Member Scholars Write to EPA Concerning Slow Consideration of Citizen Environmental Complaints in NAFTA Countries

Ben Somberg

April 2, 2012

When the United States signed NAFTA, it also signed the North American Agreement on Environmental Cooperation (NAAEC), which allows, among other things, for citizens to submit complaints to the Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC) with claims that their own governments are failing to enforce environmental laws.

That key provision is in danger, a group of CPR Member Scholars say in a letter to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson. The letter was signed by CPR Member Scholars Rebecca Bratspies, Carmen G. Gonzalez, David Hunter, John H. Knox, Noah Sachs, Dan Tarlock, and Chris Wold.

The citizen submissions can result in investigative reports by the CEC Secretariat, which have in some cases led to real improvements in policy, particularly in Mexico, the Member Scholars write. The NAFTA governments, through the EPA Administrator and her counterparts, must approve, through a 2/3 vote, CEC Secretariat recommendations for reports. From 1996 to 2004, the Council took about five months, on average, to make decisions on recommendations. The letter today says that has changed:

In recent years, however, the Council has failed to make these decisions in a reasonable time. The trend began during the second term of the Bush Administration. In those four years, the average length of time for the Council to decide whether to approve Secretariat requests to prepare reports shot up to nearly two years. Shockingly, the trend has become worse – much worse – during the Obama Administration. When President Obama took office, three Secretariat recommendations for reports were pending. Over three years later, only one of those recommendations has been acted upon. The other two still await decision almost four and five years, respectively, after the Secretariat informed the Council that they warranted investigation. …

We ask that you instruct EPA officials to make clear that the United States (a) will insist on timely decisions (including immediate decisions on the two pending Secretariat requests) as part of a concerted effort to return to the prior two-year commitment, (b) will always support Council approval of Secretariat requests without drastically narrowing their scope, and (c) will encourage rather than oppose efforts by the Joint Public Advisory Committee to follow up reports.

The full letter is here.

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