Tim Wirth, the former Democratic senator from Colorado and now a Clinton administration official. Back at the start of this year, Wirth leaked to the Washington Post a memo he had written to the White House urging a firm stance on environmental protection. Wirth has now come forth as a leading broker for the Stevens-Breaux bill as it navigates its way through the Senate.
He has sent handwritten notes to several key senators, asking: "Can you co-sponsor the tuna/dolphin bill? We have worked out a good package with a sound science/enviro base and with Breaux and Stevens as co-sponsors."

From John Chafee comes supportive babble about "ecosystem management" in the Pacific and the necessity to kill some dolphins that more might flourish (to be killed another day). Particular pressure has been applied to the Massachusetts Democrat, Senator John Kerry, a long-time supporter of strong dolphin conservation measures. Kerry is being urged to sign onto the bill by a lobbyist with whom he is particularly intimate--his wife, Teresa Heinz, the vice chair of the Environmental Defense Fund's board of directors and a fanatical espouser of free-market environmentalism.

Heinz is the widow of the late Senator John Heinz of Pennsylvania, who was heir to the $640 million Heinz food fortune. (John Heinz and Wirth were old friends in the Senate, and co-authored Project '88, a detailed manifesto of free-trade environmentalism.) Teresa Heinz,
a ruling class Portuguese woman who is a sort of green version of Ariana Huffington, remains a leading stockholder in the Heinz Corp., which owns StarKist, the world's largest tuna processor. The Heinz Corp., which has made big investments in "dolphin-safe" tuna, is to its credit resisting pressure from Teresa Heinz and the White House to support the redefinition of "dolphin-safe" and the opening of the U.S. market to tuna from Mexico.

But the bill has another big supporter in Commerce Secretary Ron Brown. He sees an alliance between the administration and Don Young and Ted Stevens as a way to stave off attempts to gut the Commerce Department's budget. And, indeed, Young and Stevens have both opposed measures to zero out Brown's department.

And the green groups? They call the deal a "victory for the environment," and claim that their presence at the embassy meeting in September will allow them future access to the halls of power in Mexico City. One of the most vigorous promoters of the Dolphin Death Bill is the Center for Marine Conservation, an organization that maintains a cozy relationship with corporations such as Anhueser-Busch and Dow Chemical. The Center is run by Roger McManus, whose wife, Dinah Bear, works for the Clinton administration as general counsel for the Council on Environmental Quality.

Sounding very much like a fully fledged free-market environmentalist, Greenpeace USA President Barbara Dudley says her organization supports the Stevens-Breaux bill because "it tears down unfair trade barriers" for Latin American countries such as Mexico, Colombia, and Chile. "The current Dolphin Safe Tuna laws represent a kind of green protectionism. We need to give Third World nations economic incentives to protect the oceans." Two of the "Third World" nations that will benefit most from passage of the Stevens-Breaux bill are Spain and France. Of course, Greenpeace rakes in millions of dollars a year in the name of the dolphins and the whales.

So the dolphins could soon start dying as a consequence of this legislation, sacrificed by Clinton and the big green groups on the altar of free trade. This bill should be seen as a bellwether. In its wake will come further assaults on U.S. environmental laws, precisely along the lines foretold so accurately two years ago by NAFTA's opponents.

Sponsor Content


All-access pass to the top stories, events and offers around town.

  • Top Stories


All-access pass to top stories, events and offers around town.

Sign Up >

No Thanks!

Remind Me Later >