Scientists and Environmental Policy: A Canadian-U.S. Perspective

By Alm, Leslie R. | Canadian-American Public Policy, February 1999 | Go to article overview

Scientists and Environmental Policy: A Canadian-U.S. Perspective


Alm, Leslie R., Canadian-American Public Policy


Leslie R. Alm is an associate professor of political science and public policy and administration at Boise State University. He holds an undergraduate degree from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and a doctorate in political science from Colorado State University. His recent research centers on the U.S.-Canada acid rain debate, emphasizing the science-policy linkage to environmental policy making: it has been published in Science, Technology and Human Values, The Social Science Journal, State and Local Government Review, and The Journal of Environmental Systems. E-mail: lalm@boisestate.edu

I. INTRODUCTION

Recent research by Donald Alper and James Loucky documents the new realities of the social, economic, and political landscape of North America where "transnational contacts and interactions have called into question the traditional national sovereignty function of borders, stirring controversy about new relationships and forms of association that transcend national functions." (1) Alper and Loucky contend that the areas of greatest convergence will be related to common interests and geography with environmental concerns being the most likely catalyst for greater transnational cooperation. The formation of the Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC) under the auspices of the North American Agreement on Environmental Cooperation (NAAEC) to help prevent potential trade and environmental conflicts and to promote the effective enforcement of environmental law between Canada, Mexico, and the United States seems to bear out Alper and Loucky's contentions.

Moreover, the recent release of the 1997 Continental Pollutant Pathways report by the CEC, which focuses on a lingering environmental problem (air pollution), suggests that the only way to address environmental concerns is through the lens of a transboundary and North American perspective. Victor Lichtinger, the executive director of the Secretariat of the CEC at the time of the report's release, (2) summarized this view:

Acting alone, no nation of North America will be able to protect adequately its domestic environment or its citizens from pollutants transported along continental pathways. While pollutants are not constrained by political boundaries, programs to reduce them often are, and domestic decisions continue to be made with little reference to their implication for all of North America. (3)

The release of the Continental Pollutant Pathways report appears to mark the beginning of a new era of transnational environmental cooperation. (4) There are great hopes that the North American Agreement on Environmental Cooperation, which went into effect in January of 1994 at the same time as the North American Free Trade Agreement, will actually foster trinational cooperation on the issue of continental pollutant pathways in North America.

This movement toward a continental approach involving Canada, Mexico, and the United States is quite laudable. But it is important not to forget that it was preceded by a contentious debate at the national, bilateral, and global levels. In fact, just getting to the point where two of the countries that signed this trinational agreement (Canada and the United States) could establish a single bilateral accord on their transboundary air pollution took almost two decades of what some called a bitter and protracted policy disagreement. (5) The optimism posited by the formation of the CEC and release of the Pathways report must also be tempered by the knowledge that over the past several years, both the funds and human resources dedicated to scientific research on air pollution have declined substantially in Canada and the United States. (6)

To establish a better understanding of the factors that foster successful cross-border environmental cooperation (as represented by the Pathways report), this study examines the existence of the earlier policy debate between Canada and the United States leading up to the 1991 signing of The Agreement Between the Government of the United States of America and the Government of Canada on Air Quality (commonly referred to as the Air Quality Accord). …

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