Independent Environmental Oversight: A Report for the Giant Mine Remediation Environmental AssessmentSubmitted By: Jamie Kneen December 23, 2016
Ours is the age of accountability. Commissions of inquiry, periodic reviews, inspection panels and complaints commissions are all proliferating to address accountability deficits. This report focuses on independent environmental oversight bodies. These bodies take multiple forms. The purpose of an independent oversight body is to provide a separate and vigilant set of eyes and ears. Critical to this watchdog role is the independence of the overseers. Independent oversight agencies thus arise as watchdogs over police complaints, child protection, to govern hazardous substances, in settings of nuclear safety, and to respond to environmental risks.
The aim of this report is to enrich the discussion surrounding an appropriate monitoring and oversight regime to govern the Giant Mine Remediation by providing an informed comparative analysis of diverse forms of independent oversight bodies. This analysis is based on a combination of sources: texts, published accounts, web-based sources, interviews and informal discussions with staff and stakeholders. This report situates existing examples of oversight agencies within a detailed discussion of the concept of independent oversight and the forces leading to the emergence of oversight institutions in many diverse settings. This report is one of the first to draw together some comparative insights from a wide variety of institutions. From these project-specific examples emerge valuable “lessons learned” and insights into emerging best practices in independent oversight.
This report seeks to raise awareness about independent oversight and to prompt further discussion on preferred approaches. Given the legal background of its authors, this report adopts a legal and institutional lens in assessing examples of oversight agencies and in explaining both the motivations for these agencies, and the challenges they face.
A key theme to emerge from this study is that independent oversight bodies fulfill multiple roles. The oversight bodies discussed in this report reveal a tension between two of these key roles: 1) serving as a conduit for communication between the public, project proponent and regulators, and 2) providing rigorous technical oversight of the monitoring process. The ability of an oversight agency to discharge these mandates will depend on a number of factors including its legal basis, the security of its tenure, the adequacy of its funding, its access to information, obligations on the regulator to respond to its recommendations, and the calibre of respect between regulator and oversight body. A further tension to be balanced is between securing independence of overseers, while ensuring that these “eyes and ears” have sufficient knowledge of the project and the community.
This report concludes by suggesting that many of the drivers that have led to the emergence of independent oversight bodies for other projects are present in the Giant Mine Remediation context. This report does not propose a specific model of oversight body for this project. Proposing a form of oversight body that addresses community concerns is ultimately a task for the affected community and participants in the Giant Mine Remediation Plan environmental assessment. What this report does do is provide insight, reflection and “lessons learned” from existing models and scholarly thinking on oversight to ensure that future models of oversight benefit from the experience of the past.
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