From the regions of San Diego-Tijuana and El Paso-Ciudad Juarez, two of the world’s largest binational metropolitan areas, through the rural Imperial Valley-Mexicali and Ambos Nogales in Arizona-Sonora, to Laredo-Nuevo Laredo and Brownsville-Matamoros, each binational border community has its own identity and character.
Each of these distinct regions serves as a hub of activity where millions of residents of the United States and Mexico live, work and play across an international border.
Last year more than $530 billion in agricultural and manufactured goods were traded through these border hubs, supporting more than ten million U.S. jobs.
Mexico is the number one trading partner for both Texas and California, with nearly $200 billion in two-way trade between Texas and Mexico and more than $66 billion between California and Mexico in 2014. Much of this trade generated by exports and demand in states other than Texas and California passes through the ports of entry in Laredo, El Paso and Otay Mesa impacting our local streets and roads and the quality of life for border area residents. Unfortunately, the infrastructure to support this economic activity has not kept pace with its growth.
When the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was implemented in 1994, the U.S. and Mexican governments recognized that increasing industrial development and population growth would put pressure on the natural resources of border communities. Accordingly, they created the North American Development Bank (NADB) and the Border Environment Cooperation Commission (BECC) to develop and finance projects to address environmental and infrastructure needs in the U.S.-Mexico border region.
Over the last 21 years, NADB has contracted $2.6 billion in loans and grants for 215 BECC-certified infrastructure projects, which are providing safe drinking water, adequately treating wastewater, properly disposing of solid waste, improving air quality and generating clean energy throughout the entire region. In 2015, we certified 14 projects ranging from a large wind energy facility in Coahuila to a small water distribution plant in Mesilla, New Mexico, along with $257 million in financing for their implementation.
Cali-Baja residents have benefited from $768.5 million of BECC-NADB resources invested in 53 infrastructure projects, reducing environmental hazards and laying the foundation for continued economic prosperity. These projects include first-time water or sewer service access to over 10,400 new sewer hookups, reducing raw sewage from flowing into the Pacific Ocean, and supporting renewable energy projects, which enhance our ability to attract and retain environmentally sustainable business in the region.
In the Borderplex region of Texas, BECC-NADB has supported 27 projects with more than $230 million in financing, largely focused on the water and wastewater sector. These investments have resulted in greatly improved water quality along the Rio Grande. In 20 years, wastewater treatment in Juarez has increased from zero to almost 100 percent, enhancing the quality of life for the residents of both sides of the Rio Grande.
This unique example of cooperative binational investment is the model which should lead us forward. For one third of the $18 billion we currently spend each year on “border security,” at a time when the flow of migrants is near an all-time low, we could renovate and expand the 25 land ports which millions of families, workers, tourists and goods use to cross the border every day. Six billion is less than the estimated annual economic loss to the San Diego-Tijuana region due to the congestion experienced daily at our land ports.
We appreciate Congress taking an important step in supporting the bank in its recent appropriation of $10 million toward the recapitalization. We urge the U.S. and Mexican Congresses to support the continuation of these strategic investments by authorizing the full $3 billion in recapitalization of the bank agreed to by Presidents Obama and Enrique Peña Nieto last year. All of the work described above has been accomplished from the initial $3 billion invested by both nations more than 20 years ago, and U.S. support for the Border Environment Infrastructure Fund (BEIF) grant program. The proposed recapitalization and funding of the BEIF will allow this progress to continue.
As representatives to the BECC-NADB Board, we look forward to building on the achievements of this unique binational mechanism for cooperative investment, and to continuing to support local projects in both the U.S. and Mexico that benefit all border community residents.
Editor’s Note: The above guest column first appeared in the San Diego Union-Tribune. To read the original op-ed click here.