On June 2, 2000, the U.S. Trade Representative and Department of Commerce agreed to appoint environmentalists to two trade advisory committees dealing with paper and wood products. The two agencies dropped their appeal of a district court decision requiring the appointments to be made. The agencies have nearly two dozen advisory committees on trade policy that are comprised solely of industry representatives. Environmentalists went to court to shut down these committees until they had environmental representation.
Environmentalists hailed the action: “Finally, the first steps are being taken to right a long-standing wrong,” said Earthjustice attorney Patti Goldman, who filed the lawsuit leading to the appointments. “In a democracy, industry should not be the only interest represented in setting our trade policies.”
On November 9, 1999, Federal District court Judge Barbara Rothstein ruled that the Trade Representative and Commerce Secretary had violated the Federal Advisory Committee Act by limiting membership on the paper and wood products committees to industry officials. The law requires that the advisory panels — there are approximately two dozen concerned with international trade — be “fairly balanced.” Judge Barbara Rothstein found that excluding environmentalists rendered the committees dealing with forestry imbalanced. This ruling came in a lawsuit filed by Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund on behalf of the Northwest Ecosystem Alliance, the Pacific Environment and Resources Center, Defenders of Wildlife, Sierra Club, Buckeye Forest Council, and the International Forum on Globalization.
Immediately following the judge’s ruling, the paper products committees met without any environmental representatives. The environmental groups had to go back to court and obtain another ruling on December 7, 1999, directing the Administration to have an environmental representative at the next committee meeting. While the Administration made two environmental appointments, it did so under duress. In January, it appealed the judge’s ruling. In dropping the appeal, the agencies will allow the environmentalists to stay on the committees.
“There is a broader set of societal interests at stake here than those timber companies represent. So it’s only right that citizens who want to protect forests get a seat at the table alongside corporations that exploit them for profit,” said Doug Norlen of Pacific Environment & Resources Center, who was appointed to the Paper and Paper Products committee.
The government’s action extends only to the wood and paper committees. Another lawsuit seeks to add environmental representatives to the industry-only committee on chemicals, and more than a dozen industry committees, including committees on mining, energy, and tobacco, lack environmental representation.
Victor Menotti of International Forum on Globalization observed: “While this is a welcome first step, the government is forcing us to challenge each committee in court before it will comply with the law. Instead, it should revamp its entire system of giving industry preferred access.”
Dan Seligman of the Sierra Club agreed, “The Administration has exposed its hypocrisy by calling for more public participation in the WTO but then retaining industry-only advisory committees at home.”