Is Spotlighting Enough? Environmental NGOs and the Commission for Environmental Cooperation

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The mainstreaming of environmentalism into the public consciousness is now an accepted part of policymaking in North America (Adams 2005: 2-3). In fact, Rosenbaum--in the sixth edition of his book Environmental Politics and Policy--argues that "the environmental movement has been largely responsible for a remarkable growth in public environmental consciousness and acceptance of environmental protection as an essential public policy" (2005:51). These carefully crafted words not only provide the basis for deeply engrained convictions concerning the state of the environment in today's policy world, they frame a linkage between the public, the environment as a policy issue, and policymaking in general. Other scholars have enhanced this framing by illustrating the importance of public participation to effective environmental policymaking (Close and Mintz 2005: 624; Dobson and Bell 2006: 6). For instance, Torgerson and Paehlke simply, but powerfully, state that "[t]he chances for effective environmental protection [are] clearly enhanced by public involvement" (2005: 4). In the same straight-forward vein, MacKinnon comments that "... involving the public helps make decisions more legitimate and sustainable, leading to better policy outcomes" (2005: 2) and Parikh and Troell posit that "[e]ngaging the public in environmental decision-making ... often improves the quality of the environmental outcomes of those decisions" (2003: 3). Moreover, these scholars (and others) often embed their discussions of public participation within the context of interest groups or non-governmental organizations (NGOs). It is the purpose of this paper to investigate the linkage of public participation--especially as carried out through the context of environmental non-governmental organizations (ENGOs)--to successful policymaking through a critical analysis of the Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC) as it attempts to implement its stated mission.

The CEC was created under the auspices of the 1993 North American Agreement on Environmental Cooperation (NAAEC), a separate agreement between Canada, Mexico, and the United States stemming from concern for the environment in the context of the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). The CEC works through three major entities: (1) the Council, which is the governing body of the CEC and composed of the highest-ranking environmental authorities from Canada, the United States, and Mexico; (2) the Secretariat, which is located in Montreal and implements the annual work program by providing administrative, technical and operational support to the Council; and (3) the Joint Public Advisory Committee (JPAC), which advises the Council on any matters pertinent to the scope of NAAEC and is composed of five citizens from each of the three countries. At the time of its inception, NAFTA was considered one of the "greenest" multilateral trade agreements ever concluded because of its heavy emphasis on environmental considerations through the NAAEC and the specific creation of the CEC (Mol 2001: 125-126).

As described in one of its first publications, the CEC's mission is quite straightforward: "The CEC facilitates cooperation and public participation to foster conservation, protection and enhancement of the North American environment, in the context of increasing economic, trade and social links among Canada, Mexico and the United States" (CEC 1997). The CEC has been portrayed as the first international organization created to link public participation in environmental policymaking directly to trade and economic integration (DiMento 2003: 120; Knox and Markell 2003: 2) and has been described as "innovative ... allowing citizens to directly access and participate in the Commission's decision-making processes" (Parikh and Troell 2003: 4). Moreover, the CEC is described as an international model because of "its provisions for public participation and for the unprecedented commitment by the three governments to account internationally for enforcement of their environmental laws" (TRAC 2004: ix). …