Reports Focus On International Air Quality Issues

Clean air, accelerated economic activity and protection of Native American cultural artifacts are the topics of the latest report of the EPA advisory committee on the U.S.-Mexico border. Additionally, a U.S.-Canadian organization released a document conveying the views of organizations and individuals in Canada and the United States on the progress under the United States-Canada Air Quality Agreement.

The EPA report, released on March 14, is the ninth in a series of reports from the Good Neighbor Environmental Board (GNEB) advising the president and Congress on environmental protection along the U.S.-Mexico border.

"Pollution knows no political boundaries. Together, Mexico and the United States are reaching across our shared border to build a cleaner, safer environment," said EPA Administrator Stephen L. Johnson. "The Good Neighbor Environmental Board provides Congress, EPA, and the entire Bush administration the advice we need to continue to improve the health and the environment of our border communities."

"The board's recommendations reflect its continued call for action from strong U.S.-Mexico border partnerships, equipped with adequate resources, that span sectors and geographic boundaries," said Board Chair Paul Ganster. "Low sulfur diesel fuel, emerging technologies, more involvement with tribal governments, and partnerships with border security agencies are just a few examples of the tools we should be using."

To both retain good air quality and support transportation activities across the border, the report recommends action in the following areas:

Border Stations and Transportation Infrastructure -- Bolster infrastructure, technology, personnel and related activities through substantial new funding, and intensify long-range planning and coordination at the binational, national, and state and locals levels to cope with the congestion at border crossings.

Air emissions -- Harness new and emerging technologies and fuels to reduce emissions from diesel trucks, buses, municipal and private fleets and passenger vehicles, and identify private/public funding sources to accelerate the process.

Public transit and alternatives to driving alone -- Encourage public transportation, ridesharing, car-sharing, biking and walking in border cities so that fewer people will drive alone, thus reducing motor vehicle trips and the emissions of pollutants.

To better protect Native American cultural and natural resources along the border, the report recommends that federal officials take actions in the following areas:

Security -- Undertake border security efforts with recognition of the need to protect cultural and natural resources. Improve efforts in interaction, coordination and cooperation among federal, tribal, state and local governments. Examine methods to reduce the number of undocumented migrants crossing border tribal lands, thus reducing associated damage to sacred sites, burial grounds, archeological sites, important ecosystems and traditional lifestyles.

Growth -- Increase partnerships between preservation groups and agencies to purchase land with high-value cultural and natural resources, thus helping to manage growth. Create incentive programs to encourage private landowners and developers to voluntarily protect cultural resources. Encourage tribal governments and agencies to participate in government-to-government consultation to minimize damage to cultural resources, including sacred sites.

Capacity Building -- Efficiently use and leverage existing federal support initiatives such as the National Heritage Area program. Establish more public-private partnerships to increase both funding and staffing levels. Foster more public involvement in cultural resources preservation through stronger public education about its value.

Good Neighbor Environmental Board members include representatives from all four U.S. border states as well as nine federal agencies. Border state representatives include senior officials in business and industry, state and local government, ranching and grazing, non-profit groups, tribes, and the academic community. Each year, the board meets several times in different communities along the U.S. side of the border. Members also have extensive networks across the border that include families, friends and professional contacts.

To obtain a copy of the new report, titled U.S.-Mexico Border Environment: Air Quality and Transportation & Cultural and Natural Resources: Ninth Report of the Good Neighbor Environmental Board to the President and Congress, call (800) 490-9198 and request the document by number, EPA 130-R-06-002. 

On the same day the EPA report was released, the International Joint Commission (IJC) -- which acts as an advisor to the U.S. and Canadian governments -- released a document on the synthesis of public comments on progress under the United States-Canada Air Quality Agreement.

The synthesis conveys the views of organizations and individuals in Canada and the United States on the progress toward meeting the goals of the 1991 agreement and its annexes. The majority of respondents were generally satisfied that significant progress has been made by both countries to reduce sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds in the eastern part of the continent. Many comments stated that more action is needed to monitor and reduce the human health impacts of air emissions; reduce the transboundary flow of ground-level ozone; and add specific objectives to the agreement to address airborne particulate matter, mercury and other persistent toxic substances.

Under Article IX of the agreement, the IJC invites comments on each progress report prepared by the governments' bilateral Air Quality Committee, submits a synthesis of views to the governments and releases the synthesis of views to the public. 

This article originally appeared in the 03/01/2006 issue of Environmental Protection.

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