The Rio Grande flows through the Santa Elena Canyon in Big Bend National Park. The TCEQ uses high-resolution digital cameras to help track regional haze in the park.
Photo courtesy of J. Griffis Smith/TxDOT
Texas and Mexico share a border that stretches for 1,254 miles, from El Paso to Brownsville. The people living in communities on both sides of the Rio Grande have a long history of strong economic, cultural, and social ties that unite the United States and Mexico in an enduring bond.
Texans have something else in common with their neighbors south of the border—a history of shared environmental concerns.
To address these concerns, the TCEQ has developed a comprehensive, cooperative effort to serve border residents.
TCEQ’s Border Initiative
Created in 2008, the TCEQ’s Border Initiative was the vision of Commissioner Buddy Garcia. As a native of Brownsville and former Texas Deputy Secretary of State, Garcia is familiar with the unique characteristics and needs of the border region.
“I’m very much a product of the border,” says Commissioner Garcia. “So it was just a natural tendency to want to maximize improvements along the border, especially in the environment.”
Commissioner Garcia, working with Commissioner Carlos Rubinstein (then Deputy Executive Director of the TCEQ), developed the various initiatives to be implemented by the Border Affairs team under the direction of the executive director. In Harlingen, Laredo, El Paso, and Austin, the agency has 83 full-time employees working to ensure that efforts along the U.S.–Mexico border have a measurable and positive environmental impact on the region.
The Border Affairs manager, Stephen M. Niemeyer, P.E., has been working on border activities at the TCEQ or its predecessor agencies since 1992. “I am charged with making sure the activities and goals outlined in the initiative’s action plan are implemented,” he says.
The action plan, which is updated quarterly, addresses air, water, waste, and other environmental concerns, such as emergency response.
Because many environmental issues along the border are transboundary in nature, the TCEQ works with other U.S. and Mexican states, federal agencies in both countries, and binational organizations to accomplish mutual environmental protection goals.
In May 2010, TCEQ Commissioner Buddy Garcia (left) met with Nuevo León Gov. Rodrigo Medina de la Cruz and Secretary of Nuevo León’s Ministry of Sustainable Development Fernando Gutiérrez Moreno, not pictured, to discuss environmental issues.
Photo courtesy of Edgar Dimas/Office of the Governor of Nuevo León
Although these partnerships take different forms, many of the binational activities are pursued under the umbrella of the U.S.–Mexico Border 2012 Environmental Program, which was launched in 2003. The TCEQ is active at every level of this program—taking a macroview of borderwide concerns and microviews regarding issues specific to Texas and its four Mexican neighboring states of Tamaulipas, Nuevo León, Coahuila, and Chihuahua. Staff interacts with officials from the border cities in those four states, with its counterpart agencies at the state level, and with the Mexican federal government.
The TCEQ has developed a particularly strong relationship with the state environmental agency of Nuevo León, promoting technical exchange and mutually beneficial cooperative work. In May of 2010, the TCEQ renewed its partnership with its counterpart in Nuevo León by signing a memorandum of cooperation between the two state agencies. Commissioner Garcia and Secretary Fernando Gutiérrez Moreno, of Nuevo León’s Ministry of Sustainable Development, signed the memorandum during the TCEQ’s annual Environmental Trade Fair and Conference. Later that month, Nuevo León Gov. Rodrigo Medina de la Cruz, who was in Austin to meet with Gov. Rick Perry, met with Commissioner Garcia to discuss environmental issues and implementation of the newly signed memorandum.
At the Border Governors Conference, the TCEQ sits on the environment and water worktables with members of the nine other U.S. and Mexico border states, to develop annual declarations. Commissioner Garcia represents the TCEQ on the Environment Worktable, and Commissioner Carlos Rubinstein on the Water Worktable.
Through these types of collaborative partnerships, the agency has accomplished a major goal of the Border Initiative, which is to increase cooperation and the exchange of knowledge, experience, and technology related to the environment along the border.
Initiative Outlines Important Actions
Sitting (L to R): Fernando Gutiérrez Moreno, Secretary of Nuevo León’s Ministry of Sustainable Development, and TCEQ Commissioner Buddy Garcia signed a memorandum of cooperation between the two agencies. Standing (L to R): Plácido González, Undersecretary of Nuevo León’s Ministry of Sustainable Development, TCEQ Chairman Bryan Shaw, Ph.D., and TCEQ Commissioner Carlos Rubinstein.
TCEQ photo by Douglas Falls
“The border region is an area with unique characteristics,” says Niemeyer. “It’s a geographically diverse region, and because of endemic issues such as poverty and rapid growth, we see things there that we don’t see in any other part of the state.”
The Border Initiative has had its share of successes, but there is much work to be done in the region. Important actions outlined by the initiative include:
- Continuing binational air quality monitoring in Ciudad Juárez
- Developing a Lower Rio Grande water quality initiative
- Providing technical assistance on the pretreatment of fats, oil, and grease
- Improving municipal management of scrap tires
- Developing coordinated emergency response measures with the International Boundary and Water Commission
“I feel very privileged to have the opportunity to partner with agencies and states on both sides of the border through this important initiative,” says Commissioner Garcia. “What the agency is doing in the region is going to continue to be a success story.”
TCEQ Border Initiative Accomplishments
Since its creation in 2008, the TCEQ’s Border Initiative has realized many successes. Here are just a few of the accomplishments for 2009 and 2010. For more accomplishments, visit the TCEQ Border Initiative.
Pulliam Ridge, Big Bend National Park.
Photo copyrighted by Thinkstock
- Binational air quality monitoring. The TCEQ was instrumental in ensuring that data reporting from air monitors in Ciudad Juárez continued after management of the monitors was transferred from the City of El Paso to the Ciudad Juárez Ecology Department.
- Construction of water quality wetlands in the Texas Lower Rio Grande Valley. The TCEQ Office of Water worked closely with the cities of La Feria, San Juan, and San Benito in the Lower Rio Grande Valley to design and construct wetlands to manage storm water runoff and improve the water quality of area arroyos.
- Deployment of continuous water quality monitors. Three additional real-time surface water quality monitors were deployed in Texas along the Rio Grande to measure the upstream and downstream inflows. The monitors also help measure salinity levels, allowing for action if levels elevate to the point of damaging agricultural production—a major economic activity for the area.
- Scrap tire management. The TCEQ partnered with EPA Region 6 and the environmental agency for the state of Nuevo León to conduct a binational workshop on municipal scrap tire management. In attendance were officials from the Mexican federal environmental agency, the acting deputy regional administrator for EPA Region 6, leaders of scrap tire programs from New Mexico and Texas, academics from both sides of the border, and representatives from six Texas cities and counties and seven Mexican cities.
- Technical exchanges with Nuevo León. In 2009, the TCEQ organized several technical exchanges and training events with its counterpart agency in Nuevo León. The two agencies worked together on environmental law enforcement and air quality issues, including visible-emissions quantification, monitoring for particulate matter smaller than 2.5 microns, and calculating on-road vehicle emission inventories.
- Dos Laredos Binational Emergency Preparedness Workshop and Exercise. TCEQ personnel collaborated with 45 emergency response officials from local, state, and federal agencies from both countries in a knowledge-exchange workshop. The workshop included courses on the Incident Command System and a special exercise designed to enhance the ability of first responders at the local and state levels to respond to a hazardous-materials incident.
- Clean School Bus grants. The Texas Clean School Bus program awards grants to Texas school districts and charter schools for the purchase and installation of technology to reduce diesel emissions and onboard exposure of schoolchildren and bus drivers to the emissions. In fiscal 2009, with funds from the EPA, the program awarded nearly $1 million to improve onboard air quality for 335 buses in 15 border school districts.
- Reintroduction of the Rio Grande silvery minnow. The Rio Grande silvery minnow had disappeared from the river below El Paso. The TCEQ is a member of a stakeholder group chaired by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to reintroduce the silvery minnow as an experimental, non-essential population in the Rio Grande. In 2008, 445,000 silvery minnow were reintroduced in the Big Bend reach of the Rio Grande, and another 509,000 the following year.
- Participation on the Good Neighbor Environmental Board (GNEB). A TCEQ staff person who represents the State of Texas on the GNEB worked to ensure the production of a transboundary air quality case study for the 12th annual GNEB report, Innovation, Including Incentives, to Prevent/Reduce Pollution along the U.S.–Mexico Border. The report was released in Washington in 2009, and was accepted on behalf of the president by Nancy Sutley, the chair of the Council on Environmental Quality.
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