New agreement to foster continuous monitoring in El Paso Air Basin: Opinion
For all their complexity and diversity, human beings share some basic, fundamental needs. Clean air and water are among these essential aspects of life, prized qualities we all depend on to survive and prosper.
Laudable notions that few would dispute. But the reality of protecting and preserving clean air and water – particularly along international borders – is something else. It demands a level of commitment that let’s face it, is difficult to sustain.
Such is the case for the El Paso Air Basin, a bowl-shaped desert region defined by the Rio Grande and mountainous terrain that encompasses two countries, three states, multiple municipalities, a federally recognized Native American tribe, and some 2.7 million people.
With more than 1,240 miles of a shared border with Mexico, the environmental health of this region is a top priority for Texas. The Texas Commission Environmental Quality manages a broad-based effort to serve border residents under the TCEQ Border Initiative and is also a proud partner in Border 2020, the latest iteration of a program that outlines key areas for environmental cooperation between the two countries.
The Basin resides within the Paso del Norte, the historic overland trade route between the Pacific and Atlantic coasts, a critical nexus of material resources, capital, labor, and culture, connecting major markets within North America.
The unique conditions of the Basin’s topography make it difficult to pinpoint sources of pollution from industrial activity, as well as tailpipe emissions from the many passenger vehicles and diesel-fueled trucks idling for hours while waiting to cross the border.
For decades, stakeholders on both sides of the border have tried to address the threat that air pollution poses to the region. But, despite these efforts, the vexing problem has persisted and stymied growth in our interlocked economies.
Specifically, what’s been missing is a central fund with resources dedicated to financing continuous air quality monitoring and critical information for detecting pollution hotspots.
TCEQ is proud to announce its participation in the first-of-its-kind Binational Air Monitoring Fund, an innovative program explicitly formed to resolve this longstanding problem by ensuring continuous air monitoring throughout the basin.
Ongoing air monitoring will help identify sources of emissions and – regardless of where the pollution originates – inform targeted containment curtailment strategies and direct investment in effective pollution controls.
The fund will be managed by the North American Development Bank, established in 1993 by the U.S. and Mexico, to facilitate financing, construction, operation, and maintenance of environmental infrastructure projects in the border region. Given its binational composition, NADBANK is ideally suited to manage this new program.
NADBANK and TCEQ will create the fund, and the Joint Advisory Committee will govern how funds are spent under a clear set of guidelines. Public and private sector stakeholders can then contribute to the program, which will be managed in a transparent manner by NADBANK and the JAC respective of states’ sovereignty and jurisdiction.
Together with my counterparts in Chihuahua and New Mexico, we will introduce a resolution establishing the Binational Air Monitoring Fund on Feb.11 during a JAC virtual meeting.
The genesis of the program can be traced to a series of collaborative efforts, beginning with the La Paz Agreement in 1983 on through a 2019 Memorandum of Cooperation signed by Texas and Chihuahua to jointly promote long-term projects. The 2020 United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement continued this approach by highlighting the importance of reducing transboundary air pollution and ensuring access to air quality data.
The Binational Air Monitoring Fund represents an extraordinary opportunity for industry leaders and local businesses to invest in their communities by removing longstanding barriers to development – the very reason NADBANK was formed. It also presents an opportunity for elected officials to demonstrate to their constituents the value of working together.
Perhaps most important, the agreement is an opportunity for residents of the region to have confidence the air their families breathe will be cleaner.
I’m hopeful this act of binational cooperation can serve as a model for future agreements between Mexico and the U.S. by nurturing the fundamental qualities that all humans need not only to survive, but to thrive.
Bobby Janecka is a Texas Commission Environmental Quality Commissioner.