Title

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Chernobyl
Radioactive and Reclaimed by Nature
Tuesday, June 04, 2019

By Rachel Bauman, Policy Advisor
and Kyle Parker, Senior Senate Staff Representative

Disaster

In the early morning hours of April 26, 1986, during a safety test designed to simulate a power outage, a combination of operator error and inherent flaws in reactor design led to an explosion and fire at Chernobyl Nuclear Power Station’s Reactor 4. The graphite fire burned uncontained for nine days, releasing radioactive particles over most of Europe, contaminating Ukraine and neighboring Belarus most severely.

It took nearly two full days for Soviet authorities to begin the evacuation of the approximately 50,000 residents of the nearby city of Pripyat, located just a mile away from the power station. A public admission of the accident only came on the evening of April 28 following diplomatic pressure on the Kremlin from the government of Sweden where, earlier that day, monitors at the Forsmark Nuclear Power Plant north of Stockholm had detected elevated radiation levels and suspected an accident in the Soviet Union. Given the secrecy of the Soviet system, the subjectivity of first-hand accounts, and the breakup of the Soviet Union, some of the why and how of what happened remain controversial.


This amusement park in Pripyat was scheduled to open on May 1, 1986, a few days before the disaster.

Less than six months after the disaster, construction began on nearby Slavutych, a city to replace Pripyat and house the displaced workers from the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Station and their families. Much work remained to be done to contain and assess the April disaster, not to mention run the remaining three reactors, the last of which ceased to operate only in December 2000. The formal decommissioning process of Reactors 1, 2, and 3 began in 2015 and will continue for decades.

To this day, many residents of Slavutych board a special train for the power station’s workers transiting Belarus to enter the Exclusion Zone for work at the plant and nearby storage facilities for spent nuclear fuel.

Consequences

Thirty-three years after that safety test at Reactor 4 went fatally wrong, the nuclear disaster at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Station remains the worst in world history, superseding the 1979 partial meltdown of a reactor at the Three Mile Island Nuclear Generating Station in Pennsylvania and eclipsing the meltdown of three reactors at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant following damage sustained by a catastrophic tsunami in 2011. The accident at Three Mile Island remains the worst in the history of U.S. commercial atomic energy and ranked a 5 (accident with wider consequences) on the International Atomic Energy Agency’s scale of assessing nuclear and radiological events. Chernobyl and Fukushima are the only two disasters to ever be ranked as a 7 (major accident), the scale’s maximum.

Due to the differences in the half-lives of the specific contaminants, a full remediation and resettlement around Fukushima holds far greater promise than around Chernobyl. If radioactive leakage can be fully contained at Fukushima, there is a chance that the area could be declared completely safe for permanent human habitation in less than 100 years. By comparison, the first zone of exclusion immediately surrounding Chernobyl’s Reactor 4 is likely to remain unsafe for permanent habitation for thousands of years.

The total human, environmental, and financial cost of the disaster is fraught with obvious political sensitivities, but even in the scientific realm, significant disputes remain. The unprecedented magnitude of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster frustrates efforts to draw a definitive conclusion on the lingering effects of the explosion and fire of 1986. While there is wide agreement that somewhere between 30 and 50 people died in the immediate aftermath as a direct result of the accident, consensus breaks down over estimates of a longer-term assessment of deaths attributable to the radioactive fallout from the disaster.

Shortly after the disaster, a zone of approximately 1,000 square miles around Reactor 4 was established, evacuated, and condemned for permanent human habitation. This area—known as the Exclusion or Alienation Zone—has begun the long process of being reclaimed by nature.

The area is divided between Zone 1 and Zones 2 and 3. The first zone is the immediate vicinity around the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Station and comprises roughly 15 percent of the total Exclusion Zone. It is also contaminated with transuranium elements that decay over a period of thousands of years, placing this area off-limits indefinitely. Zones 2 and 3 comprise the remaining territory and were largely contaminated with elements that decay much faster. Some of this shorter-term contamination is already gone and the rest could be gone in the coming decades.

The Exclusion Zone is as alive as it is hauntingly empty. Forests encroach on what were once fertile fields. Butterflies flutter above concrete cracked open by saplings. Wild horses roam by day and wolves by night, and entropy takes its toll on man-made construction. It almost seems that the flora and fauna suffered more from proximity to humans than they now do from lingering radiation in the contaminated soil—a phenomenon known as the ecological paradox.

Containment

In those first critical hours after the explosion, when firefighters heroically battled a radioactive blaze, efforts were made to erect temporary barriers around the damaged core of Reactor 4. Those emergency efforts continued once the fire was out, but the hasty construction allowed radiation to continue to escape the confines of the reactor and was structurally unsuitable for containing the deadly transuranium elements inside. In 2018, with the support of the international donor community, Ukraine completed construction on the New Safe Confinement facility designed to safely entomb Reactor 4 for as long as 100 years.


Helsinki Commission policy advisor Rachel Bauman inside the structure containing Reactor 4.

Support from the West, most notably the United States, is critical to safety. Currently, Western contractors are working with Ukrainian partners to complete the construction of a long-term storage facility for spent nuclear fuel from other reactors across the country. Construction is reportedly on, or slightly ahead of, schedule on this facility that is planned to eliminate Ukraine’s need to contract with Russia for its growing storage needs.

Protecting the public from the widely dispersed radioactive particulate found within the Exclusion Zone is the main reason for the establishment of the zone itself as well as the multiple checkpoints encountered when leaving the zone. The most immediate danger to further contamination of habitable areas beyond the Exclusion Zone are wildfires; their smoke disperses contaminated debris into the atmosphere and in the direction of prevailing winds. Ukrainian firefighters have trained regularly with firefighters from the American West as they execute what is not only a domestic priority, but an international responsibility.

Other regular challenges to the safe administration of the Exclusion Zone are trespassers pursuing adventure, souvenirs, or wild game. Risks include not only the obvious danger of radiation exposure, but also crumbling construction and poor communications should a rescue be needed. Trespassers also risk the safety of the broader public by inadvertently transporting radioactive materials outside the Exclusion Zone.

A final, and enduring, challenge to securing the Exclusion Zone lies with waning public interest and thus political pressure to devoting scarce financial resources to protect this beautiful but contaminated landscape for the long term.

The Future

Government authorities plan to use Exclusion Zone 1 for dangerous industrial activities such as storing spent nuclear fuel or developing massive solar panel farms designed to replace some of the electricity that was once generated by the power station’s four reactors. The remainder of the Exclusion Zone will serve as a buffer between habitable areas and Zone 1 as well as a unique nature preserve and massive open-air laboratory to study any lingering effects of the disaster.


Construction site of a future spent storage facility.

As the passage of time has made parts of the Exclusion Zone safer, more and more visitors come to learn about those tragic events of the spring of 1986. Locals are beginning to tap a developing market for nuclear tourism, fueled by politicians, scientists, and thrill-seekers.

When leaving the Exclusion Zone and passing through the last checkpoint, travelers are greeted by tour buses, flag-carrying guides, and a roadside kiosk selling cheap t-shirts. Increasing interest in Chernobyl tours, and particularly the photogenic abandoned town of Pripyat, ensure a steady stream of income. The city may no longer generate power, but it continues to generate interest.

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  • Copenhagen Anniversary Conference

    By Orest Deychakiwsky, Policy Advisor Representatives from a majority of the 56 OSCE participating States and several dozen non-governmental organizations (NGOs) gathered in Copenhagen on June 10-11 to mark the 20th anniversary of the adoption of the 1990 Copenhagen Document and to assess implementation of key provisions of that landmark document. The anniversary conference, titled “20 years of the OSCE Copenhagen Document: Status and Future Perspectives,” was co-organized by the Kazakhstani OSCE Chairmanship and Denmark, and held at the Eigtveds Pakhus, Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Michael Haltzel led the U.S. delegation, which was joined by U.S. Ambassador to the OSCE, Ian Kelly and representatives from the OSCE Mission in Vienna, the State Department and the Helsinki Commission. Five substantive working sessions, reflecting some of the major themes of the groundbreaking Copenhagen Document, were held: Democratic processes – elections and human rights; Rule of Law; National Minorities; Freedom of Movement; and Measures to improve implementation of the human dimension commitments. Many speakers highlighted the historic importance of the Copenhagen Document, which offered a blueprint for pluralistic democratic development, rooted in the rule of law and protection of human rights, throughout the OSCE region – a revolutionary document at the time and one that remains highly relevant two decades later. The June 1990 Copenhagen Meeting came at a unique time in history when dramatic changes were taking place; the fall of the Berlin Wall and subsequent collapse of one-party regimes in Eastern Europe had taken place only months earlier. And the following year – 1991 -- witnessed the emergence of 15 independent states with the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Truly, those were dynamic days during which sweeping new commitments -- which would have been impossible to garner consensus for years or even months prior -- received universal support. Indeed, it is questionable as to whether consensus to the Copenhagen agreement would be found today, given the democratic and human rights backsliding that has occurred in a number of participating States. The Copenhagen Document underlines the centrality of political pluralism, civil society and human rights as fundamental elements of functioning democracies. As Ambassador Max Kampelman, the head of the U.S. delegation to the 1990 conference summed it up, “In effect, the Copenhagen document represents the first formal proclamation, by the States themselves, of a Europe both whole and free.” It identified the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms as one of the basic purposes of government and acknowledged that democracy is an inherent element of the rule of law. Among the achievements of the Copenhagen Document were the far-reaching commitments on democratic elections which laid the groundwork for the OSCE’s future activities with respect to election observation. Copenhagen also represented a significant step forward with respect to the protection of minorities, and for the first time there was a direct reference to Roma and to anti-Semitism. While participants at the anniversary meeting underscored the significant progress over the last 20 years, many also called for fuller compliance with the Copenhagen commitments, noting, for instance, backsliding in holding democratic elections in some participating States; suppression of civil society, including independent media, NGOs and human rights defenders; the deficit of impartial and independent justice; and the lack of separation of powers – especially the concentration of power in the executive. The last session of the conference discussed measures to improve implementation of human dimension commitments, including the prevention of human rights violations through the use of reporting before the violations occur; enhancement of standards and commitments; strengthened monitoring mechanisms, including a U.S. proposal to dispatch special representatives to investigate reports of egregious human rights violations and make corrective recommendations before the violations become entrenched; and improved cooperation with, and involvement of, civil society actors in advancing democracy, human rights and the rule of law. Ultimately, however, compliance with existing standards enshrined in the Copenhagen Document, the Helsinki Final Act and all other OSCE commitments remains the primary responsibility of the participating State.

  • OSCE Parliamentary Assembly Session in Oslo

    Mr. CARDIN. Mr. President, I want to report on the activities of a bicameral, bipartisan congressional delegation I had the privilege to lead last week as chairman of the Helsinki Commission. The purpose of the trip was to represent the United States at the 19th Annual Session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, otherwise known as the OSCE PA. The annual session this year was held in Oslo, Norway, and the U.S. delegation participated fully in the assembly's standing committee, the plenary sessions, the three general committees and numerous side events that included discussion of integration in multiethnic societies and addressing gender imbalances in society.  Although some last-minute developments at home compelled him to remain behind, our colleague from the other Chamber, Mr. Alcee Hastings of Florida, was present in spirit as the deputy head of the delegation. Mr. Hastings, who co-chairs the Helsinki Commission, was very active in the preparations for the trip, and his legacy of leadership in the OSCE PA--for over a decade--is tangible in the respect and goodwill afforded the United States during the proceedings.  Our assistant majority leader, Mr. Durbin of Illinois, joined me on the trip, as he did last year. Our colleague from New Mexico who serves as a fellow Helsinki Commissioner, Mr. Udall, also participated. Helsinki Commissioners from the other Chamber who were on the delegation include Mr. Christopher Smith of New Jersey, serving as the ranking member of the delegation, as well as Mrs. Louise McIntosh Slaughter of New York, and Mr. Robert Aderholt of Alabama. Although not a member of the Helsinki Commission, Mr. Lloyd Doggett of Texas has a longstanding interest in OSCE-related issues and also participated on the delegation.  As many of you know, the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly was created within the framework of the OSCE as an independent, consultative body consisting of over 300 Parliamentarians from virtually every country in Europe, including the Caucasus, as well as from Central Asia, and the United States, and Canada. The annual sessions are held in late June/early July as the chief venue for debating issues of the day and issuing a declaration addressing human rights, democratic development and the rule of law; economic cooperation and environmental protection; and confidence building and security among the participating states and globally.  This active congressional participation helps ensure that matters of interest to the United States are raised and discussed. Robust U.S. engagement has been the hallmark of the Parliamentary Assembly since its inception nearly 20 years ago.  The theme for this year's annual session was ``Rule of Law: Combating Transnational Crime and Corruption.'' In addition to resolutions for each of the three general committees, delegations introduced a total of 35 additional resolutions for consideration, a record number, including 4 by the United States dealing with:  Nuclear security , which followed up directly on the Nuclear Summit here in Washington in April;  The protection of investigative journalists, a critical human rights issue as those who seek to expose corruption are targeted for harassment or worse;  Mediterranean cooperation, building on the OSCE partnerships to engage important countries in North Africa and the Middle East; and  Combating the demand for human trafficking and electronic forms of exploitation, a longstanding Helsinki Commission issue requiring persistence and targeted action.  U.S. drafts on these relevant, important topics received widespread support and were adopted with few if any amendments.  Beyond these resolutions, the United States delegation also undertook initiatives in the form of packages of amendments to other resolutions. These initiatives addressed:  The needs of the people of Afghanistan in light of the smuggling and other criminal activity which takes place there. The struggle for recovery stability and human rights in Kyrgyzstan, which is an OSCE state in the midst of crisis. And  Manifestations of racism and xenophobia that have become particularly prevalent in contemporary Europe. A critical U.S. amendment allowed us generally to support a French resolution that usefully addressed issues relating to the closure of the detention facility in Guantanamo Bay. Still other amendments coming from specific members of the U.S. Delegation covered a wide range of political, environmental and social issues relevant to policymakers. 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The meeting took place in Norway, a very close friend and strong, long-time ally of the United States of America. In discussions with Norwegian officials, we expressed our sorrow over the recent deaths of Norwegian soldiers in Afghanistan. We also shared our concerns about climate change and particularly the impact global warming has on polar regions  Indeed, on our return we made a well-received stop on the archipelago of Svalbard, well north of the Arctic Circle, to learn more about the impact firsthand, from changing commercial shipping lanes to relocated fisheries to ecological imbalance that make far northern flora and fauna increasingly vulnerable. The delegation also visited the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, a facility that preserves more than 525,000 types of seeds from all over the world as a safeguard for future crop diversity, and took the opportunity to donate additional U.S. seeds to the collection.  Norway is located close to a newer, but also very strong, ally with close ties to the United States, Estonia. Since last year's delegation to the OSCE PA Annual Session went to Lithuania and included Latvia as a side trip, I believed it was important to utilize the opportunity of returning to northern Europe to visit this Baltic state as well.  While some remained in Oslo to represent the United States, others traveled to Tallinn, where we had meetings with the President, Prime Minister, and other senior government officials, visited the NATO Cooperative Cyber-Defense Center of Excellence and were briefed on electronic networking systems that make parliament and government more transparent, efficient and accessible to the citizen. Estonia has come a long way since it reestablished its independence from the Soviet Union almost 20 years ago, making the visit quite rewarding for those of us on the Helsinki Commission who tried to keep a spotlight on the Baltic States during the dark days of the Cold War.  During the course of the meeting, the U.S. delegation also had bilateral meetings with the delegation of the Russian Federation and a visiting delegation from Kyrgyzstan to discuss issues of mutual concern and interest.  U.S. engagement in the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly sends a clear message to those who are our friends and to those who are not that we will defend U.S. interests and advance the causes of peace and prosperity around the world.

  • A Decade of the Trafficking in Persons Report

    Senator Benjamin L. Cardin convened a standing-room only hearing centered on the diplomatic impact of the Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report.  The hearing focused on the ten years that the annual TIP report has been prepared by the State Department. Improvements to TIP-related efforts were suggested, such as working more closely with the Tier 2 Watch List countries in the OSCE Region, – Azerbaijan, Moldova, the Russian Federation, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan – helping them to implement the changes necessary to meet the minimum standards and to avoid statutory downgrades which will otherwise be required in next year’s TIP report. Witnesses testifying at this hearing – including Luis CdeBaca, Ambassador at Large of the U.S. Department of State Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons; Maria Grazia Giammarinaro, Special Representative and Coordinator for Combating Trafficking in Human Beings of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe; Jolene Smith, CEO & Co-Founder of Free the Slaves; and Holly J. Burkhalter, Vice President for Government Relations of the International Justice Mission – explored ways to potentially create extra-territorial jurisdiction for trafficking cases.  They also focused on ways to deter demand for trafficking victims in all countries, including Tier 1 countries.

  • American Consumers

    One of the major factors that creates failed and corrupt governments around the world is us -- Americans -- and our insatiable consumption of oil. As the largest petroleum consumers in the world, we are the driving force of a global energy market in which the suppliers are often corrupt regimes maintaining power in part through the revenues they extract from our consumption. If we want to fix the problem of failed states, we must start by reforming our own approach to energy: adopting smart-growth policies, driving less, and creating alternative energy sources. Until then, we are just fueling the very corruption we condemn. Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin of Maryland chairs the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission).

  • The Risk and Rewards in Afghanistan's Resources

    The New York Times, in a front-page story last week, reported that $1 trillion worth of minerals was buried in the mountains of Afghanistan. Geologists, Afghan officials and mining companies stand ready to launch a modern-day gold rush. Before everyone charges in, however, we need to recognize the risks and rewards inherent in these resources. This story ran soon after major news outlets noted that the U.S. military wants to fight corruption in Afghanistan’s government as a key to winning the war. In principle, these deposits mean resources for Afghanistan to build its economy as the “Saudi Arabia of lithium.” But expanding Afghanistan’s economy from the current $12 billion to potentially $1 trillion will be a boon only if these resources are managed properly. Many other countries already have proved that resource revenue often leads to corruption and instability. For example, roughly 60 developing countries are rich in natural resources yet home to more than two-thirds of the world’s poorest people. Despite billions of dollars per year in oil, gas or mineral revenue, these countries rank among the worst when it comes to economic growth, authoritarian governance, poverty and political instability. The Afghan reports should spur immediate action in Congress to ensure transparency in how U.S. and international companies tap these resources. Transparency in the oil, gas and mining sectors has been endorsed for years by the G-8, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and regional development banks. It is clear to financial leaders that transparency is key to holding governments accountable for the needs of their citizens — and for greater energy security overall. If citizens and international organizations know how much money a country is paid for oil access, it is harder for its leader to claim the government would happily build roads, schools and hospitals but cannot afford them. Transparency will help those who want to follow the money to combat corruption, poverty and violence. In countries with rival ethnic groups, like Afghanistan, it also helps ensure that revenues are distributed equitably. Afghanistan has made a good first step by joining the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, a voluntary international standard designed to promote transparency in the oil, gas and mining sectors. This group has made tremendous strides in changing the culture of secrecy that surrounds the extractive industries. But too many countries and companies remain outside this system. It is time to create an international standard for transparency in law. Secrecy of extractive payments carries real risks for citizens — and investors. We introduced the Energy Security Through Transparency Act to require most extractive industries — including oil, gas and mining companies — to disclose what they pay local governments for access to natural resources. This simple step, adding information to filings already required by the Securities and Exchange Commission, could help promote civil society and combat corruption in countries both blessed and cursed with natural resources. The extractive industries face unique material and reputational risks in the form of country-specific taxes and regulations. Challenges are compounded by the substantial capital companies need and the importance of natural resource access to the national security and strategic objectives of the United States and other major energy and mineral consumers. Creating a reporting requirement with the SEC can capture a larger portion of the international extractive corporations than any other single mechanism — thereby setting a global standard for transparency and promoting a level playing field. Our bill could help in following the money trail, making it harder to hide corruption and easier to bring the reforms needed to ensure that the blessing of natural resources does not turn into a curse. Afghanistan is at a crossroads. If we want to leave Afghanistan with a viable economy and a stable government, we have to help the nation get this right. Our bill could be the linchpin in a far larger U.S. and international effort, at all levels of government, to promote transparency and open the books in Afghanistan. The newfound resources would then lead to a new era of prosperity — and not be squandered through corruption. Afghanistan’s future — and the success of U.S. and NATO men and women serving in Afghanistan — are at stake. Sens. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Dick Lugar (R-Ind.) serve on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

  • Global Threats, European Security and Parliamentary Cooperation

    From nuclear security to climate change, global terrorism to anti-corruption efforts, this hearing examined what parliamentarians can do to work together on some of the most significant challenges facing the world. Members addressed European and Central Asian security concerns, including unresolved conflicts in the Balkans and elsewhere, and considered how international parliaments can cooperate to address challenges related to trafficking, tolerance, and democratic development, including elections and media freedom.

  • Mitigating Inter-Ethnic Conflict in the OSCE Region

    This hearing, presided over by Sen. Benjamin Cardin, discussed the Helsinki Process’s role in mitigating inter-ethnic conflict in the OSCE region. The hearing discussed the situation in Kyrgyzstan, ethnic conflicts in the Caucasus, the still-lingering effects of the 1944 mass deportation of Crimean minorities, and ethnic cleansing in Bosnia. Witnesses at the hearing included Heidi Tagliavani, Ambassador and Under Secretary of State for Switzerland and head of the European Union investigation of the 2008 Russia-Georgia conflict; Peter Semneby, Special Representative for the South Caucasus for the European Union; and Mr. Soren Jessen-Petersen, former Special Representative for Kosovo for the United Nations.

  • Natural Resource Charter

    Mr. President, I am pleased to report to you and my colleagues on the excellent work that is being done to help developing countries capitalize on their natural resource wealth. This unique initiative is called the Natural Resource Charter, and it is designed to give countries the tools and knowledge they need to develop their natural resources for the good of their citizens in a transparent and accountable manner. As a collective work coordinated by established academics and development experts, the charter provides a set of policy principles for governments on the successful translation of natural resource wealth into fair and sustainable development. At the U.S. Helsinki Commission we monitor 56 countries, including the United States, with the mandate to ensure compliance to commitments made under the Helsinki Final Act with focus on three dimensions: security, economics and the environment, and human rights. The management of extractive industries has broad implications covering all three dimensions of the Helsinki process. We know that oil, gas, and mining are potential sources of conflict and their supply has a direct impact on our national security. The often negative economic consequences for resource rich countries are well documented and we see constant reminders of the environmental impact of extraction both at home and abroad. Finally, the resultant degradation of human rights in countries that are corrupted by resource wealth is a real concern that we must address. When the charter was launched last year, I was struck by how far we have come in terms of bringing the difficult conversation on extractive industries into the lexicon of world leaders. Only a few short years ago, the word "transparency'' was not used in the same sentence with oil, gas or mining revenue. After the launch of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative in 2002, we have seen a major shift in attitude. This was followed by G8 and G20 statements in support of greater revenue transparency as a means of achieving greater economic growth in developing countries. But it is clear that given the challenge ahead, more than statements are needed. The Natural Resource Charter is a concrete and practical next step in the right direction. Economists have found that many of the resource-rich countries of the world today have fared notably worse than their neighbors economically and politically, despite the positive opportunities granted by resource wealth. The misuse of extractive industry revenues has often mitigated the benefits of such mineral wealth for citizens of developing nations; in many cases the resources acting instead as a source of severe economic and social instability. In addressing the factors and providing solutions for such difficulties, the Natural Resource Charter aims to be a global public resource for informed, transparent decision-making regarding extractive industry management. The charter's overarching philosophy is that development of natural resources should be designed to secure maximum benefit for the citizens of the host country. To this end, its dialogue includes a special focus on the role of informed public oversight through transparency measures such as EITI in establishing the legitimacy of resource decisions and attracting foreign investment. On fiscal issues, the charter presents guidelines for the systematic reinvestment of resource revenues in national infrastructure and human capital with the goal of diminishing effects of resource price volatility and ensuring long-term economic growth. This week the commission will hold a public briefing on the Natural Resource Charter and I am pleased to say that there was a candid conversation between the audience and the panel that revealed much about how the charter could be used to promote human rights and good governance. The briefing also addressed ways that U.S. support of democratic and economically sensible extractive industry standards could have a powerful effect in securing the welfare and freedoms of citizens in resource-rich countries. In particular, it was noted that the Energy Security Through Transparency Act, S. 1700, a bipartisan bill I introduced with my colleague Senator Lugar and 10 other colleagues is consistent with the principles set out in the Natural Resource Charter. I look forward to working with my colleagues to ensure our continued progress on these issues.

  • Natural Resources, a National Responsibility

    The purpose of this briefing, which Commission Policy Advisor Shelly Han moderated, was two-fold: to come away with a good understanding of the Natural Resource Charter (i.e. its use, development, and trajectory) and to have a candid conversation on the gaps that remained and the steps the Commission itself, the U.S. Congress, the Department of State, international organizations, and others could take to address such gaps. The Natural Resource Charter is aimed at giving countries the tools they need to fully develop their natural resources for the good of the whole country. This is relevant to the Commission due to the interconnected issues of economics and the environment, as well as security and human rights.

  • U.S. Helsinki Commission: Ukraine Needs to Accelerate Reforms

    Ukraine's new President Viktor Yanukovych 'will need to accelerate economic and political reforms, tackle systemic corruption and overcome the rule of law deficit, including building up an underdeveloped judiciary to strengthen its independence', U.S. Helsinki Commission Chairman Senator Benjamin L. Cardin said in the first Congressional hearing on Ukraine in Washington on Tuesday, information of the Voice of America. "Such reforms will reduce Ukraine's vulnerability to outside pressures and bring it closer to its stated goals of European integration," Senator Cardin emphasized. "Ukraine has developed an open and pluralistic political system and media freedoms have expanded," said U.S. Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Congressman Alcee L. Hastings, who served as deputy head of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly election observation mission in Ukraine in February and has observed two other national elections there. "Although Ukraine has had good elections now for the last five years, I can tell you that you need more than good elections to make a functioning democracy," he added. In turn, Anders Aslund, Senior Fellow at Peterson Institute for International Economics, underlined that two thirds of young Ukrainians have higher education, but they have no opportunity to apply their knowledge in particular areas. Aslund said that this is a reason why Ukraine is ranked 110th worldwide on GDP per capita.

  • Ukraine: Moving Beyond Stalemate

    This hearing examined how the U.S. can best continue to encourage and assist Ukraine in developing democracy, rule of law, and a market economy.   The panel also discussed Ukraine’s relationships with its neighbors, the United States, and European states and organizations. The panel of witnesses explored the democratic developments and progress since the Orange revolution and U.S. policy implications of Ukraine’s interest in further integration with Europe.

  • State Department Human Rights Reports

    Mr. President, this month's release of the State Department's annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices shows the value of consistently monitoring human rights around the globe. As Chairman of the U.S. Helsinki Commission charged with monitoring international human rights commitments in 56 countries from the U.S. and Canada to Europe and Central Asia, this annual report is a key tool that we, and others, use to track progress being made on universal freedoms. This year's reports have increased significance as 2010 is the 35th anniversary of the Helsinki Final Act and the 20th anniversary of historic international human rights agreements, the Copenhagen Document, and the Charter of Paris for a New Europe. In a year commemorating such landmark human rights documents, this month's State Department reports remind us that many of the commitments countries made in the past still have not been met with meaningful action today. In Belarus, where I visited last summer, the political space for opposition remains tightly controlled, independent media face continual harassment, and elections are a farce. The overall situation in Russia remains disturbing as well. There 2009 was a year again filled with mourning the very people who stood for freedom, be they journalists, human rights advocates or lawyers simply trying to present a case against corruption. The country's harassment of Jehovah's Witnesses and forceful break up of public demonstrations remain particularly concerning. I urge Kazakhstan, as the current chair of the OSCE, to lead by example through concrete actions, starting with the release of activist Yevgeny Zhovtis, whom staff from the Helsinki Commission visited this week in prison. Zhovtis at least deserves the same freedoms afforded other prisoners in his facility, including the right to work outside the facility during the day. In Kosovo, in addition to problems with human trafficking, official corruption and a lack of judicial due process, the State Department notes the lack of progress regarding displaced persons of all ethnicities, politically and ethnically motivated violence, and societal antipathy against Serbs and the Serbian Orthodox Church. The lack of progress regarding the country's international recognition, while unfortunate, does not absolve Kosovo authorities from their responsibility to ensure greater respect for human rights and adherence to the rule of law. Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy Human Rights and Labor Michael Posner, who serves as the State Department Commissioner on the U.S. Helsinki Commission, did a superb job of unveiling the report today with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. I was heartened to hear him specifically flag examples of 2009 human rights violations within the OSCE region that drew the attention of the Commission last year. The banning of construction of Muslim minarets in Switzerland, the pervasiveness of discrimination against Roma--Europe's largest ethnic minority, and the continued rise of anti-Semitism in Europe sadly still remain concerns this year.  While these country reports help to hold all governments--including our own--to account; and while much of their text shows the reality of a world troubled by violent conflicts and the mistreatment of our most vulnerable people; the State Department reports also show the positive that surrounds us. In this vein, Assistant Secretary Posner was right to mention the fairness of Ukraine's recent elections, for which my colleague Cochairman Hastings led the election observation mission. And the reports are eager to cite progress where appropriate.  But these reports affirm something else, and that is the strength of the legislative-executive branch cooperation when it comes to upholding universal standards. The Helsinki Commission is unique among all federal agencies for being comprised of Senate, House and executive branch commissioners, and Assistant Secretary Posner's activity with the Commission and the State Department's annual human rights reports mandated by Congress are but two examples of our two branches working together to keep a spotlight on human rights abuses.

  • More Power to More People: Lessons from West Africa on Resource Transparency

    By Shelly Han, Policy Advisor In its ongoing effort to fight corruption and increase energy security, the U.S. Helsinki Commission has worked in recent years to help countries fight the resource curse. That is the phenomenon in which countries that are rich in oil, gas or minerals—resources that should be a boon to their economy—suffer lower economic growth and higher poverty than countries without extractive resources. As the Commission’s energy policy advisor, I traveled in September 2009 with other Congressional staff to Ghana and Liberia to see how these two countries are managing their resources. This was an oportunity to compare the experience of these countries with that of resource-rich countries like Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, who participate in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Specifically, our goal was to study implementation of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) in Ghana and Liberia, and gauge the impact of corruption in the extractive industries on the political, social and economic climate. EITI is a groundbreaking program because it pierces the veil of secrecy that has fostered tremendous corruption in the extractive industries around the world. At its heart, EITI is a good governance initiative that brings together the companies, the government and civil society to ensure revenue is generated for the benefit of the people, not just hidden in Swiss bank accounts. The meetings in Africa were also part of the Commission’s work promoting the Energy Security Through Transparency Act (S. 1700), a bill designed to increase transparency in the oil and gas industry. The bill, introduced by Commission Chairman Senator Benjamin L. Cardin and Senator Richard G. Lugar (R-IN), expresses support for U.S. implementation of EITI. In Ghana and Liberia, staff met with government officials, non-governmental organizations, civil society leaders, the business community, U.S. Embassy staff and other groups, trying to get as broad a perspective as possible on issues related to energy transparency. Ghana Ghana is a country of 23 million citizens on the west coast of Africa. Considered one of the bright spots in terms of political and economic development in the region, President Obama came here in his first presidential trip to Africa. Known as the Gold Coast in colonial times, gold mining remains one of Ghana’s primary exports. With significant foreign investment from mining, one might think that Ghana had hit pay dirt for its economy, unfortunately, this hasn’t been the case. Almost 80 percent of Ghanaians live on less than $2 a day. Gold mining in Ghana is estimated to contribute about 40 percent of total foreign exchange earnings and 6 percent of GDP. In 2007, the discovery of oil in the offshore Jubilee field launched wild expectations—and fears—for Ghana’s future. The oil and gas could bring in about $1 billion a year for Ghana, which is about 25 percent of the government’s budget. But there are fears that the windfall will increase corruption and do little to help Ghana’s citizen’s rise out of poverty. But there is hope. In 2003 Ghana committed to implementing EITI for its mining sector and Ghana remains a candidate country today. Ghana has an EITI Secretariat and a Multi Stakeholder Steering Group in place. The country has appointed an independent EITI Aggregator/Auditor who has produced three audit reports and Ghana will shortly go through an independent audit process in order to be validated as an EITI country. Most importantly, Ghana has pledged to implement EITI in the oil and gas sectors. During the trip, we met with a number of government officials, including the Minister of Energy and the Minister of Finance. I was impressed with their commitment to establishing an EITI process for the oil and gas revenues. While the process is not complete, and is certainly not perfect, we are optimistic that Ghana will build on the EITI progress they have already made in the mining sector and achieve similar results for the oil and gas sectors. The international community is providing significant assistance. In meetings with U.S. officials, we learned that U.S. aid agencies will begin work in Ghana aimed at strengthening parliamentary oversight, improving regulatory, legal and fiscal management, and helping Ghana develop a workforce to meet the needs of the oil and gas sector. Liberia Our experience in Liberia was more sobering. Five years after a devastating civil war, Liberia struggles to move on. Fourteen-thousand United Nations troops remain in the country as peacekeepers. Eighty percent of the country’s 3.5 million citizens are unemployed. Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, a Harvard-trained economist and Africa’s first female president, has worked to stimulate investment and create job opportunities. But this is an uphill battle given the years of education and infrastructure lost during the civil war. Extractive industries such as iron ore, gold, rubber and diamonds do provide some revenue, but the highest hopes for export revenue are placed on Liberia’s extensive forests. Sustainable timber harvesting could provide up to 60 percent of Liberia’s revenue and the international community and Liberia have spent several years and millions of dollars to make the forestry sector sustainable. Liberia joined EITI in 2006, just a couple of years after the end of the civil war that decimated the economy and put Liberia at almost the bottom of the UN Human Development Index. It is the first country to include forestry under the rubric of EITI. On July 10, 2009, the President of Liberia signed into law the Act Establishing the Liberia EITI, making Liberia only the second country in the world (following Nigeria) to pass dedicated EITI legislation. Many implementing countries have issued presidential or ministerial decrees or have amended existing legislation to establish a legal framework for the initiative. The legislation goes beyond the core EITI requirements because it covers the forestry and rubber sectors, as well as oil, gas and mining. But contract disputes and the economic downturn have hindered the resumption of large-scale logging in Liberia. We met with logging companies, government officials and civil society to hear the problems and were discouraged by the lack of progress. It is clear that while tremendous strides have been made in transparent reporting of revenues, there is precious little revenue to report. We spoke with some groups who were hopeful that with a strong focus on improving governance, it is possible that Liberia could develop forestry projects eligible for international carbon offsets. These offsets could generate revenue for Liberia and help meet global climate change goals at the same time. Conclusion In contrast with other EITI countries such as Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan, we were struck by the comparatively good relations the Ghana and Liberia government ministries enjoy with civil society, and the clear desire they have shown to work together. Citizen participation was very strong in both African countries, perhaps due to the extensive public awareness campaigns that have educated citizens on their right to follow the money trail from extractive revenues. EITI is far from the magic bullet to solve corruption problems in West Africa or elsewhere. But Ghana and Liberia show that incremental progress is possible, and that transparency in the extractive industries can build a foundation for good governance in other sectors as well.

  • Ukraine Presidential Hopefuls Fear Election Fraud

    In the final hours of the Ukraine's bitterly fought presidential campaign, candidates accused one another of planning to commit campaign fraud and experts warned of the possibility of post-election unrest. But among many Ukrainian voters, the no-holds barred campaign may have inspired as much apathy as outrage and some observers were predicting a relatively smooth first-round vote Sunday. Prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko, who helped lead the 2004 Orange Revolution, has accused front-runner Viktor Yanukovych and his Party of Regions of planning a campaign of voter fraud through falsified absentee ballots and other methods. ''Yanukovych and the Party of Regions are preparing a large-scale falsification in Ukraine,'' Tymoshenko said, speaking to the media Thursday. ''For this purpose, they have formed on a corrupt basis a puppet majority in the Central Election Commission.'' Most polls show Tymoshenko running second behind Yanukovych in the race. If no candidate gets more than 50 percent of the vote Sunday, as expected, there will be a runoff between the two top vote getters sometime in February. Sergei Markov, a member of the Russian parliament and an election observer, said Tymoshenko's fraud charges are part of an effort to prepare her supporters to challenge a Yanukovych victory. ''Claims that the opposition is trying to rig the vote show that the other side is ideologically preparing to reject the election in case they lose,'' said Markov, whose views on many issues are thought to reflect the thinking of the Kremlin. He spoke at the expert panel Friday. Yanukovych meanwhile has warned that his supporters will not allow any candidate to steal the current presidential contest, as he claims happened in 2004. The pro-Russian candidate's initial victory in that race was thrown out by the Supreme Court following the Orange street protests and accusations of widespread fraud by authorities on Yanukovych's behalf. ''No such scenario will be allowed,'' Yanukovych told reporters during a campaign trip to eastern Ukraine Thursday, referring to the street rallies that helped reverse his victory. ''If anybody is hoping for that, we will disappoint them.'' Yanukovych noted that in 2004 he called off plans for mass demonstrations by his supporters in the capital to avoid clashes with Orange protesters. He suggested that this time, his partisans would not back down against those who challenge a Yanukovych victory. Vladimir Fesenko, the head of Ukraine's Penta Center for Applied Political Research, predicted that neither Tymoshenko nor Yanukovych would accept defeat in the runoff, which is expected to pit the two old adversaries against one another. Instead, he said, they would challenge any defeat with peaceful protests. But he warned that if Tymoshenko's and Yanukovych's demonstrators face off, it could escalate into violence. ''Neither wants a real war,'' Fesenko said. ''But unfortunately there are risks. Often it is difficult to control people once they're on the streets. There could be adventurists from either camp that could provoke a clash.'' Authorities say they are planning to deploy thousands of police Sunday to ensure an orderly first round ballot. Foes of Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko released a tape this week of a purported conversation between her and Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili, in which he supposedly says he is sending 2,000 ''battle-ready'' observers to monitor the race. ''No worries, we are sending the best prepared and most battle-ready people to you,'' the voice alleged to be Saakashvili's says on the tape, which was played Friday at a panel of analysts and sociologists. Some here interpreted Saakashvili's purported comment as a pledge to support Tymoshenko in post-election street protests. Spokespeople for both Tymoshenko and Saakashvili declined to comment, and the authenticity of the tape could not be determined. Evgeny Kopatko, chief sociologist at Ukraine's R&B Group, a consultancy, said Friday that if tensions rise after the election, that ''could split the country in two, and this is a very serious risk, economically and politically. The country would be virtually uncontrollable.'' Parliament speaker Vladimir Litvin on Friday appealed to supporters of Ukraine's rival political leaders, urging not to take to the streets as they did in 2004. ''Today I'm calling on all of the politicians not to deal in actions on the Maidan,'' Litvin said, referring to Kiev's central square where tens of thousands rallied every day for weeks in late 2004. President Viktor Yushchenko, the eventual winner in 2004, is standing for re-election, but his popularity has plunged and his chances look slim. He warned that the elections could usher in an authoritarian government. ''Should there be an authoritarian regime of either Yanukovych or Tymoshenko, with the criminal elements that will come along, it will take away the freedom of expression,'' he said. Five years after the Orange Revolution brought tens of thousands of people to the streets of the capital, public cynicism appeared widespread. Voters have offered to sell their votes on Web sites for the equivalent of between about $10 and $100. Despite the dire warnings, Alcee Hastings, a U.S. congressman who is deputy head of the international observer mission, told reporters Friday that so far no one has come up with evidence of intended voting irregularities. ''While the candidates accuse each other of fraud, neither of them has presented you in the media with a smoking gun,'' he said. ''I don't think there's going to be widespread fraud.'' Hastings noted that the election will come under intense scrutiny. He said there are more international observers in Ukraine for the presidential contest than for any previous election in the former Soviet Union. But Hastings did not rule out isolated efforts to falsify votes. ''Remember, I'm from Florida, the land of the hanging chads and the butterfly ballots,'' he said, referring to the disputed 2000 U.S. presidential contest and the controversial Florida vote count.

  • U.S. Senator Laud Iraq's Plan to Become EITI Candidate Country

    US Sens. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-Md.) and Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.) expressed their strong support for Iraq’s commitment to make its oil and gas industry more transparent following Iraq’s Jan. 11 announcement that it plans to become an Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative candidate country. EITI is an international coalition of governments, companies, and others that promotes good governance through publication of oil, gas, and mining revenues, the two Senate Foreign Relations Committee members noted on Jan. 12. “Corruption remains a significant problem in Iraq,” said Lugar, the committee’s ranking minority member. “As oil and gas is the single largest source of revenue [there], it is important that the revenue generated benefit the people of Iraq and not just a handful of businessmen and officials. By committing to implement EITI, Iraq is creating a foundation for good governance in a sector critical to Iraq’s future stability.” Cardin said, “This is a significant step toward a greater future for Iraq.” The senator also has promoted EITI as chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, more commonly known as the US-Helsinki Commission. “The EITI process has proven to strengthen civil society and increase revenue transparency. By joining this coalition, Iraq’s leaders are committing to transparency that will empower citizens to hold their government accountable,” Cardin maintained. Iraqi Prime Minister Noori al Malaki announced Jan. 11 that Iraq plans to become an EITI candidate country in February and would implement the initiative in May. With 11% of the world’s total reserves, Iraq would become the largest oil-producing nation to implement the standards, EITI officials said. At a conference launching Iraq’s effort in Baghdad, Jonas Moberg, who heads EITI’s secretariat, said the country’s implementation of EITI would be important in driving Iraq’s recovery and ensuring that its oil and gas wealth was managed for its citizens’ benefit. Lugar and Cardin, along with eight other cosponsors, recently introduced S 1700, the Energy Security Through Transparency Act, which aims to increase transparency through public disclosure of oil, gas, and mining payments, and encourage US participation in EITI.

  • 60th Anniversary of the Voice of America's Ukrainian Service

    Mr. President, for six decades the Voice of America's, VOA, Ukrainian-language service has been providing an invaluable service through its consistent broadcasting of factual and comprehensive news and information to the people of Ukraine.  During the first four decades of its existence, the Ukrainian service reached a Ukrainian population starving for information under an extremely strictly controlled, propagandistic Soviet media environment. Ukrainians went to great lengths and some risks to overcome Soviet censorship, which included the jamming of VOA and other shortwave international broadcasting.  During the Cold War VOA Ukrainian provided its listeners with uncensored news about such monumental events as the Hungarian Revolution, the Prague Spring, rise of Solidarity, and the fall of the Berlin Wall. A variety of shows worked to open the outside world to Ukrainian listeners, including a Popular Music Show, a Youth Show, and the long running series Democracy in Action, which was about how democracy works in the United States.  The Ukrainian service also focused on developments within Ukraine itself. VOA broadcasts about Soviet human rights violations in Ukraine, including its coverage of activities of the Helsinki process and the Helsinki Commission, gave sustenance to Helsinki Monitors and other Ukrainian human rights activists, especially those languishing in the gulag for daring to call upon the Soviet government to live up to its Helsinki Final Act obligations. They knew that they were not forgotten. Furthermore, the Ukrainian service also provided objective information about the Chornobyl nuclear disaster and the development of Ukraine's movement for democracy and independence, culminating in the December 1, 1991, referendum in Ukraine in which an overwhelming majority of Ukrainians voted for the restoration of their nation's independence.  For nearly two decades since, VOA's Ukrainian service has continued to fill an important role in Ukraine's evolving democracy. VOA reported on the challenges that Ukraine faced and on the U.S.'s considerable support and assistance for Ukraine, including in the dismantling of the nuclear arsenal it inherited from the Soviet Union. During the Orange Revolution, VOA Ukrainian helped to reassure millions of Ukrainians that the international community would not sanction electoral fraud.  As Ukraine has evolved, so has the Ukrainian Service. While no longer broadcasting on radio as it did for most of its 60 years, it reaches more Ukrainians than ever with daily broadcasts over Ukrainian television--something unthinkable during Soviet rule--and reporting on its website. It continues to report on what is happening in Ukraine, but also it continues to cover every aspect of American life and society. As Chairman of the Helsinki Commission, I commend the ongoing role of VOA's Ukrainian service in helping Ukraine fulfill its aspirations in becoming more fully democratic, independent, and secure.

  • Cardin Eyes Climate Measures Here and Abroad

    Behind the scenes of the energy debate, Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., is working to prepare the United States for the December United Nations climate change summit in Copenhagen. Cardin was recently in Athens to deliver an address on climate change to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), a regional security coalition. He was there as part of his duties as chairman of the U.S. Helsinki Commission, an independent federal agency staffed by congressional members and administration officials that works with OSCE. Cardin is also a member of the Environment and Public Works Committee, which is currently marking up the climate legislation introduced recently by Sens. John Kerry, D-Mass., and Barbara Boxer, D-Calif. NationalJournal.com spoke with Cardin after his trip to get his take on some of the key components of a global climate change treaty and domestic climate legislation. NJ: You have called for an international treaty to include an "enforcement mechanism" against imports" from countries that don't meet their international goals of reducing greenhouse gases. Can you elaborate on this proposal? Cardin: What we want to make sure is that once we set international targets, and each state has their requirements and each state enacts their laws, that in fact there is an enforcement of those limits. If we enact targets and countries are supposed to meet their targets and they don't, we're not going to meet our overall targets. So, there needs to be a mechanism for enforcement. ... What it would mean is that if a country is supposed to meet a certain target and they don't meet that target, the products that come from their country into the international marketplace would be assessed the carbon difference as to how much it would have cost to comply with their standards. That assessment would be an import fee, basically, for a product entering another market. NJ. Would this serve the same function as a border tax? Cardin: In reality, yes, it's the same thing. But it's not enacted by a country. It's an international standard. So rather than the United States having a border adjustment, it would be an international regime under the climate change [agreement] rather than under the WTO. NJ: The legislation that passed the House in June includes a border tax provision. Are you in support of a border tax as part of domestic legislation? Cardin: I think you have to be able to address the question as a U.S. parliamentarian: How do you protect an American company in competition if a product made from another country is not subject to the same regime as the American company on reducing carbon -- or paying for the cost of carbon? So I think you have to be able to answer that question. I would rather answer it through international enforcement, but if you can't through international enforcement then I think it's certainly a legitimate issue for each country to deal with on their own. NJ. Several lawmakers have criticized the border tax, saying it could trigger trade wars between countries. Do you think implementing an international provision like this would prevent trade wars? Cardin: I'm not so sure that the provision that's in the House bill would promote a trade war, so I'm not going to concede that point. But I do believe it is much more understandable internationally if it's done under Copenhagen rather than each country acting on its own. NJ. What do you see as the Kerry-Boxer bill's strongest international components? Cardin: First, it provides U.S. leadership on the targets. The targets are aggressive. Secondly, it provides financing for the developing world, which is certainly a major issue in the international community. It also provides direct financing for deforestation remedies. NJ: Is there anything not included in the bill that you think should either be included in that bill or be at the forefront of the discussions in Copenhagen? Cardin: I'm working with Senator Kerry on making sure our international obligations are adequately funded. That's a continuing effort. I'm not sure if I'm going to be totally satisfied about what I see in the first efforts. NJ: President Obama is scheduled to visit China in November. What do you think should be his goals going into that meeting? Cardin: I hope we'll have a bilateral with China on some of these issues. ... I hope we'll be able to show some mutual progress. The fact that these meetings are taking place is significant in and of itself. The fact that China is becoming more and more of a player by their individual actions on climate change is important. Where China has not moved as aggressively as I would like is agreeing to work directly with the international community rather than just unilateral actions. And I hope the president can advance that need for China to be very bold in Copenhagen, really working closely with the developing world to make sure we get a successful conclusion. So I would like the president to advance that in November. NJ: Experts have predicted that China is set to outpace the United States, not to mention the rest of the world, in producing renewable energy, making this more of a competition than an international cooperation. Is that part of your concern? Cardin: Right. China is very strategic when it comes to trying to position itself in the international trade and investments in other countries. So they're continuing to act that way on climate change, being very strategic, understanding that it means job growth and the development of their own economy. Where I have not seen China is their willingness to enter into an international regime, and I think that's the challenge. NJ: Where do you predict Congress will be in its climate change debate come December? Cardin: Chairman Boxer has announced hearings and she intends to go to markup, so I think it is now becoming more and more likely that we'll have a bill out of the Environment and Public Works Committee before Copenhagen. I'm not sure how much further we'll get than that. But I think there is momentum in the United States Senate for more support -- Sen. [Lindsey] Graham and Sen. Kerry's piece in the New York Times was certainly encouraging. There seems to be some momentum developing in the Senate, so that's what we want to see... giving the president the confidence to commit the United States to significant responsibilities in Copenhagen. NJ: How do you think the U.S. should respond to the criticism that the Senate's goal of reducing emissions by 20 percent by 2020 isn't even close to what it should be aiming for? Cardin: I personally believe we could do better than 2020, but I think that's certainly a very forward aggressive goal -- puts the United States at the forefront internationally on carbon reduction. Those who say it's not enough -- let's see how well they're doing themselves. ... Can we be more aggressive? Absolutely. But this would be a huge step forward. NJ: Do you think there is going to be any "sleeper" region -- an area of the world not discussed much in the media -- that will come to the fore during international climate change talks? Cardin: You've got to look at South America. That's a critical part of the equation. NJ: In what respect? Cardin: The environmental issues concerning forestation, concerning the costs of the developing world. That's a part of the world that we need to look at. Africa also. South America and Africa are regions that we have to be mindful of during this debate. There is a lot of carbon capture capacity there.

  • Nigerian Oil Tycoons Jittery Over U.S. Bill on Corruption

    Nigerian oil tycoons and major oil exporting companies have developed cold feet over plans by the federal government to adopt and partner the United States on a new bill introduced by the U.S. The bills seeks among other things, to bring to book corrupt oil exporters. LEADERSHIP gathered yesterday that the Nigerian government through its embassy in the United States is already tracking the new legislation introduced late last month in the U.S that would require oil, gas and mineral companies traded on the U.S. stock exchange to publish details of their deals with foreign governments. The bill, according to reports will not be limited to American firms only, but would cover any foreign company that is traded on the U.S. exchange or raises capital in the U.S and is thus required to file SEC reports. Over 100 top oil companies would be affected by the bill designed to promote transparency, particularly in the oil industry, where corruption often keeps profits from trickling down to the local population. The legislation co-sponsored by Senators Ben Cardin, D-Md., Russ Feingold, D-Wis., Richard Lugar, R-Ind., Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., and Roger Wicker, R-Miss. Is already receiving international support, especially by oil exporting countries which cannot account for all the huge monies they earn from oil exports. Sarah Pray, the U.S. coordinator for Publish What You Pay, a coalition in 30 countries pushing for more accountability in extractive industries, was reported to have said that with the bill “Citizens can say, 'we saw you earned $7 billion last year, and we want you to manage it better,” Experts consider the new U.S bill very significant for countries like Nigeria which is listed at the bottom of the Berlin-based Transparency International's 2008 Corruption Perception index. Corruption and weak governance can dampen foreign investments, lead to poor industry management and fuel violence, particularly in Nigeria where there have been persistent crisis in its oil rich Niger Delta region leading to reductions in production and disabilities in global oil prices. Analysts say that Nigeria needs to monitor the new U.S bill on corrupt oil exports as it coincides with the Nigerian Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB). The Nigerian government had proposed a Petroleum Industry Bill expected to revive the entire oil and gas industry in the country. Considering the importance of Nigeria in the global oil and gas industry, and also its crumbling oil and gas industry, due to militant activities in the Niger Delta. The PIB has huge expectations attached with it as it is seen as a veritable avenue by the Nigerian government to restructure the oil and gas industry in the country and provide a lifeline to the indigenous oil sector. However, with the higher taxes and royalties in the proposed bill, the fiscal terms for the international oil companies have been made tougher. Whether the PIB will successfully bring to an end the militancy problem in the Niger Delta region and reposition Nigeria in the international oil and gas market remains skeptical. Nevertheless, on paper, the bill provides strategies and tools for the transformation of the Nigerian oil and gas industry to stand the test of time. Since 1956 when oil was first discovered in commercial quantity in oloibiri,in River State a huge revenue of over $400 billion accrued to the nation from petroleum exports. but this has not translated into physical development and most of Nigerians still live below poverty lines and this again underscores the need for Nigeria to evolve a strong law on its oil exports to ensure that revenues accruing to it from oil exports are ploughed back into the development of the country.

  • Ukraine Lauded for Nixing Hotel Near Babi Yar

    Two U.S. lawmakers hailed Ukraine for halting the construction of a hotel near the site of a Nazi massacre. Sen. Benjamin Cardin (D-Md.) and Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.) co-chair the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, an agency charged with monitoring and encouraging compliance with the Helsinki Final Act and other commitments. "The city authorities of Kiev deserve credit for their rapid response to concerns from human rights and Jewish groups on this issue," Cardin, who last visited the memorial park in 2007, said last week. "I applaud their swift action to overturn the city council's insensitive decision and respect the memory of the victims at Babi Yar." The hotel was to be built close to the site of Babi Yar, a ravine near Kiev, where more than 33,000 people were murdered over a two-day period from Sept. 29, 1941. Half were children. Cardin also commended Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko for his pledge "to protect as a sacred spot the site of the Nazi massacre." Between September 1941 and 1943, some 150,000 people were executed by Nazi troops in wooded areas on the outskirts of Kiev. Most were Jews, but the total also included ethnic Ukrainians, Russians, Poles and Roma, or gypsies.  

  • Bill Seeks Disclosure of Foreign Payments

    Five US senators have introduced a bill which would require companies with stock traded on US exchanges to report payments to foreign governments for oil, gas, and mineral extraction in their regular Securities and Exchange Commission filings. The measure is designed to prevent governments in countries rich with natural resources from hiding payments they receive from energy and mineral producers to finance corrupt activities, the lawmakers said. “History shows that oil and gas reserves and minerals can be a bane, not a blessing, for poor countries, leading to corruption, wasteful spending, military adventurism, and instability,” said Richard P. Lugar (R-Ind.), ranking minority member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the bill’s primary sponsor. “Too often, oil money intended for a nation’s poor lines the pockets of the rich or is squandered on showcase projects instead of productive investments,” he continued. Sens. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-Md.), Russell J. Feingold (D-Wis.), Charles E. Schumer (D-NY), and Roger F. Wicker (R-Miss.) cosponsored the measure.

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