What It’s Like To Be A CEC Research Assistant

By: Maryann Zaki

As a research assistant for Professor Hester, I was able to get a glimpse of the CEC Citizen Submissions Process. Researching the citizen submissions process was really interesting, because we evaluated how many of the citizen submissions actually resulted in a successful remediation of the environmental problems. We were surprised to find that often although many submissions would be filed, often there would be major delay by the CEC in responding to the submissions, or the submissions would be dismissed on mere technicalities. Because of this, we also noted a steady decline in the amount of submissions being filed, perhaps because citizens noticed it was too difficult to file a submission that met all of the CEC’s requirements. This was alarming because a process that was created to encourage citizen participation was being transformed into too much of a burdensome process, leaving citizens without a remedy.

An important aspect of my research for Professor Hester was attending a CEC conference in El Paso while conducting my research in the Fall of 2011. During the conference, we heard from individuals in the El Paso area who perhaps tried to file a submission, but felt burdened by the process necessary to complete a submission. For example, their lack of a lawyer sometimes proved to be the number one hurdle, despite the fact that there were major unaccounted for environmental issues in their area. I also met with a few CEC representatives, most of whom acknowledged the flaws in the citizen submission process. They spoke about the several administrative and procedural hurdles that the CEC faces in order to accommodate the citizens who file submissions, but nonetheless they were open to lessen those hurdles to allow for more successful submissions.

Finally, in September of 2012, I was able to attend NACLE conference in Mexico City in which Professor Hester reported on our findings of the citizen submission process. It was great to hear Professor Hester speak about the work we had done. We also had the opportunity to meet other students and faculty who had been researching the same thing. It was comforting to hear that other students and professors from other universities all reached similar findings about the inherent flaws in the citizen submission process. However, we all agreed that the CEC was doing their best with the resources they had to improve the process and to listen to our suggestions.

Overall, being a research assistant for Professor Hester was a great learning experience. There were novel issues that we were dealing with, and Professor Hester relied on my findings and research of the submission process. Considering I never knew of the CEC citizen submission process before beginning my research for Professor Hester, I definitely learned a lot. I was also pleased to do research on such an important cause; the ability for citizens to bring attention to environmental issues in their area is extremely important. I know that the work we did helped to bring more awareness to the CEC to encourage them to make the citizen submission process less burdensome for citizens in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico. Hopefully the CEC will accept these suggestions and implement changes so that the citizen submissions process may return to fulfilling its original purpose; allowing citizens to voice their complaints about environmental issues in the areas surrounding them.

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