Report: Border health issues must remain priority

January 24, 2002|By JENNIFER SARANOW, Special to this newspaper

WASHINGTON — Pressing environmental problems along the U.S.-Mexico border should not be sidelined to issues of immigration and national security in talks between the United States and Mexico, an advisory group warned the president and Congress on Tuesday.

Inadequate water quality and quantity, air pollution and the possibility of hazardous waste accidents still vex communities along the border, including the Imperial Valley, reported the Good Neighbor Environmental Board, created in 1992 to advise the administration on environmental practices along the border.

"Despite (changed priorities since Sept. 11) and the limited resources available, the border area has to continue to be a high priority with both the U.S. and Mexican governments," said board chairwoman Judith Espinosa. "They must continue funding programs that improve public health and safety and provide for sustainable development."

In its report, the board recommended more binational cooperation at all governmental levels to regulate the border's water supply, alleviate adverse air-quality effects from existing and planned power plants and ensure all border communities can respond to hazardous materials spills.


At a meeting earlier this week between officials from Calexico and Mexicali, Mexicali Mayor Jaime Diaz Ochoa pledged to protect the environment.

The Imperial Valley's air pollution problems, like those in other border communities, are partially due to the continued construction of power plants in the area, board representatives said, and two other plants are under construction in Mexicali.

Across the border region, 16 new power plants of 200-megawatt capacity and larger have been approved and 21 more are planned, an increase from the 13 existing plants.

Irasema Coronado, a political science professor at the University of Texas, El Paso, said those power plants will make air pollution worse in areas such as the Imperial County-Mexicali and El Paso-Ciudad Juarez air basins, where air quality already does not meet standards.

In addition, the Imperial Valley faces many of the same problems with hazardous waste disposal as other border communities. While the El Centro Fire Department has been trained in highway hazardous waste removal and the streets department is being trained, the Imperial Valley last year opened its first center to deal with wastes such as oil paints and solvents.

"There's been no place to take it so people have been putting it in their regular garbage," she said.

While a center did open last January, J.B. West of the Imperial Valley Waste Management Task Force and the office of public works in El Centro, said the opening wasn't advertised because the center did not have adequate capacity. An official opening of the center, at 702 E. Heil Ave., is set in April.

Espinosa said she is pleased with the positive response to the board's report last year on water supply management and recommended binational cooperation and compliance with existing water treaties.

In early September, President Bush and Mexican President Vicente Fox discussed water resources and specific agreements were reached in 2001 for water systems in Texas, New Mexico and the Colorado River delta. Representatives of the board said that was not enough.

Board members are scheduled to meet members of Congress on Thursday regarding the board's recommendations.

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