NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

U.S. Imposes Environmental Agenda Abroad

May 20, 1996

American environmental groups are using U.S. foreign aid to undermine market economies abroad and put American businesses at a competitive disadvantage.

In Indonesia, for example, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) gave more than $1.3 million to the Wahana Lingkungan Hidup Indonesia (WALHI) -- the local chapter of Friends of the Earth. USAID claims that it is promoting "democratic values;" its grants make up virtually all of WALHI's operating budget.

For the past two years, WALHI has campaigned against New Orleans-based Freeport McMoRan Copper & Gold, accusing the mining company of polluting an Indonesian river, destroying crops and inciting military attacks on civilians.

  • In fact, Freeport spends millions to repair land littered with mine wastes, planting grass and crops.
  • It even built a $2 million lab devoted to testing local fish, water and plants for contamination.
  • It provides well-paying jobs and helps finance education and health care in backward areas.
  • There is no evidence of collusion between Freeport and the Indonesian military.

Through U.S. environmental activists, WALHI lobbied the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), a federal agency that promotes business abroad by insuring companies against the risk of nationalization. OPIC cancelled Freeport's $100 million policy. To placate WALHI and OPIC, Freeport agreed to put $15 million annually into a slush fund for WALHI and fund a $100 million trust for "environmental remediation."

U.S. activists' involvement in overseas aid programs began in the 1970s. To settle a 1974 suit by the Environmental Defense Fund and the Natural Resources Defense Council, USAID began assessing the environmental impact of every overseas project it finances.

Today, it is imposing notions of "sustainable development" -- a code word for a subsistence economy -- on undeveloped countries. It even set up the Center for the Environment, budgeted at $79 million in 1995, which gives jobs to activists.

Other U.S. companies have been stung by U.S. environmentalists overseas. For example, Southern Peru Copper, controlled by New York-based Asarco, was sued in Texas state courts by Partners for the Americas for allegedly polluting the air above Ilo, Peru. Partners gets more than half of its $8 million annual budget from the USAID.

Source: Brigid McMenamin, "Environmental Imperialism," Forbes, May 20, 1996.


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