Last week, Acting Administrator Bob Perciasepe led the U.S. delegation to the 20th Annual Council Session of the Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC) in Los Cabos, Mexico. Each year, the North American Ministers to the CEC meet to discuss their ongoing efforts under the North American Agreement for Environmental Cooperation to address potential trade and environmental conflicts as a result of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). The two-day meeting is open to the public and is an opportunity for the environmental leaders of the U.S., Canada, and Mexico to engage the public on environmental issues of concern and what the CEC is doing to address these issues.
Traditionally, members of the public have been invited to make presentations to the ministers on environmental issues related to the theme of that year´s meeting. Last year, the Ministers incorporated a town-hall meeting into the public portion of the session to broaden the participation of the public through social media and questions over the webcast. This new format charged the dialogue, allowing much greater interaction and potential to influence the cooperative work of the CEC. This year, the three countries broadened the reach of the town hall by establishing communication hubs in each of our countries in Montreal, Vancouver, Mexico City, and in Washington D.C. at EPA headquarters.
The town hall allowed for dynamic comments and questions from students, professors, environmental NGOs, and citizens concerned with transportation and environment in North America. Some of the questions addressed to the ministers were about the plans the three countries have to develop the infrastructure for vehicle recharging, and renewable and alternative fuels. There were also questions about how the governments are working together to harmonize regulations on greenhouse gas emissions. The ministers spoke candidly about the challenges facing their respective agencies and the potential for the CEC to enable the three countries to develop a collective approach. The ministers’ responses were thorough, specific, and knowledgeable.
Opportunities to communicate with senior government officials are rare, so it is important to make the extra effort to make sure that those who have something to say or to ask about the CEC have this opportunity. EPA has hosted a series of CEC Talks broadcasts and encourages discussion by involving our experts on each topic in the conversation. We will continue to work with our Canadian and Mexican counterparts to ensure that the dialogue does not end with the close of the meeting. Like environmental issues, the dialogue with the public knows no borders and public input will continue to inform the work we do to protect human health and the environment.
To learn more about the work EPA conducts through the CEC, go to: http://www.epa.gov/international/regions/na/nacec/
About the author: Patrick Huber is an international environmental program specialist in the Office of International and Tribal Affairs focusing on multilateral and bilateral environmental agreements in North America. Prior to joining EPA in 2010, Patrick completed a dual MPP/MBA from Georgetown University and the University of Geneva and has 12 years experience in international project management in the private and civil sector. Patrick lives with his wife and 2 young children in Falls Church, Virginia.