MISSION: Southwest Research and Information Center is a multi-cultural organization working to promote the health of people and communities, protect natural resources, ensure citizen participation, and secure environmental and social justice now and for future generations

Excerpt:

Public Participation Gets Results for Border Communities.

by Lynda Taylor,
Border Environment Project

It's now more than two years since the Border Environment Cooperation Commission (BECC) held it's first public meeting October 1994) and began interacting with border communities. During the debate on the NAFTA Side Agreement on the Environment, which created the binational BECC and it's sister banking institution, the North American Development Bank NADBank), there was much hope that these institutions would solve the environmental and health problems along the U.S.- Mexico border by helping communities to develop environmental infrastructure projects, especially in the area of wastewater treatment and solid waste management. The BECC was also envisioned as a transparent and democratic institution that would actively involve border residents in all of it's processes, particularly in its certification of projects. Its founding agreement affirmed the goal of achieving sustainable development through environmentally sound solutions.

A unique agreement between two countries, the BECC/NADBank provides two institutions with authority, relative independence from both governments, and financial resources. Unprecedented in international development, the BECC/NADBank can be viewed as an experimental model for addressing transnational environmental problems. As the U.S. member of the BECC board of directors appointed to represent the public, I have been able to observe the BECC's progress, especially as it relates to the participation of border residents in much needed projects certified by the BECC and now eligible for NADBank financing. In November, the BECC adopted revised criteria expanding the requirements for public participation and sustainable development when evaluating projects. (Background on the border's environmental health problems, a history of these institutions and their role during their first year, and a vision for incorporating sustainable development for the BECC were described in two previous Workbook features [Summer 1992 and 1995] and in my keynote speech before a U.S. Commerce Department conference on the BECC and NADBank [Fall 1995].)

Without a doubt, the success and longterm sustainability of border environment projects are directly related to the level of involvement by residents of border communities. This includes participation in the planning of the project design, actual construction and maintenance, and planning future community needs. Related issues include appropriate technology, meeting environmental/ health needs, financial viability, and user fees for loan repayment. A second benefit of binational public participation in the BECC project certification process is that it will foster the democratic process in decision making along the border, rarely experienced by border residents of Mexico.

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