By Doug Draper
A year ago last June, Hillary Clinton walked halfway across the Rainbow Bridge from the American side of the Niagara River to announce that, at long last, the United States was ready to work with Canada to renegotiate the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement.
On that 13th day of June – celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Canada-U.S. Boundary Waters Treaty as one of the precedent-setting international agreements for protecting the health of shared natural resources in the world – Canadian and U.S. environmentalists around the Great Lakes applauded. They had been urging their respective governments to update the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement (first signed in 1972 and last amended in 1987) for years to better address the kinds of pollutants and their sources, the alien species like zebra mussels and Asian carp, and other threats that could ravage these great reservoirs of fresh water today and for generations to come .
But eight months after America’s secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, made the announcement to renegotiate this groundbreaking treaty to protect and preserve the world’s largest resource of fresh water, it looks like the tens-of-millions of U.S. and Canadian residents living around the lakes might be shut out from the talks.
Quite frankly, it is beginning to look like neither country is willing to let ordinary citizens around the lakes play a meaningful role in negotiations toward a new agreement.
“Canada and the United States have created a process that stifles public involvement and shuts out constructive input, says John Jackson, director of clean prodction and toxics for Great Lakes United, the largest coalition of environmentalists, conservationists and other public and private sector bodies on both sides of the lakes. “Ultimately this will fail (both countries’) citizens, fail the communities dependent on the lakes for their livelihood, and fail the Great Lakes themselves.”
“Without public guidance during renegotiation of this binational agreement, we’re far less likely to see any eventual restoration benefit on the ground,” said Lyman Welch, Water Quality Program manager for the U.S.- based Alliance for the Great Lakes. “If no one’s watching now, who will be watching when the rubber meets the road during the agreement’s implementation?”
The groups are calling on the negotiators, members of Congress and Parliament, and leaders of state, provincial governments to urge President Obama and Prime Minister Harper, through a letter, to instruct their negotiators to give citizens of both nations the opportunity to participate in this essential agreement.
The letter to the governments included six recommendations to improve the process:
1. Release a draft government position or options paper on governance issues.
2. The release of the draft government position or options paper should set off a 60-day public comment period.
3. Once the governments have negotiated draft language on governance, release it again for a public comment period.
4. For the “issues” consultations, follow a process similar to recommendations 1-3, with the release of a draft position or options paper followed by a 60-day public comment period followed by another opportunity for comment after the governments have completed their first round of negotiations on the topic.
5. Compile a web-posted summary of comments received from public input at each stage of the consultations.
6. Release a final draft of the complete revised Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement for comment prior to completing negotiations and hold public hearings in both countries on this draft.
For More Information:
The governance recommendations, endorsed by 32 groups, are available here.
The letter to the governments regarding the poor public comment process, including recommendations to improve it, is available here.
John Jackson | Director of Clean Production and Toxics | Great Lakes United
519-744-7503, cell: 519-591-7503 | firstname.lastname@example.org
Sarah Miller | Water Policy Researcher | Canadian Environmental Law Association
416-960-2284 x213 | MillerS@lao.on.ca
Jane Elder | Coordinator | Forum on Nature and Democracy
608-255-2087 | email@example.com
Lyman Welch | Manager, Water Quality Program |Alliance for the Great Lakes
312-939-0838 x230 | LWelch@greatlakes.org
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