WASHINGTON – The United States and Mexico signed a new 10-year plan to further protect public health and the environment in the 3,200-kilometer border region where almost 12 million citizens of both countries live.
The new plan, called Border 2012, focuses on decreasing air, water, solid waste and soil pollution, and lowering the risks of exposure to pesticides and other chemicals.
Newest phase. The program is the latest phase in the decades-long environmental relationship between the two countries, which included the 1983 La Paz agreement aimed at protecting and improving life on the U.S.-Mexico border.
Border 2012 succeeds the 1996-2002 Border XXI program, which focused on air and water quality issues.
Border 2012 also builds upon the International Boundary and Water Commission of the United States and Mexico, and institutions created by the North American Free Trade Agreement to address environmental concerns.
Big goals. The plan’s major goals are to reduce water and land contamination, decrease air pollution, improve environmental health, reduce exposure to chemicals as a result of accidental chemical releases and/or acts of terrorism, and improve environmental performance through compliance, enforcement, pollution prevention, and promotion of environmental stewardship.
The specific concerns of the indigenous groups will be addressed to protect and preserve their cultural integrity within the program’s broader environmental purposes.
The need. The need for Border 2012 was spelled out by the EPA’s 38-page background document.
The agency said that over the last 20 years, population has grown rapidly in the border region, due in part to the maquiladora program which provided economic incentives to foreign (mostly U.S.-owned) assembly plants in Mexico.
Population growth. The EPA said rapid population growth in urban areas has resulted in unplanned development, greater demand for land and energy, increased traffic congestion and waste generation, overburdened or unavailable waste treatment and disposal facilities, and more frequent chemical emergencies.
Meanwhile, residents in rural areas suffer from exposure to airborne dust, pesticide use, and inadequate water supply and waste treatment facilities.
Border residents also suffer disproportionately from many environmental health problems, including water-borne diseases and respiratory problems.
Employment. The EPA said Mexico’s border area has a very low unemployment rate and high wages compared to other regions of the country. While economic growth has contributed to employment, the region’s infrastructure has not kept pace.
As a result, natural resources are strained and the environment and public health are adversely affected on both sides of the border.
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