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The U.S.-Mexican
Border Environment:

A Road Map to
A Sustainable 2020

Report on Border Institute I
Rio Rico, Arizona
December 7-9, 1998

Cosponsored by :
Southwest Center for Environmental Research and Policy
The Environmental Protection Agency
and The Border Trade Alliance

Southwest Center for Environmental Research and Policy
Border Environment Research Reports Number 5
May 1999


Below is the Executive Summary of the Border Institute report, and the entire report is available
PDF format.

The Border Institute, held late in 1998 in Rio Rico, Arizona, brought together some sixty community leaders; members of the private sector; representatives of nonprofit organizations; university researchers; and local, state, and federal government officials from the United States and Mexico to discuss how to ensure the future environmental quality and economic development of the border by the year 2020. The Southwest Center for Environmental Research and Policy (SCERP), the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the Border Trade Alliance (BTA) were cosponsors of the Border Institute.

Keynote presentations provided basic current information about the population, economy, environment, and governance of the border region, as well as some projections to 2020. They also raised issues relating to sustainability and transborder cooperation. Discussion groups of Institute participants developed a vision for the border environment of 2020 and outlined approaches for improving environmental and related conditions in the region. Basic features of the border include the following:

Population. Border counties and municipalities now have 10.6 million residents. If migration were to decline significantly, the border would naturally grow by some five million residents by 2020. If current growth rates continue, which is the most likely scenario, the border will increase by an additional 14 million people and the populations of most twin-city regions will more than double. Most of the population is concentrated in binational twin-cities, contributing to significant environmental, economic, and social spillover effects across the international boundary.

Economy. The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) has brought a major increase in bilateral trade, most of which is carried across the border by trucks. NAFTA, coupled with national and global economic growth, has created more jobs in the border region. However, wages on both sides of the border have remained low and unemployment has remained high, with the exception of San Diego. The poorest region of the United States is along the border with Mexico. In economic terms, the border region continues to decline relative to the border states and the nation as a whole. Increased trade and NAFTA have not brought a fair distribution of wealth to most border residents. The border has experienced economic growth, not economic development.The border is characterized by significant economic differences between the United States and Mexico. Minimum wages are 8 to 10 times higher and municipal budgets are up to 50 times higher in the United States. These economic asymmetries are not likely to diminish by 2020.

Environment. Currently, the border environment is at risk. The situation will deteriorate significantly in the future if population and economic growth continue at present rates without significant changes in regional development. By 2020, business as usual will bring:

  • Greater traffic congestion
  • Poorer air quality and attendant human health effects
  • Water shortagesn Increasing numbers of endangered and threatened habitats and species
  • Hazardous and solid waste disposal crises
  • Sewage infrastructure shortfall
  • Contaminated beaches and oceans

A vision for the border's environment in 2020. Border Institute participants crafted a two-part vision for 2020 as a goal that all stakeholders in border communities are encouraged to embrace:

  • A healthy sustainable natural environment with an involved binational community, ensuring proper resource management as a basis for a secure and adequate quality of life for all border inhabitants
  • A sustainable and responsible border economy that provides all its residents a satisfactory quality of life through enhanced employment, education, and business opportunities

Achieving the vision. Institute participants identified steps that will lead to achieving this vision. These include:

  • Binational solutions for binational problems with increasing transboundary effectsn Transborder coordination of land use planning
  • Border communities must address the issues of smart economic growth and raising standards of living rather than simply expanding the economy
  • Communities must focus on long-term issues of growth and environment
  • Federal, local, and state agencies must address long-term issues now
  • The Border Environment Cooperation Commission, the North American Development Bank, and Border XXI are key institutions that need to be strengthened
  • SCERP, EPA, and BTA are committed to continue working with border stakeholders to achieve the vision

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