What’s Up with Mexico’s Analog TVs and Asparagus Waste?

The Montreal-based Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC) has moved forward on three citizen complaints, or submissions, concerning environmental matters in Mexico.  Varied in nature, the submissions nevertheless have the common thread of challenging projects and practices that pose global economic imperatives against protecting the environment and combating climate change.

After a process of many years, a CEC investigation and subsequent factual record is near completion regarding a complaint first pursued in 2009 by the Mexican environmental advocacy organization Bios Iguana and activist Esperanza Salazar Zenil over the authorization of a liquefied natural gas terminal (LNG) promoted by the Federal Electricity Commission and a liquefied petroleum gas plant (LPG) operated by Zeta Gas in the Cuyutlan Lagoon near Manzanillo, Colima.

The CEC Secretariat announced last week that it had delivered a draft factual record to the CEC Council for review. Under existing rules, the Council has 45 working days to comment on the accuracy of the Secretariat’s report examining the submitters’ assertion that Mexico failed to enforce its own environmental laws in the approval of LNG and LPG projects for an ecologically sensitive zone.
Located on the Pacific Coast, the Cuyutlan Lagoon is considered Mexico’s fourth largest wetland.

Coastal wetlands and their mangroves are essential  not only  for the reproduction of aquatic species, but also for sheltering shorelines from hurricanes, which are expected to grow in strength due to climate change in the coming years, according to climate scientists.

Established by the environmental side agreement to the North American Free Trade Agreement, the CEC is made up of a Secretariat consisting of professional staff members who investigate citizen submissions, and the Council, which is made up of the three highest-ranking environmental officials from Mexico, the United States and Canada.

While CEC does not make recommendations and possesses no authority to enforce laws or order sanctions, it does prepare factual records for the member governments that outline whether a country’s environmental laws were followed in connection to an issue raised by a citizen submission. It’s then up to the respective environmental officials to take action on the findings of the CEC’s experts.

In a second case, the CEC has requested a response from Mexico to a citizen complaint that the Mexican government was not enforcing environmental law while lacking a management plan for disposing of millions of television sets rendered obsolete by the nation’s recent shift to digital television.

According to the CEC, the unidentified submitters of the complaint alleged that between 20.7 million and 34.4 million analog sets were being discarded without the adequate infrastructure,  waste disposal systems and public involvement as spelled out by Mexican environmental laws, the Mexican Constitution and the international Basel Convention on hazardous waste.

In their complaint filed last August, the submitters noted that analog televisions contain toxic substances such as lead, cadmium and flame retardants which require special disposal considerations, while the plastic and glass in the sets could be recycled.

The submitters charged that no public solicitations for the recycling or storage of analog televisions were issued by the Mexican government as of last summer, even as digital televisions had been delivered to residents enrolled in government social programs in the northern border cities of Nuevo Laredo, Reynosa and Matamoros in the state of Tamaulipas.  A similar government giveaway of digital sets was also carried out in Mexicali, Baja California, again without the proper collection of analog TVs, according to the complaint.

Nationwide, the submitters estimated that more than 5.1 million digital sets out of a total of 10 million slated for free distribution had been delivered to beneficiaries of government programs.

Despite Mexico’s adoption of a digital transition in 2004, critical environmental shortcomings prevailed when the analog blackout entered its final phase in 2015, the complaint alleged. The time period in question spanned three presidential administrations. Mexico has 60 working days to file a response to the citizen submission, the CEC added.

Finally, the CEC Secretariat determined that another citizen complaint related to the burning of agricultural waste did not meet the submission criteria and gave the submitter, whose name was withheld per guidelines, 60 working days to file a revised submission that conforms to all the standards. In a press release, Commission staff noted that detailed instructions on how to file submissions are available on the CEC’s website.

According to the rejected submission, the annual winter practice of burning agricultural waste left over from the bountiful asparagus harvest in the northern border state of Sonora produces contamination in violation of Mexico’s Climate Change Law and other environmental regulations. Describing the pollution as massive, the submitter estimated that 100 tons of waste are burned per acre on land sprawling across almost 34,000 acres. The Caborca area of Sonora where the waste burning takes place is an important producer of asparagus which is almost entirely shipped to the U.S. market across the border.

Separately, a petition on Change.org posted by a David Silva contends that besides releasing large amounts of carbon dioxide, the December-January burnings cause severe health problems among Caborca residents that include headaches, red eyes, sore throats, and the triggering of allergies.

“There is a high degree of asthma and acute respiratory illnesses in the region, which is provoked by enormous clouds of smoke from this burning that can even be seen by satellites,” Silva writes. “The city is covered in smoke, and we all breathe this.”

For more information on the CEC and citizen submissions: http://cec.org/

Frontera NorteSur: on-line, U.S.-Mexico border news Center for Latin American and Border Studies New Mexico State University Las Cruces, New Mexico

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