Behind the Lines

Great Hydro Wall

In December 1994, China officially launched construction of the Three Gorges dam, the world’s largest hydro dam and China’s most ambitious public works project since the Great Wall.

 Supporters of the 185-meter dam claim it will provide flood control, ease navigation on the Yangtze River and generate over 17,000 megawatts of electricity. Critics, however, contend that sedimentation of the reservoir will actually disrupt navigation, cause flooding and destroy the dam’s turbines in less than 10 years. Most serious, according to critics, is the plan to displace more than 1.3 million people to make way for the dam [see “Planning for Disaster: China’s Three Gorges Dam,” Multinational Monitor, September 1993].

 “The Three Gorges project will constitute one of the largest forced migrations of people in history,” says John Thibodeau of the Toronto-based Probe International. “Many Chinese people live in fear of this project, unable to speak out for fear of arrest and unsure of their future should it be constructed.”

 At the ground-breaking ceremony on December 14 in Sandouping, the future site of the dam, Chinese Premier Li Peng made an impassioned plea for foreign assistance for the mammoth project, underscoring the “unprecedented business opportunities” for overseas investors. It is expected that China will need a massive infusion of capital and equipment from abroad to complete the $50 billion project.

 But many foreign financiers are wary of the project. Testifying before the Ontario Energy Board the week of the ground-breaking ceremony, Ontario Hydro Chair Maurice Strong was asked if the utility will seek Three Gorges contracts. “Over my dead body,” Strong replied.

In 1993, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which had been involved in preparations for the Three Gorges since 1944, pulled out of the project, claiming it was neither economically nor environmentally feasible. The World Bank, notorious for its involvement in large dam schemes, noted in a September 1988 statement that the current design of the project is “not economically viable.” Engineering giant Bechtel Enterprises has also stated that it is “not at all likely” to pursue Three Gorges contracts because it feels the project “is extremely controversial from an environmental perspective.”


Pols Got “A Piece of the Rock”

Prudential Securities, Inc. has agreed to pay $550,000 for violations of the Federal Election Campaign Act. The December 1994 agreement, reached with the Federal Election Commission (FEC), is the largest civil penalty in the Commission’s 19-year history.

 The FEC found that, from 1986 to 1993, Prudential officers and employees used the company’s resources and personnel to solicit contributions from its associates and employees at other securities firms. Federal law prohibits corporations from making contributions to candidates for federal office. This includes fundraising activities in which the company’s employees solicit contributions at the company’s expense.

 “This case demonstrates that the Commission’s enforcement priority system is working,” says FEC Chair Trevor Potter. “We were able to identify the [Prudential] case as important early on, and swiftly negotiated this sizeable settlement.”

 The FEC categorized the violations as “knowing and willful” in view of Prudential’s previous involvement in a March 1987 case concerning the 1984 Presidential campaign of Senator John Glenn, D- Ohio. In that case, Prudential paid a $7,000 penalty.

 “We believe the activities in question were undertaken in good faith by employees exercising their rights to participate in the electoral process,” says a Prudential statement. “Nevertheless, we have decided to settle these charges to put the matters behind us and remove any possible question about our commitment to adhering to the letter and spirit of the electoral laws.”


EU Extends BGH Ban

European Union (EU) Farm Ministers agreed on Dec. 13, 1994 to extend Europe’s ban on the controversial use of bovine growth hormone (rBGH) until the beginning of the next century, when the EU’s current milk quota regime ends.

 Ministers said the extension would buy time for further testing of the health impact of rBGH. The EU originally imposed a moratorium on use of the product in April 1990, citing concerns about the potential boost in milk output and the risk that use of the product would speed the displacement of family dairy farms by agribusinesses.

The European Federation of Animal Health criticized the decision. “Political attempts to restrict the use of products meeting the established criteria of safety, quality and efficacy will have to be firmly rejected if Europe wishes to encourage investment and jobs in innovative research, development and production,” Federation Secretary General Jo Vanhemelrijk said in a statement. “And Europe’s farmers will also be increasingly disadvantaged if they are in the future denied the benefits of new technology which their competitors enjoy elsewhere.”

 The farm ministers did not discuss Europe’s import ban on rBGH dairy products, a major trade conflict with the United States. The U.S. government approved Monsanto’s rBGH product, Posilac, in February 1994 [see “Monkeying With the Milk,” Multinational Monitor, June 1994]. Upjohn and Eli Lilly have also been developing such products.

 The European Campaign Against rBGH, a coalition of consumer, environmental, farmer and animal welfare groups, demonstrated outside the EU Farm Council meeting in Brussels, demanding a total ban on using or importing rBGH products, Reuters reported.

 A Monsanto statement maintained an optimistic tone, emphasizing that the decision allows farmers to use rBGH to test for health impacts. “[L]imited utilization will enable the company and farmers to learn how [rBGH] can best be used in the context of [the EU’s] quota system,” the statement said.

 — Aaron Freeman and Andrew Wheat