Will NAFTA Force US to Drink MTBE?
by Elisa Lynch

On October 13, 2000, Earth Island's Bluewater Network (BWN) joined the Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund, Communities for a Better Environment, and the Center for International Environmental Law demanding to participate as amici curiae (friends of the court) in an international arbitration proceeding under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). The request was supported by more than 80 US, Canadian, and Mexican organizations

The dispute arises out of California's decision to remove the toxic chemical additive MTBE from gasoline. MTBE, which has already leached into critical municipal water supplies, is a potential carcinogen that poses a significant risk to human health and the environment- The Canadian Methanex Corporation contends that California's phase-out order violates NAFTA's foreign investment provisions. Methanex is demanding payment of nearly $1 billion if California does not rescind the MTBE prohibition.

Methanex's challenge raises crucial issues concerning the ability of local, state, and national governments to act to protect the fundamental interests of their citizens. This corporate challenge also threatens to disrupt the interaction between international investment rules and domestic laws. The decision in this case will directly affect the interests of the citizens of California, as well as all citizens of the US, Mexico, and Canada.

"Allowing amicus participation would also help counter public concern that this arbitration is undemocratic and unfair because affected citizens are excluded from participating," the groups argued in their letter to the arbitration panel.

"California's MTBE phase-out is the result of a democratic process. Methanex is seeking a huge payment that could be a major disincentive for California to maintain the phase-out. The threat this proceeding poses to California's democratically implemented environmental measure makes it especially important that representatives of the public be permitted to participate"

What You Can Do: Express your concerns to NAFTA's Chapter 11 Arbitration Tribunal, c/o International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes, World Bank, 1818 H Street NW Washington, DC 20433.

© Earth Island Journal, Spring 2001