House, Senate bills designate EPA to head all water cleanup along southern border

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SAN DIEGO (Border Report) — A bipartisan group of California lawmakers is confronting pollution problems along the U.S.-Mexico border, especially in the Tijuana River Valley between San Diego and Tijuana.

Several House members who represent Southern California introduced a bill called the Border Water Quality Restoration Act. Similar legislation was presented last week in the U.S. Senate.

If approved, it will give the Environmental Protection Agency the authority to coordinate all federal, state, and local agencies when planning construction and infrastructure projects to mitigate pollution in waterways throughout the southern border.

“The biggest challenge in addressing this environmental and public health crisis is that a majority of the pollution results from transboundary flows,” said Democratic Rep. Juan Vargas, whose district covers the entire border between California and Mexico. “Addressing cross-border pollution in our region requires strong communication between agencies from both sides of the border.”

A few years ago, when the United States, Mexico and Canada trade agreement was drafted, $300 million was included to fund cleanup efforts in areas like the Tijuana River Valley and the New River between the Imperial Valley in California and Mexicali just south of the border.

“The people of Southern California have been forced to suffer while different federal agencies keep passing the buck,” said U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California. “This bill will put an end to the confusion by putting the EPA in charge of coordinating efforts and fixing the problem, this long-standing issue that must be addressed now.”

The bill in Congress is generating bipartisan support, even Republicans appear to embrace the Border Water Quality Restoration Act.

“This is a comprehensive solution that incorporates local engagement to determine the best use of federal resources, and I believe our bipartisan approach will make the critical difference in resolving a problem that has impacted the San Diego region for many years,” said Rep. Darrell Issa, a Republican who represents California’s 50th District.

Environmental groups like WILDCOAST, based in San Diego, are also in favor of the legislation.

If it does pass, it could be a year or two before any cleanup projects are expected to begin.

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