Pulse Point continues this month with the second and final part of our series on the U.S.-Mexico border area by Daniel Basurto, which provides an excellent overview of the complex bilateral action agenda between Mexican and U.S. environmental agencies dealing with border issues.
The guest author, Daniel Basurto, is a founding partner of the Mexican Law firm of LexCorp Abogados, headquartered in Mexico City with several offices in Mexicoís border states and the Southeast. One of Mexicoís premier environmental attorneys, Basurto is in charge of the firmís Environmental, Safety and Hygiene practice group.
NOTES ON THE MEXICAN BORDER AREA: PART TWO
by Daniel Basurto Gonzalez
[Editorís note: Last monthís piece provided the background and genesis of the Mexico-U.S. relationship on environmental matters and addressed the issues of air, water, solid and hazardous waste, pollution prevention and natural resources along the more than 3,000-kilometer border. This part concludes with a look at environmental health issues, accident prevention and emergency response, environmental information, and cooperation in enforcement. The first part can be found in the Archive section of our web site at www.pulse-point.com].
The border region suffers serious health problems, which can be associated with contamination as well as with the lack of infrastructure to attend to these matters, lack of attention to occupational hazards, poverty, lack of water supply, etc. The most common illnesses are respiratory and gastrointestinal, lead in the blood or intoxication by pesticides.
Among the projects being developed are those related to generating information, research, control of the environment and health risks. Programs have been designed and carried out like the Toxicology Center, where training, oversight and health promotion actions for the community are developed; additionally, work has been done relating to the exposure to pesticides and its adverse effect on the children of the U.S.-Mexico border, to be able to learn the types and frequency of use, and the number of those poisoned by same, and thus determine control on them. Studies are being done relating to the identification of exposure to lead and reduction of the risk in children residing on the border in order to locate the sources; further, it is timely to mention the exchange of health alert information on the border and the Internet bulletin, and the Geographic Information System (SIG) for Environmental Health.
Accident Prevention and Emergency Response
To strengthen the capacity for response to emergency situations that involve hazardous materials, there is a Bi-national Accident Prevention and Emergency Response Group for the purpose of establishing strategies and suggestions for emergency situations. The most important actions are the formation of the Joint Response Team (ERC) which reviews and establishes the phases to put into practice several of the recommendations of the Cross-Border Mobilization Work Sub-Group for Personnel and Equipment. This team prepares a semi-annual report on the activities realized and to be realized by the U.S. and Mexico, and has developed an Internet page on border activities, compiling all laws, treaties and agreements related to attention to emergencies, and reviewing the duties and responsibilities of the Mexican and United States agencies who participate in the Joint Accident Plan (PCC).
Work related to the inventory of Resources for Attention to Emergencies was done in the Mexican sister cities, through which the Mexican border zone that includes the states of Baja California, Sonora, Chihuahua, Coahuila, Nuevo León, and Tamaulipas is covered, as are the states of California, Arizona, Texas and New Mexico.
Attending to the results obtained in the simulations for notice procedures between the cities of Nuevo Laredo and Laredo, it has been considered that the experience gained in same will be incorporated into the implementation of future simulations. The first technical assistance workshop for sister cities, done in the city of San Diego, CA, with the participation of representatives from the cities of San Diego/Tecate-Tijuana and Calexico/Mexicali, promoted the creation of Local Joint Plans and the principal barriers were discussed that hinder border crossing of personnel and equipment in the case of aid from one nation to the other.
The ERC finalized the PCC, which constitutes a federal plan to protect human health and the environment through a coordinated response by the teams of both countries in cases of accident involving chemical products on the border. Its primary function is to support the personnel from the states, town and the public in development of joint plans for the sister cities in order for them to be better prepared to mitigate the effects of chemical accident the length of the border.
The Federal Environmental Protection Agency in Mexico is carrying out the registration and follow-up of accidents that occur in the Mexican Republic where some hazardous substance is or may be involved.
Environmental Information Resources
The search for information on the border environment by society, academic institutions and the private sector has resulted in the governments of the two countries forming the Environmental Information Work Group. The information includes technical studies on the environment, in order to respond, facilitate, and disseminate information to the population. The activities of the Group have been basically oriented to issues such as The Geographic Information Systems for Laguna Madre, El Paso Norte, Environmental Health, the Tijuana River watershed, as well as centers for information, education and training, among other projects. Further, preparation in Spanish and English was completed of the 1997 Report on Boarder Environmental Indicators, which gives to the border community an information system based on indicators that measure the performance of the policies applied.
Cooperation for Application of the Law
The effective application of and compliance with the laws in the Mexico/United States border area is fundamental for strengthening performance of the environmental objects and for preventing environmental problems. Cooperation on research in specific cases and exchange of information has been intended, in order to act more efficiently, thereby reinforcing the capacity for action through training and technical consultation and promotion of voluntary compliance through audits and prevention of contamination.
Important efforts in exchange of information and investigation have been carried out on specific cases, such as the activities of the maquiladoras and waste improperly generated and managed; exchange of information on recycling, treatment and final disposal installations in the United States and Mexico; return of tires from the Jacome Ejido to the United States which were illegally exported to Mexico, etc. The "Amigo" Program seeks to promote prevention of industrial contamination on both sides of the border.
With respect to the imposition of monetary penalties and closing of operations of plants on both sides of the border, inspection, negotiations and legal actions have been carried out on industry in order to be able to assure compliance with the law in both countries.
As a result of all of the foregoing, it is intended that both Mexico and the United States can develop sufficient and appropriate environmental infrastructure throughout the whole border region, and a scheme for shared responsibility at all levels of government and in the border society as a whole.
The care of the environment on the border is an unavoidable priority, and one of the means of achieving the objectives is to improve the quantity and quality of services, and fully use the potential advantages of private and public sector participation in environmental projects.
Although numbers and comparisons are cold and unappealing, in the end, they represent a point of departure from which decisions can be adopted and principles established for the policies, programs and instruments of environmental policy. Compliance with the environmental requirements, trying to secure compliance, is done through inspections, negotiations and legal action.
Hereafter, we note some figures that represent, generally, the activity that our authorities are performing on the issue at hand:
Taking as source of information the environmental indicators for the border, for tha last years PROFEPA has undertaken as oversight actions in the Mexican border zone, 59 partial closures in each year.
Regarding legal action taken on the border, the same descending pattern is observed on irregularities; this implies an improvement of approximately 20%.
Closures (partial and total) and imposition of economic penalties have clearly decreased, as the same PROFEPA information shows, issued by the Verification Department in a document titled "Systems of Indices on Compliance with Environmental Regulations."
EPA and PROFEPA have worked together to intensify the capacity of both countries in compliance and promotion of their respective environmental laws, and to solve common environmental problems arising from non-compliance. The activities for application of the law on the border are focussed on cooperation to detect violations and compliance with the law in specific cases; cooperation on investigations of specific cases and exchange of information; strengthening the capacity for action through technical consultations and training; and voluntary compliance through audits and prevention of contamination.
This Group has developed several cooperative projects for compliance and application with the Law, in which PROFEPA has active participation:
Daniel Basurto of LexCorp Abogados in Mexico City can be reached by phone at: (525) 395-1085; Fax (525) 395-1540, or by e-mail at: email@example.com
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