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New Mexico State University

New Mexico State University

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Border environmental quality report catches White House and Congressional attention

An environmental quality report co-written by a New Mexico State University faculty member is generating interest among top U.S. policymakers.

Geography professor Chris Brown, right, and graduate student Quinn Korbulic work in the Spatial Applications Research Center at New Mexico State University. (NMSU photo by Darren Phillips)

Christopher Brown, associate professor of geography, served as workgroup director and helped write the Good Neighbor Environmental Board's 10th and latest report, catching the attention of people within the U.S. Congress, the White House and in Mexico.

"The board feels that this report provides concrete suggestions for U.S. agencies that will allow enhanced environmental protection to be advanced along the border among increasing security measures that have been put in place since the 9/11 attacks," Brown said.

The Good Neighbor Environmental Board is an independent U.S. presidential advisory committee that advises the president and Congress on environmental practices along the U.S.-Mexico border. The board's 10th report suggests the following actions to improve environmental quality on the U.S.-Mexico Border:

Add more hazardous materials inspectors to heavily populated border crossings "to handle the increased traffic and enhanced vigilance that the Department of Homeland Security wants to exercise on all traffic," Brown said.

Increase the usage of remote sensing tools and vehicle barriers in heavily populated, multilane border crossings.

Develop a better balance between environmental protection and border and homeland security activities now in practice or proposed for the U.S.-Mexico borderlands.

Remove such barriers as insurance issues that slow down the response time of emergency responders who need to cross the border quickly. Another complication is the recently passed U.S. Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative that requires everyone crossing a land-based port of entry next year to carry a passport. Active participation by the Department of Homeland Security, Department of State, and Customs and Border Protection will help reduce these barriers, Brown said.

A combination of General Services Administration and Customs and Border Protection funds and money from the companies transporting hazardous materials can help pay for these changes, he said.

Some members of Congress were alerted to the report when the board's chair, Paul Ganster, briefed the counsel of the House Committee on Homeland Security May 4. He discussed the effect of increased security on trash levels and the immediate environmental impacts of installing fencing.

The White House was informed of the report when Ganster addressed the Council on Environmental Quality May 11. That session included representation from the executive branch by members of the National Security Council and Domestic Policy Council. The role of the Department of Homeland Security and methods with which to foster stronger collaboration among agencies were discussed.

"These two briefings clearly demonstrate that the 10th report is receiving attention at the highest levels of national policymaking," said Elaine Koerner, designated federal officer from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, who assists the board in its drafting of annual reports and comment letters.

In addition to the formal suggestions from the report and board, Brown personally argued for immigration reform and effective development policies in Mexico. He said such actions would "greatly reduce undocumented immigration" and the negative environmental effects caused by illegal immigration and immigration interdiction.

The board's eighth report on enhanced management and protection of water resources along the border also caught the attention of policymakers. The governors' offices of Arizona and Sonora, Mexico, established a binational water committee as part of the Arizona-Mexico Commission. When the committee held its inaugural meeting June 14 in Tucson, Ariz., the board's eighth report was provided to committee members, giving them background information about water management in the U.S. and Mexico.