Remarks at the 54th U.S.-Mexico Interparliamentary Group Meeting
Good morning, and welcome to San Diego.
I’m Scott Peters and I represent the cities of Coronado and Poway, and much of the city of San Diego in the House of Representatives.
When I came to Congress in 2013, I asked the president of the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce: What’s the number one thing the federal government could do to promote job growth in our region? He said we need major federal investment in critical infrastructure at our border with Mexico.
To be clear, he was not asking for a wall.
He was asking for a gateway, a bridge between San Diego and Tijuana at the San Ysidro Port of Entry, with improved customs facilities and more lanes because long delays at the vehicle crossing were costing our region billions of dollars in economic activity, and 60,000 jobs per year. And the trucks and cars idling at the border were dramatically harming the air quality of our binational region.
The San Ysidro Port of Entry is the busiest land border crossing in the Western Hemisphere where commercial trade is valued at $2.1 million per day. 70,000 vehicles and 20,000 pedestrians cross daily.
San Diego’s congressional delegation secured the additional $442-million in federal investment needed to complete this upgrade that was badly needed.
It expands the freeway from five lanes to ten and connects to Mexico’s 22-lane El Chaparral facility, which Mexico completed years before, in 2012.
Once it’s done, in just a few months, 64 new northbound inspection booths will ease commerce and the added customs agents and new technology will increase security – a priority for both nations.
Another critical project that benefits our binational region is the Cross-Border Express. CBX is a first-of-its-kind pedestrian walkway that connects people on the U.S. side of the border to the Tijuana International Airport.
It dramatically increased air travel capacity for Southern Californians by opening more than 30 new direct flights to destinations in Mexico and China. And it didn’t cost the U.S. taxpayers a dime.
Our two nations have a long history of cooperation. I’m very grateful for that relationship and pledge my support to continue it.
Now our two regions must partner together again to solve what may be one of the biggest environmental problems on the continent – the crisis of sewage contaminated wastewater fouling the waters of our shared coastline and the Tijuana River Valley.
Many here know this problem. For those who don’t: The Tijuana River flows northbound from the mountains in Baja California to the Pacific Ocean on the U.S. side of the border.
Twenty years ago, Mexico and the U.S. jointly funded the International Wastewater Treatment Plant at the border in San Diego. It improved the situation for a while, but the City of Tijuana has grown rapidly, recently adding almost 80,000 residents per year. It now has a population of about 2 million, and its wastewater facilities can’t keep up.
An average storm can result in overflows directly into the Tijuana River, dragging trash, sediment, and sewage into the U.S., causing San Diego County beaches to be closed constantly due to dangerous levels of pollution.
In February of 2017, we experienced the largest spill we’ve seen in decades. In a matter of days, a ruptured pipe in Tijuana sent as much as 100 million of gallons of sewage into the Pacific Ocean. It heavily polluted 25 miles of coastline. And this is an ongoing problem.
According to the International Boundary and Water Commission, from 2014 to now, more than 57 billion gallons of sewage have spilled across the border.
In 1994, Mexico’s National Water Commission, the North American Development Bank and the Border Environment Cooperation Commission were created to build projects to mitigate environmental harm that would result from the increased economic activity NAFTA would bring to the border region.
NADBANK received initial capitalization from both governments at that time and has funded many projects in both countries since.
It’s only logical, that now, as part of USMCA, the new NAFTA, our two countries must redouble our efforts to address this urgent, urgent problem that has grown exponentially with our region.
Recently, the results of the Tijuana River Diversion Study were released - the outcome of comprehensive research conducted by agencies from both our countries. It lays out a range of potential fixes and their price tags. In short, it found that the best and cheapest way to fix this problem is at the source: building new capture and treatment facilities in Tijuana. That means we need Mexico’s help.
In July, my colleagues from San Diego and I proposed a package of legislation to increase federal funds to the Border Water Infrastructure Program, which has provided grants over the last 25 years to projects like those identified in the report. And we proposed a $225-million increase to NADBANK, which could be capitalized up to $1.5 billion.
Additionally, I proposed the creation of a new trust fund at the Bank where Congress could house up to $400 million specifically for projects to address wastewater, sanitation, and pollution.
Last month, with the crucial help of Congressman Cuellar, the NADBANK recapitalization piece of that bill package passed through the Financial Services Committee. That critical step shows how very serious members of Congress from border communities are about working with our partners in Mexico.
Our two nations must commit to obligate some of the new prosperity generated by USMCA to solving this urgent health crisis.
We know our binational region succeeds when we work together. And I know, together, we can solve this.
I thank Congressman Cuellar for inviting me to be here today. I hope you all enjoy your time in our city.