By Jane Nishida
The United States-Mexico border region is one of the most dynamic in the world. Today, the border is home to over 14 million people. Approximately 90% of the population resides in cities, while the remaining population is found in small towns or rural communities. Over 430,000 of the 14 million people in the region live in 1700 colonias, neighborhoods in Mexican cities without jurisdictional autonomy or representation. There are 26 U.S. federally-recognized Native American tribes, many of which share extensive cultural and family ties with indigenous peoples in the border region of Mexico.
In late September my team and I joined EPA’s Region 6 Administrator, Ron Curry, and Region 9 Administrator, Jared Blumenfeld, at the National Coordinators meeting under the Border 2020 U.S.-Mexico Environmental Program held in El Paso, Texas. This was the first National Coordinators meeting for the new Border 2020 Program. Together, we reexamined the goals, objectives, and operations of the program as we renewed our bi-national partnership.
During the working sessions, we discussed strategies to reach program goals and maximize resources throughout the two-year work plan. These sessions focused on the five goals of the Border 2020 program – air pollution reduction, improvement of access to clean and safe water, enhancing joint preparedness for environmental response, materials and waste management and clean sites and enhancing compliance assurance and environmental stewardship.
Not only was it an exciting opportunity to hear about the important projects along the U.S.-Mexico border, we also committed to continuing the strengthening of our partnership and collaboration with the ten border states, 26 U.S.-border tribes and indigenous communities, local governments, industry, and the public, and to define a new course of action for making a visible difference for our border communities.
EPA and the Border Health Commission (BHC), one of the exciting partnerships, are working together on important issues to improve the environment and public health in the U.S.-Mexico border region. We have established Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Units (PEHSU) along the border to improve children’s health by enhancing educational and consultative services to communities. Our new 2015-2016 agreement has identified public health and environmental leadership, building environmental health capacity, and strengthening institutional resiliency and accountability as priority areas.
Next year is an important one under the Border 2020 Program because we start the mid-term evaluation of the Program and we plan to develop and publish the 2016 Border Indicators Report. These important milestones would help ensure that our border collaboration translates into environmental benefits for the inhabitants of the United States-Mexico border region.