Mar 03 2021
Designates EPA as lead federal agency to address border pollution problems
Washington—Senators Dianne Feinstein and Alex Padilla (both D-Calif.) today introduced the Border Water Quality Restoration and Protection Act, a bill to reduce pollution along the U.S.-Mexico border and improve the water quality of the Tijuana and New rivers.
The bill would designate the Environmental Protection Agency as the lead agency to coordinate all federal, state and local agencies to build and maintain needed infrastructure projects to decrease pollution along the border.
Representatives Juan Vargas, Scott Peters, Mike Levin, Sara Jacobs, Darrell Issa and Raul Ruiz plan to introduce companion legislation in the House of Representatives.
“Toxic sewage and waste has flowed into the United States from Mexico for years because federal agencies haven’t stepped up to deal with the problem,” said Senator Feinstein. “The people of Southern California have been forced to suffer while different federal agencies keep passing the buck. This bill will put an end to the confusion by putting the EPA in charge of coordinating efforts and fixing the problem. I’m grateful to the Government Accountability Office for its detailed and informative report on this long-standing issue that must be addressed now.”
“For too long, toxic waste and raw sewage has flowed across the border into Southern California, polluting our air and water and depriving border communities of outdoor recreation and economic opportunities,” said Senator Padilla. “While federal agencies have largely ignored this problem, the health and safety of our coastal communities remains threatened. That’s why I’m joining Senator Feinstein to introduce the Border Water Quality Restoration and Protection Act to direct the EPA to take the lead in finally addressing the Tijuana River pollution problem.”
“The biggest challenge in addressing this environmental and public health crisis is that a majority of the pollution results from transboundary flows. Addressing cross-border pollution in our region requires strong communication between agencies – from both sides of the border,” said Representative Vargas. “We need a lead agency to coordinate efforts between federal, state, local and Mexican entities to properly establish infrastructure and restoration programs to help address this decades-old problem.”
The Border Water Quality Restoration and Protection Act is supported by the California Environmental Protection Agency; the California Natural Resources Agency; San Diego and Imperial counties; the cities of San Diego, Imperial Beach and Coronado; Chula Vista Mayor Mary Casillas Salas; the Port of San Diego; the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce; and WILDCOAST.
“I’m proud to support Border Water Quality Restoration and Protection Act, as it provides much-needed accountability to ensure action is taken to address sewage flows and pollution from the Tijuana River Valley,” said Mayor Todd Gloria, City of San Diego. “Squarely putting transboundary flows under the Environmental Protection Agency’s purview enhances our region’s efforts to reduce border pollution and improve water quality along our binational coastline.”
“Failing sewage infrastructure and inadequate storm water management in Mexico has resulted in decades of toxic pollution flowing into the United States,” said Mayor Serge Dedina, City of Imperial Beach. “Our communities along the border continue to bear the brunt of these impacts from transboundary pollution. The City of Imperial Beach is encouraged that this new legislation, along with the appropriated funds in the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement Implementation Act, will finally provide the necessary clarity for federal agencies to proceed with short-term and long-term solutions to stop the continuous transboundary flows in the Tijuana River.”
“The Tijuana River Valley has a decades-long history of water quality issues,” said Caroline Smith, director of strategy and intergovernmental affairs, San Diego County. “Significant improvements in wastewater treatment have in recent years improved water quality on both sides of the border. However, government land managers are spending millions of dollars annually to manage sediment, trash and flooding in the Tijuana River. This proposal is an important step in addressing the pollution facing our region.”
“To this day, sewage, waste, industrial chemicals, and other toxic contaminants originating in Mexico continue to flow across the border, poisoning the river and the surrounding watershed,” Chairman Michael W. Kelley, Imperial County Board of Supervisors. “The Border Water Quality Restoration and Protection Act is a good place to start to address this ongoing public health and environmental disaster. The Imperial County Board of Supervisors is pleased that Senator Feinstein has prioritized the issue early in the 117th Congress and looks forward to continuing to work with Congress to improve the water quality of the New River.”
Based on recommendations from a Government Accountability Office report requested by Senator Feinstein that was released last year, the bill would:
- Designate the EPA as the lead agency to address border pollution along the U.S.-Mexico Border and improve water quality of the Tijuana and New rivers entering the United States.
- Require the EPA, along with its federal, state and local partners, to identify a list of priority projects and would authorize EPA to accept and distribute federal, state, and local funds to build, operate and maintain those projects.
- Codify the existing Border Water Infrastructure Program to manage stormwater runoff and water reuse projects.
- Require the International Boundary and Water Commission to participate in the construction of projects identified in the Tijuana and New rivers’ comprehensive plans and specifically authorizes the commission to address stormwater.
Senator Feinstein has fought to secure funding to build the necessary infrastructure to reduce pollution along the U.S.-Mexico border:
- Secured more than $200 million for the EPA’s Border Water Infrastructure Program, despite recent efforts by the Trump administration to eliminate the program, and $300 million in the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement for water quality improvement projects along the border.
- Passed the bipartisan North American Development Bank Improvement Act to reauthorize and strengthen the bank so it can continue to invest in environmental infrastructure along the border.
- Requested a Government Accountability Office report that found that the IBWC lacked the coordination and effectiveness to solve the problem.
- Specifically, the report found that “Congress should consider providing direction and specific authorization for USIBWC to take action to resolve the long-standing water quality problems associated with transboundary stormwater flows…including identifying alternatives, cost estimates, funding sources, and time frames, in coordination with federal, state, and local partners.”
- Met with Mexican ambassadors to the United States to push their government to invest in wastewater infrastructure.
- Passed a requirement that the secretary of state create an interagency plan to address the effects of toxic cross-border flows on communities in the United States.
- Passed a requirement that Customs and Border Protection submit a report on its efforts to protect its personnel from toxic cross-border flows.