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Transcript of Letter Sent by US Environmental Organizations to US State Department on the Subject of US Ratification of the Basel Convention


May 8, 1998

Melinda L. Kimble
Acting Assistant Secretary of State
Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs (OES)
United States State Department
2201 C Street, NW
Washington, DC 20520


Dear Melinda L. Kimble:

We the undersigned environmental organizations wish to express our strong disagreement with the State Department's recent position to selectively ratify and implement the 1989 Basel Convention while refusing to ratify and implement the 1995 Amendment to that convention which effectively bans the export of hazardous wastes from member states of the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries (and Liechtenstein), to all other countries.

This Basel international waste dumping ban was agreed by a consensus decision of the 65 Parties to the Basel Convention on the Transboundary Movement of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal in 1994 and was adopted again by consensus as an amendment by 82 Parties in 1995. In the most recent meeting of the Basel Contracting Parties held in February of this year, 105 Basel Parties passed another decision by consensus reaffirming the Basel Ban Amendment and "strongly appeals to Parties to ratify the soon as possible."

The Basel Ban has been hailed as the most significant achievement for environmental justice since the United Nations Rio Conference on Environment and Development. Already it has been ratified and implemented in national legislation by all 15 member states of the European Union, Norway and Ecuador. Other countries which were awaiting the outcome of the Basel Technical Working Group for clarity on just which wastes were covered by the Convention and the ban are expected to now ratify the Convention quickly as the new hazardous waste lists which clarify the definitions have been adopted to everyone's satisfaction at this year's February Basel meeting. The lack of clarity on definitions were cited by the United States and certain vocal business interests as one of the main reasons for unwillingness to accept the ban.

There is no longer any decent excuse for governments to refuse to ratify both the Basel Convention and the Basel Ban. For most of the world, the Basel Ban ends a sad chapter of "toxic colonialism" which saw the toxic effluent of the affluent nations being exported to developing countries, endangering the health and environment of countries that can ill afford more problems. The Basel Ban is also one of our best opportunities for promoting waste prevention as it removes a huge disincentive to reduce hazardous wastes at home -- the goal of toxics activists and policy makers alike. Once all cheap and dirty waste disposal options are closed, industry will finally have a real incentive to produce less waste and reduce its toxicity. Externalizing pollution costs is always wrong, particularly when such pollution is externalized to developing countries.

On February 28, 1994 Vice-President Al Gore and EPA chief Carol Browner announced to the world a new set of "Principles," foremost of which was the intention to ban hazardous waste exports beyond North America. Now, four years later the United States has still not realized that supposed goal. Instead the United States has spent significant amounts of time and money trying to convince the rest of the world that the Basel Ban is a bad idea. At each Basel meeting from 1992 to date US delegations to the Basel Convention have tried to convince the Basel Parties to reject or weaken the ban. We don't hear much talk about the administration's waste trade "principles" anymore. But we have not forgotten.

We believe, that unless the United States accedes to all of the Basel Convention, all of its decisions and amendments, including the Basel Ban, the United States should not attempt to accede to the treaty at all. The arguments that Ratification of the Convention is better than nothing, and is all that can be accomplished anyway under a Republican Congress does not hold water when the administration position on the Basel Convention is no different than that of the Republicans and of a significant business lobby, in its opposition to, and continuing efforts to sabotage the ban--the most environmentally significant part of the treaty.

The argument that the United States lacks statutory authority to control waste exports while it remains a non-Party to the Convention is likewise disingenuous as it is already party to a 1986 OECD agreement which is virtually identical to the 1989 Basel Convention, and the United States meanwhile continues to try and hold open the door for more legal exports to developing countries by its active opposition to the Basel Ban. It is clear that rather than trying to move in the right direction, the United States is simply trying to move into a treaty in order to move it in the wrong direction.

The environmental community in the United States and throughout the world stands ready to support the administration in any effort to properly ratify the whole Convention, decisions, amendments and all. But we the undersigned organizations oppose the United States' cynical move to ratify and implement only the minimalist and inadequate 1989 Convention.


Jim Puckett
Coordinator, Basel Action Network Secretariat

on behalf of the following signatories:

Basel Action Network, Member Organizations
Lois Gibbs, Director, Center for Health, Environment and Justice (CCHW)
Brennan van Dyke, Senior Attorney, Center for Intl. Environmental Law (CIEL)
Ann Leonard, Co-Director, Essential Action
Andrea Durbin, Director International Program, Friends of the Earth
Kristen Engberg, Executive Director, Greenpeace USA
Ross Vincent, Chair, Environmental Quality Strategy Team, Sierra Club

cc: Rafe Pomerance, State Department, Director, Office of Environmental Policy
Robert Ford, State Department, Head of Basel Convention Delegation, COP4
Congressman Michael Bliley, Chairman of House Committee of Commerce
Senator John Chafee, Chairman of Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works
Robert Tonetti, Chief International and Special Projects Branch
Carol Browner, EPA Administrator
Vice President Al Gore, White House
Madeleine Albright, Secretary of State

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