Border affairs council proposed at conference

February 05, 2002|By AARON CLAVERIE, Staff Writer

CHIHUAHUA, Mexico — Mexican Sen. Jeffrey Jones here proposed creating a border affairs council of elected representatives from each Mexican state bordering the U.S.

Jones said such a council could introduce legislation in Mexico City and work with the Fox administration's border affairs cabinet member Ernesto Ruffo Appel to divert a steady flow of funds to the growing border region of Baja California, Sonora, Coahuila, Nuevo Leon and Tamaulipas.

Calexico Mayor Pro Tem John Renison heard Jones' presentation at the 2002 Border Trade Alliance Conference in Mexico City over the weekend.

Renison lauded the idea and said he hopes to see an organization of elected officials formed on the U.S. side that could meet with Mexican counterparts.


"It's a very opportune time to get all of the California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas legislators together. All you would need is eight to 10 people in Congress that could sell that," Renison said Monday.

He added the combined weight of the legislators could sway policy in Washington, D.C., and Mexico City and help focus attention on the unique needs of the border area.

Jones made the presentation during a Friday morning speech. Renison said the presentation was the highlight of the Thursday through Saturday conference.

On Friday night a number of Imperial County officials listened to a speech by Jeffrey Davidow, U.S. ambassador to Mexico. Renison missed the speech because he was invited to dinner by Gaston Lukan of Proxima Energy.

Lukan talked to Renison on Thursday about the Gasoducto Bajanorte that Proxima is building with San Diego's Sempra Energy. On Friday, Lukan again went over the potential benefits of the pipeline and the two talked about concerns Imperial/Mexicali valleys' officials have about connecting the under-construction Tijuana-Mexicali pipeline with the huge El Paso natural gas pipeline running from Texas to Los Angeles.

The pipelines would be connected by a proposed 80-mile stretch of pipe that would be buried beneath the Colorado River, the streets of Blythe, the desert of east Imperial County, Interstate 8 and the border, where it would connect with the Gasoducto Bajanorte.

Local officials have complained about the pipeline because the 500,000 cubic feet of natural gas per day it could carry would be burned by at least four Mexicali power plants. Emissions from those plants would affect air quality in the Imperial/Mexicali airshed.

The power companies contend the effect locally will be minimal — the equivalent of a few small cars running for 24 hours seven days a week.

Air-quality experts, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, counter the company's findings. EPA officials expect the plants to belch tons of emissions into the region's airshed.

Imperial County Air Pollution Control Officer Stephen Birdsall told Davidow about the power plant situation during a Q&A session after the ambassador's speech.

Brawley City Manager Jerry Santillan said Birdsall asked for more local input into the federal approval process for projects such as the proposed pipeline.

Imperial County officials complained to both the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the California State Lands Commission during the project review stage. The commissions approved the pipeline.

Birdsall said there needs to be some document beyond the North American Free Trade Agreement that addresses bridges, border infrastructure and environmental issues.

Santillan said Davidow was keenly aware of issues affecting the Imperial Valley and border communities.

"He seemed willing to continue a dialogue and keep better track of the number of future plants," Santillan said.

Santillan added, "Where you have companies producing electricity they need to use the best technology."

Not using the "best technology" has been a charge leveled at Boston-based InterGen, which is building a power plant in Mexicali that will not feature California-compliant emissions controls on two of its four turbines.

Renison said the Calexico City Council could consider passing a resolution calling for the owners of the Gasoducto Bajanorte to not sell natural gas to InterGen's plant until it equips all four turbines with the best possible emission controls. The Proxima representative Renison met with is a part owner of the Gasoducto Bajanorte.

As for Davidow's Friday night speech, Santillan said, "Generally the perspective he gave was the president's on a number of border issues because the president is from a border state."

One of the key points Davidow stressed was making trade easier for the interior of Mexico and easing the border-crossing time without jeopardizing security. Davidow talked about X-ray technology that could detect the exact number of goods in a trailer fairly quickly, according to Santillan.

Davidow talked about creating a "southwest border partnership made up exclusively of border communities."

"It's an initiative that we are hoping could become an area with different departments. This would allow Congress to earmark it as a unique area and focus funding within 100 kilometers on each side of the border," Santillan said.

The partnership members could work with non-profit organizations such as the BTA to improve the quality of life along the border.

>> Staff Writer Aaron Claverie can be reached at 337-3419 or

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