Jump to Navigation
Jump to Content

Awkward Evolution: Citizen Enforcement at the North American Environmental Commission

July 2002

Citation: 32 ELR 10769

Issue: 7

Author: Paul Stanton Kibel

The Lessons Learned Report: A Time to Reassess

The debate in the early 1990s over the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA)1 was extremely contentious in Canada, Mexico, and the United States. Citizens in all three countries voiced concerns that the proposed NAFTA would hinder and weaken protection of the environment and the rights of workers. More specifically, critics of the proposed agreement highlighted that while NAFTA established new standards and procedures to protect the economic rights of private corporations engaged in North American trade, the agreement did not establish equivalent standards and procedures to ensure that Canada, Mexico, and the United States protected public health, endangered ecosystems and species, and the rights of workers and labor unions.2 Opponents to the proposed NAFTA therefore called for revising the agreement so that the environment and workers were provided with legal protections equivalent to those provided to private corporations.3

In response to mounting political opposition to NAFTA from environmental groups and unions, one of the key pledges of William J. Clinton's 1992 campaign for the U.S. presidency was that he would make environmental and labor issues an integral part of the NAFTA negotiations.4 Clinton won the 1992 U.S. presidential election, and in August 1993, Canada, Mexico, and the United States completed negotiations for two new agreements: the North American Agreement on Environmental Cooperation (NAAEC) and the North American Agreement on Labor Cooperation (NAALC).5 The NAAEC called for the creation of a new institution to be headquartered in Montreal, Quebec—the North American Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC). The NAAEC also called for the creation of a new procedure that permitted citizens and groups to file submissions with the CEC regarding the nonenforcement of Canadian, Mexican, and U.S. environmental laws.6 This new procedure can result in the CEC's preparation and publication of a document called a factual record.7

Mr. Kibel is a lecturer at Stanford University and an Adjunct Professor at Golden Gate University School of Law. He is also an environmental attorney with Fitzgerald, Abbott & Beardsley, and the author of The Earth on Trial: Environmental Law on the International Stage (Routledge Press 1999). He holds an LL.M from University of California-Berkeley's Boalt Hall Law School. The author thanks Randy Christensen, Patti Goldman, and David Markell for their comments and suggestions. This Article was completed in January 2002, and covers developments through that date.

Download Article >>>