Newsletter and Technical Publications
<The Councillor as Guardian of the Environment>
Essay and Workshop for Local Elected Leaders on Environmental Governance
Emphasis on Adopting Environmentally Sound Technologies (ESTs)
Training for Elected Leadership -
Part II - Workshop on the Councillor as Guardian of
- WORKSHOP -
13.1 Warm-up Exercise: A COUNCILLOR'S WORST NIGHTMARE
| Time Required: 60 minutes
This workshop opener is to help participants recognize that
environmental vigilance begins at home.
Read the incident2 A Matter of Environmental Ethics to
participants (see next page).
After participants have heard the situation, divide them into several
small groups. Ask each group to answer the following questions about the
- How do you think a situation like this could have occurred and
persisted for so long a time?
- What action should be taken and by whom to bring responsible
officials to justice?
- What should the present council do in exercising its role as Guardian
of the Environment?
After about 30 minutes, reconvene the participants and ask for reports
from each small group. Discussion.
A Matter of Environmental Ethics
You were elected as town councillor over ten years ago in this
well-known seaside resort community and now have principal oversight
responsibility for local authority works maintenance and environmental
matters. In a telephone conversation late last week with Barbara Botelho,
an official of the national Ministry on Environmental Affairs, you were
told that employees of the works department in your local authority have
been dumping hazardous chemicals and other debris at 26 sites within local
authority boundaries for more than fifteen years. Ms. Botelho said her
information came from a letter to the ministry from a former employee of
the authority's works department. You learned from a fax copy of the
letter sent to you by Ms. Botelho that a road emulsifier containing
naphtha and kerosene, oil, and transmission fluid are the chemicals that
the former employee claims have been dumped routinely at authority
maintained park sites and on public roads. Vague reference was made in the
letter to chemical burns experienced by works employees and toxic fume
omissions. There was nothing in the letter that revealed the name of the
employee who wrote the letter, but many of the employees responsible for
the dumpings were mentioned by name. In a later conversation, Ms. Botelho
warns you that the ministry is preparing an investigation of the alleged
dumpings and that, if the facts support the allegations, the local
authority is in possible criminal violation of public law. "Our
concern," said Ms. Botelho, "is not only about the possibility
of chemical burns suffered by authority workers and releases of toxic
vapors, but also the risk of water table contamination." Preliminary
investigations conducted by staff members of your office confirm evidence
of toxic waste dumping at the 26 sites mentioned in the letter. In
interviews with personnel named in the letter, investigators found that
the dumpings were performed by works employees who claimed they were
acting under the orders of their superiors. When asked by a local
newspaper reporter to confirm a tip she has received about toxic chemical
dumping and the ministry's concern, you reply: "Our investigations
confirm that some dumping of possibly toxic materials has been observed in
several locations in public park areas and in ditches along public roads.
They [ministry officials] are upset because, at a minimum, we [local
authority officials] could be responsible for created unlicensed landfills
and introduced hazardous or toxic materials into these landfills in a way
that violates the law." Meanwhile, park workers and road crew
employees who dumped the material during the last ten years under orders
from their superiors are helping local and ministry officials to identify
the chemicals and arrange to dispose of them. A price tag on the clean-up
has yet to be determined, and it is too early to know if criminal charges
will be filed against those who ordered the dumping.
the events described in this case, a new director has been assigned to
manage the park department.
The director has ordered the assessment
of all park sites to assure adequate clean-up. Directives covering
methods for toxic waste disposal have been pulished and park department
employees have been
trained in what to do and what not to do when
handling and disposing of toxic materials