The Power of Collaboration

CEC flags

As Assistant Administrator for International and Tribal Affairs (OITA), I work with important partners to develop new and innovative ways to create a greener and healthier environment for future generations. Two of our closest partners are Canada and Mexico.

Each year, the Environmental Ministers from Canada and Mexico, along with EPA’s Administrator, meet to discuss our nations’ path forward under the North American Agreement for Environmental Cooperation (NAAEC), the environmental side agreement of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). The leaders met last month in Mexico at the 20th Annual Council Session for the Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC), which is the commission established through NAFTA and NAAEC to implement our shared regional environmental goals.

Leading up to the Council Session, we determined what initiatives the CEC should pursue to protect our shared environment and green our economies. This year, public input really helped shape the development and final project submissions. Through the Joint Planning Advisory Council, the U.S. National Advisory Committee, and the U.S. Governmental Advisory Committee, more than one hundred government officials and experts from the three countries met to determine the appropriate initiatives that would translate the mandate from the CEC Ministers into concrete actions.

EPA Deputy Administrator Bob Perciasepe (far right) and OITA Assistant Administrator (second from left) meet with members of the National and Government Advisory Committee (from L-R: Oscar Carillo, Gerald Wagner, Gail Small, Brian Houseal, and Ocatviana Trujillo)

Our annual Council Sessions allow us the opportunity to collaborate with both international and tribal partners. Numerous members of the U.S. National Advisory Committee and the U.S. Governmental Advisory Committee have tribal affiliations. The U.S. Governmental Advisory Committee Chair, Dr. Octaviana Trujillo, member of the Pascua Yaqui Tribe of Arizona, has been instrumental in reviewing the workplans and has participated in numerous CEC Council Sessions. Dr. Trujillo is able to integrate her unique perspective into the Committee’s decision-making process, which is essential in determining which initiatives will be funded.

There’s always a great deal of variety to the initiatives presented, and this year the CEC enacted a system of clustering the selected initiatives in order to focus on key issues and improve collaboration across projects. The projects chosen during the Council Session will:

  • Tackle climate change while improving air quality;
  • Green the transportation sector; and
  • Address waste in trade.

EPA’s work with our tribal and North American regional partners serves as a strong example of successful collaboration in addressing common concerns, and OITA is the catalyst in bringing these partners together to foster teamwork that advances the great work of the Agency at large.

Michelle DePass is the Assistant Administrator for EPA’s Office of International and Tribal Affairs, where is responsible for EPA’s environmental policy development and program implementation in tribal lands and in sovereign nations outside of US borders. DePass is a lawyer, public administrator and policy maker who has worked with environmental and human and civil rights organizations, academic institutions, and labor. She received her B.A. in Political Science from Tufts University, her law degree from Fordham University School of Law, and a Master’s degree in Public Administration from Baruch College School of Public Affairs.

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