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The Planet

The Planet
December 1998 Volume 5, Number 10

on the border


by John Byrne Barry

Where the United States meets Mexico, the challenges are awesome. Fortunately, so are the Club activists working on border issues.

It stretches 1,500 miles from San Diego and Tijuana on the Pacific Ocean to Brownsville and Matamoros on the Gulf of Mexico. It separates the wealthiest, most powerful nation on the planet from a country where factory workers earn less than $10 a day.

The border, however, is more like a sieve than a barrier. It's not just immigrants slipping north, but jaguars and wolves, air pollution and toxic sewage. And the movement is in both directions. Due in part to the North American Free Trade Agreement, U.S. companies continue to move south to take advantage of lower wages, lower taxes and weaker environmental enforcement.

Fighting to protect the environment is difficult enough in the United States. For those Sierra Club volunteers and staff working along the Mexican border, it's even hairier. They face different laws, different languages, different priorities and huge discrepancies in resources.

On these pages, we provide a sampling of some of these battles. Some, like the recent defeat of a nuclear-waste dump in Sierra Blanca, illustrate the best of cross-border cooperation. Others, like the fight to rescue the Salton Sea, show how daunting these problems can be.

While a lot of the pollution flows south to north, it's short-sighted to blame Mexico. "After all," says Michael Gregory, a Sierra Club volunteer in Arizona, "more than 3,000 of the Mexican plants releasing toxics are U.S.-owned and -affiliated, and they're making goods for U.S. consumers."

Go on to the next article, "Cat Crossing"

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