GNEB
                               Environmental Advisors Across Borders
GOOD NEIGHBOR
ENVIRONMENTAL BOARD

Presidential advisory committee
on environmental and infrastructure issues
along the US border with Mexico
Chair
Paul Ganster, Ph.D.
Telephone: 619-594-5423
Email: pganster<8>mail.sdsu.edu

Acting Designated Federal Officer
Ann-Mane Gantner
Telephone: 202-564-4330
Email gantner.ann-rnariefflepa.gov
httn.//www2.ena gov/raea/gneb
                               December 11,2015
President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue
Washington, D.C. 20006

Dear Mr. President:

As your federal advisory committee for environmental and infrastructure issues along
the United States (U.S.) border with Mexico, the members of the Good Neighbor
Environmental Board (GNEB) are concerned about adverse environmental impacts
from climate change risks in the border region and have suggestions for federal
government actions that will address them and improve the quality of life for the
border's 15 million inhabitants.

Although climate risks have been included in previous GNEB reports, this advice letter
focuses on U.S. federal government initiatives that can be launched within this 2016
fiscal year through cooperation among U.S. federal agencies; state, tribal, and local
governments;  civic organizations; and the government of Mexico to improve
environmental conditions and enhance border community and environmental
resilience to the  diverse challenges posed by a changing climate. Much as the
Conference on Global Leadership in the Arctic: Cooperation, Innovation, Engagement
and  Resilience (GLACIER)1 highlighted the Artie as an example of global climate change
risks, the climate change-related stresses and risks along the U.S.-Mexico border
illustrate the diversity of the ecological, social, and economic issues that climate
change poses for the entire country. What is happening along the border today may be
a window to what will happen in the rest of the nation.

Below, we list actions we recommend that federal agencies can implement during this
2016 fiscal year  to address those issues, and then we describe each area of

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environmental concern in detail. Most of the specific suggestions described below can
be moved forward by federal agencies without any new executive orders, although the
availability of agency resources may present limitations. However, executive orders
that require relevant federal agencies to act along the U.S.-Mexico border, as well as
exchange information and collaborate with counterpart Mexican agencies, could
reduce climate vulnerabilities of communities along the shared international
boundary. Federal leadership will create synergies among all levels of government and
other stakeholders on both sides of the border to enhance the climate change
resiliency of the affected communities.
Climate Issues along the U.S.-Mexico Border
Climate vulnerability issues that impact natural and human systems and can affect the
U.S.-Mexico border region include air, land and ocean temperature increases;
significantly decreased precipitation and more extreme weather events; and sea-level
rise and tropical storm surges.
Global annual average temperature, as measured over both land and ocean surfaces,
warmed roughly 1.5 3°F from 1880 to 20 12,2 and the last decade was the warmest on
record. U.S. average air temperature has increased by 1.3°F to 1.9°F since record
keeping began in 1895, and most of this increase has occurred since about 1970.
Temperatures in the United States are expected to continue to rise. 3 Continued
warming of the planet is projected to occur as a result of past greenhouse gas
emissions, as recent research has indicated that another 0.5°F increase is expected
over the next few decades even if all greenhouse gas emissions suddenly
stopped, 4 although natural variability could still play a role over this time period. 5
Recorded past and projected future temperature increases also have affected and will
affect the climate of the U.S.-Mexico border region, with the greatest increases inland
from the coast. The magnitude of the temperature increase is greatest during the
summer, with more extreme heat days over 100°F and more high nighttime
temperatures. 6
Precipitation also is projected to decrease in the U.S.-Mexico border region, with more
severe decreases on the Pacific coast and parts of the Arizona-Sonora border. The
Lower Rio Grande Basin area of the border also could experience similar precipitation
decreases, with a potential decline of 700,000 acre-feet of available surface water by
2060.7 ,8
Limited water resources and periodic droughts historically have been major issues in
the U.S.-Mexico border region, with increasing temperatures and changes in
precipitation exacerbating drought consequences. 9 Paleoclimate records for the area
show that severe amega droughtshI have lasted for 50-year periods. 10 The decade of
2001 to 2010 was the warmest in the 110-year instrumental record for the U.S.
southwest, with temperatures almost 2°F higher than historic averages, fewer cold air
outbreaks, and more heat waves.’ 1 Droughts and heat waves in the U.S.-Mexico border
region are projected to become more intense and cold waves less intense, affecting
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precipitation, runoff and recharge, food and energy security, and ecosystem and
species health. For example, dry conditions coupled with overgrazing can lead to erosion,
the spread of invasive plants, and reduced productivity of such crops as fruit trees.’ 2
Drought also affects estuarine ecosystems along the U.S.-Mexico border, such as the
Tijuana River Estuary in California and the Rio Grande and Lower Laguna Madre of
South Texas, which depend on adequate water flow for normal habitat function and
biological productivity. During extended droughts, conflict among water users could
detrimentally reduce water allocated to ecosystems. Already, we are seeing
competition for limited water resources as a result of the current severe drought
stresses. Climate projections estimate that by 2050, 32 percent of counties in the
United States could be at high or extreme risk of water shortages (compared to 10%
today), with the greatest concentration of extreme conditions occurring all along the
U.S.-Mexico border.’ 3 Reduced stream flows and snowpack will affect tourism and
recreation in the Southwest’s rivers and lakes. A recent detailed study of the Colorado
Basin, which supplies critical amounts of water to the border regions of California,
Arizona, Baja California and parts of Sonora, concludes that by 2060, there will be an
annual shortfall between water production and water demand of 3.2 million acre-feet,
leading to the curtailment of water deliveries to all users of the river’s waters. 14
These average temperature changes may understate the likely consequences of climate
vulnerability along the U.S.-Mexico border, such as public health impacts due to a
projected increase in the number of extreme heat days and high nighttime
temperatures, greater frequency and intensity of wildfires, and reduced agricultural
productivity. In the summer of 2011, for example, large areas of the inland U.S.-Mexico
border region set records for the highest number of days with temperatures exceeding
100°F in recorded history. In some areas, there were more than 100 days when
temperatures exceeded 100°F. 15 During the 2011 heat event, rates of water loss due in
part to evaporation were double the long-term average, and depleted water resources
contributed to more than $10 billion in direct losses to agriculture alone. 16 Another
example of the consequences of the drought is that in January 2012, customers of
1,010 Texas water systems were asked to restrict water use, while mandatory water
limits were in place in 647 water systems. 17 Similarly, in April 2015, California’s
governor ordered mandatory water use reductions of 25 percent annually by the
state’s 400 local water supply agencies. 18
Possible consequences of drought and increased warming include greater vulnerability
to wildfires, including those that burn across the international boundary. Increased
warming, drought, insect infestations, the accumulation of woody fuels, and the spread
of non-native grasses have contributed to making the region more vulnerable to
intense wildfires.’ 9 Fire models project more wildfires and increased risks to
communities across extensive border areas. 2 ° Drought also changes vegetation,
changes grazing, and cropping productivity, compromises water quality and
availability, and increases the amount of power required for water pumping and
purification. 21 Higher temperatures also increase crop water requirements and air
conditioning electrical demands for industry, business, and residential needs.
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Projected warming may reduce chilling periods and induce changes in the seasonal
timing of crop development.
Rising sea levels along both the Gulf of Mexico and Pacific coasts will result in flooding
and declining water quality and ecosystem health. Based on tide gauge data, the past
100-year trend for sea level rise is 0.68 feet near San Diego, California, and 1.24 feet
near Port Isabel, Texas. 22 Intermediate-low projections of the increase in local relative
sea level from 2015 to 2050 for these two locations (taking into account only ocean
thermal expansion but not ice melt) suggest an additional 0.49 feet and 0.70 feet,
respectively. 23 ’ 24
With elevated sea levels, the potential for coastal flooding—as well as erosion of bluffs,
beaches, and barrier islands—increases. The risk of damage from higher daily tides, as
well as storm surge waves from tropical storm events, also will increase. Texas’ Gulf
Coast averages approximately three tropical storms or hurricanes every 4 years, 25
generating coastal storm surge and sometimes bringing heavy rainfall and damaging
winds hundreds of miles inland. Any sea level rise creates the potential for greater
damage from storm surge along the Gulf Coast of Texas. 26 . 27 Coastal estuaries and
marsh complexes will be inundated as sea levels rise. Saltwater intrusion into coastal
aquifers can damage potable water sources. Coastal flooding could put at risk critical
coastal infrastructure in San Diego and the Texas Gulf Coast, including ports, roads,
bridges, and energy production and sewage treatment facilities, as well as urban
beachfront development. Shorter term climate fluctuations, such as those caused by El
Niflo, can further stress the productivity, integrity, and rebound capacity of economic,
social, and environmental systems.
Extreme heat events and the resulting water quantity and quality impacts can affect
regional plant and animal species, promote human health risks, and affect the
transmission of insect and rodent infestations and microbial diseases. Higher
temperatures amplify the urban heat island effect, requiring greater cooling and
increasing electricity usage. 28
The challenges of responding to the consequences of regional climate change are
exacerbated by the socio-economic conditions of communities along the U.S. border
with Mexico. With the exception of the City of San Diego, U.S. residents along the
border have fewer financial resources than residents of other U.S. regions; 3 of the
poorest 10 counties in the United States can be found within 100 miles of the Mexico
border, 29 and in 2013, nearly 30 percent of the U.S. population residing in 23 counties
along the border was below the poverty level. 30 The cultures and languages are more
diverse along the U.S.-Mexico border than many areas elsewhere in the nation, as
approximately half of all people residing in U.S. counties along the border speak
Spanish as a first language. 31 ’ 32
Federally recognized tribes and tribal communities along the U.S.-Mexico border are
affected by elevated temperature and water supply vulnerability and face the loss of
traditional foods and medicines, culturally important animal species, and plant
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resources. 33 Historic land settlement patterns and high rates of poverty—more than
double that of the general U.S. population 34 —complicate tribes’ and other
disadvantaged populations’ abilities to respond to these challenges.
Despite the high levels of poverty along the U.S.-Mexico border, the region is critical for
the prosperity of the U.S. economy. Mexico is the second largest trading partner of the
United States. By 2014, U.S.-Mexico trade was nearly $500 billion, and most of that
trade moved through the land ports of entry along the southern border in truck and
rail containers. 35 ’ 36 Some border regions are areas of significant economic activity,
such as the biotechnology cluster in San Diego; aerospace in Arizona; petroleum and
natural gas in Texas; and intensive irrigated agriculture—especially fresh fruits and
vegetables—in Imperial County, California, adjacent areas in Arizona, and the lower
Rio Grande Valley.
Although the benefits of U.S.-Mexico trade are spread widely throughout the United
States, many of the costs associated with the flow of goods are borne by border
communities in the form of a saturated transportation infrastructure, heavy truck
traffic through communities, and air pollution caused by traffic and exacerbated by
excessive waiting times for northbound crossings at the border. 37 Although
transnational trade creates jobs in both the U.S. and Mexico border regions in
transportation and warehousing, these tend to pay low wages without benefits and so
fail to address the borderwide issue of low per capita income. 38
Low-income rural and urban residents of border communities are more vulnerable to
climate risks. Poorer residents of U.S. border communities most often live in
substandard housing that is more vulnerable to the effects of climate extremes.
Vulnerable residents may not be able to afford air conditioning, and their homes may
be located in areas more prone to flooding or adjacent to major transportation routes
and ports of entry that have poor air quality. 39 For example, studies have shown that
within El Paso, Texas, children in economically distressed families faced disproportionate
exposure to peak ozone events. 40
Almost all border climate and environmental issues are binational, as most of the U.S.
border population lives in sister cities separated from adjacent Mexican urban areas
only by the international boundary, forming more than a dozen transboundary
metropolitan regions. These range in size from the greater San Diego-Tijuana area,
with 5 million people, to the area of Naco, Arizona-Naco, Sonora, with just over 6,000
people. 41 Each sister-city pair shares an ecosystem with shared environmental issues,
such as air and water pollution. All of these communities, even wealthier San Diego,
are characterized by large numbers of poor residents who are vulnerable to climate
effects.
Existing Federal Programs and Resources
The U.S. federal government has invested significant financial and human resources to
address water, energy, air quality, and health issues, as well as the movement of goods
and people, in the border region. These initiatives include federal actions; cooperative
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programs with international organizations, bilateral organizations, U.S. states, local
governments, tribal communities, civic organizations, and the private sector; and
transboundary cooperation with Mexico.
As early as 1983, the La Paz Agreement between the United States and Mexico sought
to protect and improve the environment of the border region in both countries. In
1993, the North American Free Trade Agreement created two binational institutions,
jointly funded and focused on environmental infrastructure along the border: the
Border Environment Cooperation Commission (BECC) and the North American
Development Bank (NADB). These institutions certify and finance environmental
infrastructure projects in the border region, including water and wastewater
treatment, pollution control, and energy efficiency. Since 1995, 215 such projects have
been certified and funded, with 131 completed as of 2014. Some $2.49 billion has been
dispersed for these projects as loans and grants by the NADB. 42 The U.S. Environmental
Protection Agency’s (EPA) Border Environmental Infrastructure Fund (now down to
$10 million per year from $100 million in 1997) also contributes to environmental
projects under a cooperative agreement with the NADB and BECC.
The EPA-led binational Border 2020 program builds upon the success of the earlier
Border 2012 program by establishing five environmental health goals coupled with
specific objectives and strategic approaches for accomplishing each goal. The U.S. and
Mexico Sections of the International Boundary and Water Commission (IBWC) manage
treaty-based water sharing arrangements and sanitation responsibilities between the
United States and Mexico. The IBWC also maintains two water storage dams on the Rio
Grande, and the U.S. Section of the IBWC (USIBWC) operates two border wastewater
treatment plants in San Ysidro, California, and Nogales, Arizona, while the Mexican
Section of the IBWC operates the Nuevo Laredo wastewater treatment plant. The U.S.
Department of the Interior (DOl), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric
Administration, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), and other federal agencies also have
strong programs in the border region and many collaborative efforts with their
Mexican counterparts. These agencies need to be engaged to implement efforts in the
current fiscal year to help meet the climate vulnerability challenges that may affect the
binational border region.
Collectively, these federal and binational agencies have many years of experience in
working across the international boundary and convening local and state actors to
participate in transborder activities. In addition, the Border Liaison Mechanism
enables local U.S. and Mexican consuls to convene U.S. and Mexican government
agencies and other stakeholders to interface directly on transborder issues. Regular
transborder consultation could empower cooperative local responses, thereby
enhancing local border resiliency.
Under federal leadership, many ongoing programs can be focused to address
binational challenges and climate change vulnerabilities in the U.S.-Mexico border
region. The members of the GNEB recommend that federal agencies implement a
number of actions during the 2016 fiscal year to address climate change risks, as
discussed below by environmental media or topic.
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Recommended Federal Agency Actions
Water
The combination of increased temperatures, reduced precipitation, and ongoing
drought associated with climate risks threaten surface and subsurface water supplies
for residential, commercial, agricultural 1 and ecosystem maintenance purposes. Many
of the resultant risks are transborder in nature and can be most effectively addressed
through bilateral cooperation in the border region. The most obvious challenges are
effective management of the binational Rio Grande and Colorado River systems and
support of state aquifer management programs.
Watershed Management
Federal or binational agencies with responsibility for addressing water problems and
needs along the border (including EPA, the USIBWC, the USGS, the BECC, and the
NADB) should build upon existing programs, such as EPA’s Border 2020 program and
the IBWC’s Minutes 319 and 320, to engage with Mexico and its agencies to address
climate change related to shared water problems. More specifically, federal water
agencies should work to prevent adverse impacts of more intense storm events and
increased sedimentation on public health, urban infrastructure, and storm water
systems. They should cooperate on watershed management to address water quality
impacts resulting from land cover change, increases in impervious surfaces, and
ecosystem deterioration. They should work together with local agencies to prevent
disposal of trash to surface waters, remove existing trash in storm water channels, and
implement existing regulations to control floods and protect watersheds in the border
region. The federal agencies should adopt and propagate water harvesting and green
infrastructure practices to conserve water and decrease energy demands associated
with delivering and treating water from nonlocal sources. These practices relieve
stress on reservoirs and aquifers affected by drought and restore ecosystems through
adoption of native landscapes that can survive on harvested rainwater. Federal
agencies also should provide improved, regionally tailored information to water
managers on early warning of drought conditions through the National Integrated
Drought Information System and related seasonal to inter-annual climate forecasts.
Best Practices and Information Sharing
Federal water agencies and the binational BECC/NADB should compile and share
information on local and state water conservation programs on both sides of the
border. They should convene a bilateral conference to learn what U.S.-Mexico border
communities are doing to conserve water, share successful practices, and engage the
private sector in the discussion and implementation of best practices. The agencies
ought to use existing program funds to encourage state and local government agency
staff, staff from environmental utilities, appropriate private sector stakeholders, and
Mexican counterparts to meet and discuss practical ways to prevent water pollution of
transboundary surface water and ground water resources and watershed management
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approaches to enhance border water quality. In shared water bodies where such
discussion has been occurring (e.g., through the Transboundary Aquifer Assessment
Program), implementation of solutions to identified problems should commence.
In another example, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) is funding refinement of U.S.
state-level Sankey diagrams, illustrating the water used by the energy sector and the
energy used by the water sector. This will include energy and water flows in
thermoelectric power plant cooling; biomass production; hydraulic fracturing; and
water treatment, pumping, and transmission. With technical assistance and funding, a
similar project might be possible in border-region Mexican states.
Rainwater Harvesting, Ground Water Recharge and Ecological Flows
Federal agencies (including EPA, the IBWC, the USGS, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation,
the U.S. Department of Agriculture [ USDA], and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers)
should implement or support ground water recharge for vulnerable and/or
disadvantaged communities through existing water programs. Ground water recharge
efforts provide a mechanism to create stable ground water storage areas, which in turn
allow surface water to flow to storage areas with reduced losses. Federal agencies
should implement and/or support storm water runoff programs to utilize recycled
water for surface water-dependent municipalities and facilitate funding through
existing programs to establish and/or enlarge surface water storage impoundments
and/or reservoirs, where appropriate and cost effective. Federal agencies should
engage with local officials and planners to develop or support community design
solutions that prevent water contamination, such as infrastructure for wastewater
capture and treatment. 43 To protect tribal resources and meet the federal
government’s trust responsibilities to tribes, the DOI and its Bureau of Indian Affairs
should operate U.S. government programs to protect treaty and other tribal rights as
the climate changes.
To adapt to climate vulnerability, all federal water agencies should operate existing
programs using integrated water resources management principles, such as
coordinating land and water resources management, recognizing water quantity and
quality linkages, promoting conjunctive use of surface water and ground water,
protecting and restoring natural systems, and inviting public advice in consideration of
how to respond to climate risks. Federal agencies should cooperate to ensure adequate
ecological flows to support the unique biodiversity of the region and support
important binational efforts to provide water to preserve and restore valuable
ecosystemsfr The experimental releases of water and associated research conducted
on the Lower Colorado River under IBWC Minute 319 in cooperation with Mexico is
recognized, and it is recommended that monitoring continue and that plans for
additional releases of water be developed and implemented.
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Flood Mitigation, Flood Prevention, and Watershed Management
The USDA ’s Natural Resources Conservation Service could allocate funds under
PL-566, the Small Watershed Program, to rehabilitate aging storm water infrastructure
and complete watershed plans in the U.S.-Mexico border region to prevent and
mitigate flooding. The U.S. government could provide financial assistance for water
conservation projects that target shared resources (e.g., the Colorado River and ground
water) in such areas as California-Baja California, where people and ecosystems are
already experiencing negative climate-related impacts. 45 Agencies should consider
how future—or modifications to existing—infrastructure investments in floodplains
will be informed by the new Federal Flood Risk Management Standard. The new flood
standard describes various approaches for determining the higher vertical flood
elevation and corresponding horizontal floodplain for federally funded projects and
establishes the level to which a structure or facility must be resilient. This may include
using structural or nonstructural methods to reduce or prevent damage; elevating a
structure; or, where appropriate, designing it to adapt to, withstand, and rapidly
recover from a flood event. In addition, agencies should consider the use of natural
systems, ecosystem processes, and nature-based approaches in the development of
alternatives for actions.
Health and Vector-Borne Diseases
Climate changes, such as warmer temperatures and increases in the freeze-free season,
may affect human health, as warmer temperatures in the border region have been
accompanied by the appearance of new vectors and new vector-borne diseases. 46 ’ 47
Other impacts on public health related to climate may include an increase in heat-
related illnesses and deaths and an increase in allergy and asthma cases due to earlier
and longer spring bloom for many plant species. The Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention (CDC), in cooperation with state and local authorities and Mexican
agencies, should use existing public health infrastructure programs to strengthen
transboundary disease surveillance, educate the public regarding transboundary
vector prevention and control efforts, control insect vectors and animal reservoirs of
disease, and respond rapidly to border public health outbreaks. 48 The CDC could
coordinate public education campaigns that emphasize protective behaviors to reduce
risk to vector-borne diseases and promote access to cooling centers, particularly for
the elderly, the infirm and economically disadvantaged people.
Transportation and Air
The transportation sector is the largest source of air pollution in the border region, and
the movement of trade and people across the U.S.-Mexico boundary exacerbates this
problem because delayed movement resulting from U.S. and Mexican security
measures has the unintended consequence of increased emissions of volatile organic
compounds and oxides of nitrogen, which contribute to ozone formation.
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The U.S. Department of Transportation and the Customs and Border Protection
program of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security should reduce greenhouse gas
releases and air pollution at border crossings with Mexico by decreasing border wait
times, create amenities for pedestrians waiting in line, improve border crossing traffic-
flow designs, and identify innovative technologies to better predict and reduce border
wait times. Some design options include creation of buffer zones between roadways
and communities, re-routing trucks through commercial areas and away from
residential zones, and encouraging clean diesel programs for commercial vehicles. 49 Of
course, many of these solutions require coordination of all three levels of U.S.
government, as well as Mexican authorities. The Mariposa port of entry in Arizona is an
example of effective design and smart border management to increase energy
efficiency and reduce vehicular pollution. 5 ° Some changes to reduce excessive border
crossing delays involve infrastructure and design issues that will require years for
implementation. However, there are immediate actions that the relevant federal
agencies can take now to decrease border wait times. In 2014, for example, there were
11.9 million passenger vehicles with 21.1 million passengers along with 7.9 million
pedestrians that crossed into San Diego at the San Ysidro port of entry. 51 During the
times when most crossings took place, waits were often 1 to 2 hours for passenger
vehicles and more than 1 hour in the pedestrian line, resulting in significant human
health exposure to ozone, carbon monoxide, and fine particulate matter, as well as
considerable distress to waiting individuals, especially in the pedestrian line. 52 53 An
executive order mandating that U.S. border authorities prioritize reallocating staff to
inspection booths and positions at busy crossing times could significantly reduce
vehicular and pedestrian wait times, reducing ozone and air contaminant production,
as well as reducing negative health effects on passengers, pedestrians, workers at the
ports of entry, and residents of the surrounding communities. The economic benefits
of shorter wait times for both commercial and noncommercial traffic at the ports of
entry also would be significant. 54
Energy
To meet the energy needs of the growing population in the border region and enhance
climate resiliency, the border states have begun to transition to a cleaner energy
economy powered by energy efficiency and renewable energy programs and policies.
The federal government can continue to play a vital role through education and
outreach programs, as well as providing support for the adoption of energy efficiency
and renewable energy technologies.
The DOE can provide information at regional events and conferences to educate
border communities on climate vulnerabilities, clean and efficient energy technologies,
best practices, costs and benefits, and how to determine the potential economic and
job creation impacts from implementing energy efficiency and clean energy projects,
including photovoltaic (PVJ solar at the rooftop, community, and utility scales. For
example, energy efficiency projects create instant energy savings, create fiscal benefits,
and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. PV solar projects provide significant economic
benefits, can be developed and implemented in reasonably shorter timeframes
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compared to wind or geothermal energy projects, and displace carbon dioxide and
water used by more traditional energy sources. Both energy efficiency and PV solar
projects are near-term projects that federal agencies can support to help communities
achieve increased climate resiliency.
As another example of possible federal action on energy, EPA could collaborate with
the BECC through the Border 2020 program and cooperate with the DOE to undertake
a regional assessment of opportunities to promote energy efficiency and distributed
solar energy generation for small water and wastewater utilities along the border,
including those of tribal governments. The DOE, the National Science Foundation, and
EPA held a joint workshop 55 in April 2015 on water resource recovery facilities
(WRRFs, also known as wastewater treatment plants) to stimulate dialogue and
accelerate the wide-scale advent of advanced WRRFs. Most water and wastewater
facilities have large pumps, drives, motors, and other equipment operating 24 hours
per day, and these facilities can be among the largest individual energy users in a
community. Communities that operate water and wastewater treatment plants along
the border can improve energy efficiency and cost savings through the use of variable
speed pumps/aeration equipment and incorporating solar power systems. Facilities
also can use other approaches to improve energy efficiency by shifting energy usage
away from peak demand times to times when electricity is cheaper. Wastewater
treatment facilities that incorporate anaerobic digesters can use the generated biogas
end product as a source of energy to operate facility booster and process transfer
pumps, blowers, and heating units. The use of more energy-efficient motors and
pumps will reduce further the amount of electricity needed to operate these facilities.
These actions can reduce the power generation requirements of the electric power
utility, thereby reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Since 2011, the GNEB has asked the federal government to encourage adoption of cost-
effective conservation and energy efficiency technologies that benefit low-income
families currently paying high prices for energy. 56 For example, EPA can encourage U.S.
border states utilizing the Clean Energy Incentive Program as part of the Clean Power
Plan to support renewable energy projects and energy efficiency in low-income
communities. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services can use its Low-
Income Home Energy Assistance Program to target tribal and other poor communities
in the border area, especially considering the increased number of extreme heat events
and the growing need for air conditioning for vulnerable populations. In the border
region of San Diego-Tijuana, cooperative efforts are underway between the U.S.
Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and Mexico’s Secretarla de
Desarrollo Agrario, Territorial y Urbano to mitigate and adapt to climate change
through regional planning and green building. To provide more clean, reliable,
resilient, and affordable power to border regions, the DOE and Mexico’s Secretarla de
EnergIa are expanding power sector cooperation to include peer dialogues for grid
planning and operation to include integration of renewable energy, supporting
establishment of renewable energy zones in Mexico, and launching programs to enable
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business and investor partnerships to scale up investment in low-carbon power
infrastructure. High-level government-to-government engagement, including through
the U.S.-Mexico Clean Energy and Climate Policy Task Force, can continue to further
these efforts. In coordination with the National Weather Service, the Climate
Prediction Center can use existing programs to develop methods to predict more
accurately the location, length, and severity of extreme heat weather events, including
events with above-average nighttime heat, which are expected to have energy use
impacts. Existing DOE, HUD, and EPA grant programs can be used to provide
emergency shelters for extended periods of extreme temperatures in vulnerable
communities and subsidize air conditioning for vulnerable populations.
Emergency Response and Community Resilience
The USDA, DOI, and HUD can use existing programs to discourage communities from
building human settlements in wildfire corridors or areas subject to large-scale fires
due to human, as well as natural, causes. The USDA and DO! can promote sustainable
agroforestry and wildfire defensive measures such as wind breaks, shelter belts, and
riparian buffers. Those agencies also should reconsider fire suppression policies to
prevent excess biomass accumulation that can create dangerous conditions, and they
should improve forest conservation and retention in “climate-smart” ways that
advance carbon sequestration. Every federal agency with an emergency preparedness
mission should use its existing programs to support vulnerable and disadvantaged
communities in establishing infrastructure and building capacity for fire suppression,
emergency management implementation, and hazard mitigation for natural disaster
events. For example, federal agencies should facilitate wildland fire management
specific to rural disadvantaged tribal and other vulnerable communities.
Federal agencies should leverage their efforts and capacities under Presidential Policy
Directive-8 on National Preparedness to enhance how they work with border states
and communities to increase their resilience to episodic hazard events and chronic
climate vulnerabilities. For example, federal agencies should provide for support for
communities to assess climate change risk and vulnerability; invest in predisaster
planning for the purposes of postdisaster recovery; and develop strategies for
addressing potential impacts of more intense coastal storms, sea-level rise, and
flooding along the coastal regions of Texas and California.
EPA should continue to support the La Paz Agreement and Border 2020 initiatives to
enhance emergency coordination with their federal, state, and local partners. The
collaboration allows communities within the border region to benefit from improved
training, state-of-the-art equipment, and enhanced emergency response capabilities.
The U.S. and Mexico established a Joint Contingency Plan (JCP) in 1999 under the La
Paz Agreement. The JCP supported cooperative efforts regarding preparedness,
mitigation, response, and prevention of hazardous substance releases in the border
area, as well as provided a foundation for the development of 15 sister-city binational
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emergency response plans. The plans establish an agreement to provide mutual
cooperation to effectively reduce the risk of and respond to threats to the public
health, safety, and welfare of the communities through increased communication,
coordination, and cooperation between the sister cities to complement existing local,
state, regional, and federal response plans. For example, the binational response plans
identify sensitive populations, sensitive natural resource areas, drinking water
supplies, water treatment facilities, and incident response resources. Future support of
these efforts will continue to ensure emergency preparedness along the border. Under
Border 2020, at least eight of the sister-city joint contingency plans will be
supplemented with preparedness- and prevention-related activities, such as certified
training, risk analysis and/or capacity building. These efforts will support capacity
building for emergency management at the local level.
In its 2008 11th report, Natural Disasters and the Environment along the U.S.-Mexico
Border, the GNEB recommended that the United States and Mexico update the 1980
U.S.-Mexico Agreement on Cooperation during Natural Disasters to enable the
immediate and targeted responses required when a natural disaster strikes and
impacts the same geographical region on both sides to the shared border. 57 Federal
action on this agreement should be a priority to prepare the border for climate-related
and other natural disasters.
Recommendations
The U.S.-Mexico border region is projected to experience challenging economic and
social impacts due to climate risks across a spectrum—from water and energy to
health and transportation. This letter outlines specific recommendations for positive
actions that federal government agencies should implement in this fiscal year to build
climate resilience in the border region. Executive actions on the following can be
implemented during the current fiscal year:
• Convene stakeholders from both sides of the border to share information on
responses to threats to water supplies.
• Enhance storm water harvesting, ground water recharge, and ecological water
flows to respond to both flood and drought risks.
• Facilitate flood mitigation and watershed management efforts, especially
systems with crossborder causes and effects.
• Promote efforts to advance integrated wastewater resource management,
innovative technologies, and green infrastructure along the border with the
goal of providing clean, reliable, and affordable water, wastewater, and storm
water services.
• Promote and incentivize green infrastructure and prioritize its financing for
both domestic and binational projects.
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• Promote the understanding of ecosystem services and co-benefits of nature-
based and carbon mitigation options in water infrastructure projects
(e.g., green infrastructure) and coastal adaptation measures (e.g., living
shorelines).
• Coordinate efforts across and along the border to prepare for new vectors and
vector-borne diseases, as well as other potential health effects related to
temperature increases and other climate risks.
• Using existing executive orders, and reflecting community concerns, continue to
support, plan, and design for the reduction of wait times at the border crossings
from Mexico into U.S. border communities—initially though management
efforts and full staffing and in the longer term through physical infrastructure
improvements.
• All federal agencies should target border urban and rural communities to
enhance and increase support for their energy efficiency and security in the face
of growing energy demand risks.
• Federal leadership is necessary to enhance the ability of border communities to
respond to emergencies such as heat waves, flooding, coastal inundation, and
wildflres, especially when U.S. and Mexican border communities are affected.
An important first step is to modernize and make relevant to border realities
the 1980 U.S.-Mexico Agreement on Cooperation during Natural Disasters.
Mr. President, we thank you for the opportunity to provide you with our insights and
recommendations on these important issues related to climate change in the border
region.
Respectfully,
Paul Ganster, Ph.D.
GNEB Chair, on behalf of the Good Neighbor Environmental Board
NOTE: GNEB representatives from federal departments and agencies have recused
their organizations from this advice letter.
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cc: The Honorable Joe Biden
The Vice President of the United States
The Honorable Christina Goldfuss, Managing Director
White House Council on Environmental Quality
The Honorable Gina McCarthy, Administrator
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
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