Union Tribune

January 23, 2002

Report recommends federal help for border cities
Group says trade threatened by hazardous waste, water issues

By DANA WILKIE 
COPLEY NEWS SERVICE 

WASHINGTON The president and Congress must invest
significantly more money and political will in solving
cross-border pollution and similar ills or risk threatening
international trade if they leave the job primarily to states and
cities, according to a report from a presidential advisory group.

The group an arm of the U.S. Environmental Protection
Agency recommends that the Bush administration use federal
dollars and manpower to help border cities such as San Diego
with some of the challenges that many have tried to tackle alone: smog, hazardous waste, sewage, scarce water, and poor water quality.

"I think we need to keep in mind how serious these problems
are," said Ed Ranger, a member of the Good Neighbor
Environmental Board that was created a decade ago to
recommend to the president and Congress policies on border
issues such as the environment, public health and economic
development. "Failure to address and resolve these (issues) . . .
threatens the long-term sustainability of U.S.-Mexico trade
relations."

The report amounts to an indictment of the federal government
for failing to better assist border states in handling the
repercussions of increased international trade and immigration.
Its members include representatives from eight federal agencies
and from each of the four U.S. states that border Mexico
Arizona, California, New Mexico and Texas.

"The report is saying we need the federal government to step up
and not just leave it to local governments to scratch and scrape," said Imperial Beach Mayor Diane Rose, another member of the panel. "These are international issues, and yet you have a little community (like Imperial Beach) of 28,000 people at ground zero" trying to handle these problems alone.

Rapid growth and poverty have created enormous pollution
problems along the 2,000-mile-long border, and a lack of
money and cross-border coordination have made them difficult
to solve. So far this month, there have been 18 sewage spills in
the city of San Diego, many of them caused by breakdowns at
Tijuana sewage plant and pump stations.

In addition, power plants being built in Mexico do not meet the
environmental-protection standards required in the United
States, though they will almost certainly affect air quality north
of the border.

Hazardous waste is the growing byproduct of maquiladora
manufacturing. Recently, a federal environmental agency in
Mexico ordered Hyundai de Mexico to post a $2 million bond to
make sure the company cleans the toxic materials, air pollution
and industrial and hazardous wastes caused by its Tijuana
factories.

"More than a year ago, President Clinton signed legislation calling for the United States and Mexico to negotiate terms for a new border sewage treatment plant in Tijuana. The law, written by Rep. Bob Filner, D-San Diego, authorized $156 million for the
project, but Congress has yet to pass an appropriation.

Among the report's strongest suggestions is that Congress and
the president intervene to help Mexico and U.S. border cities
handle the growing volume of hazardous waste being produced
by maquiladoras. The waste is being stored, transported and
discarded in a manner inconsistent with U.S. safety guidelines,
Ranger said. Lack of communication between the countries'
health authorities makes it difficult to respond to
hazardous-waste emergencies along the border, he said, and
makes it increasingly likely such debris will be discarded in a
dangerous way.

Because all Americans benefit from the affordable products
created by Mexico's maquiladoras garage door openers and
VCRs, to name a few all American taxpayers should contribute
to solving the problems created by international trade, said
board member Irasema Coronado.

Board members warned yesterday that the federal government
cannot afford to ignore border issues, even at a time when it is
focusing attention and money on preventing a terrorist attack
like that of Sept. 11.

"Local communities are stretched economically, and sometimes
their hands are tied because (the jurisdictions that can tackle
problems) fall within federal boundaries," said Judith Espinosa,
chairwoman of the panel. "How does a local mayor negotiate a
(water) treaty with Mexico?"