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Toxics & Hazardous Waste
by Don Fitz, Gateway Green Alliance
Greens believe that the only rational way to significantly reduce the amount of toxic poisons we are exposed to is to stop producing them. Environmentalists call this "source reduction." NAFTA would go in the opposite direction. Its goal is the mindless expansion of production. Fossil fuels are the greatest contributors to air pollution and acid rain. Those who designed NAFTA also know that Mexico's petroleum deposits are second only to Saudi Arabia's.
NAFTA is a disastrous blueprint for increased reliance on oil. A sound environmental policy would develop alternative energy sources such as solar power and wind power. But such a policy would challenge corporate power. NAFTA is designed to meet corporate needs, not human needs.
The best way to predict what NAFTA will do is to examine what the existing maquiladora industry has already done. The industry is a virtual who's who of powerful multinationals. As a recent Z Magazine article explained, they "have poured chemical wastes down the drains, dumped them in irrigation ditches, left them in the desert, burned them in city dumps and turned them over to Mexican recycling plants that are not qualified to handle toxic wastes." (Brooks, Sept, 1992)
Most of Mexico's illegal wastes come from US companies. Every year, about 8 million tons of hazardous materials go into Mexico. In one study, maquiladoras could not account for 95% of the waste they generated between 1969 and 1989. Cleaning up the border region could cost $50 billion, much more than the total earnings of the industry.
Mexico does not have the resources to control the massive amounts of toxics brought in by US corporations. For example, in 1991, nine environmental inspectors sharing one phone line were responsible for monitoring 500 maquiladoras in Tijuana.
US firms are well aware of this. Many openly admit that Mexico's lax environmental enforcement was one of their main reasons for moving there. Until recently, Los Angeles employed 63,000 workers in furniture manufacturing. In 1988, they were required to use spray chambers to prevent the escape of smog-producing hydrocarbon fumes from paint solvents. About 40 plants announced their departure for Mexico.
A 1983 US-Mexico treaty requires that all companies which import chemicals to Mexico ship the resulting hazardous wastes back to the US for disposal. EPA records show that in 1988 only 20 out of over 1600 maquiladoras in fact returned their toxic wastes.
In order to interfere with Mexico's environment, U.S. corporations are tampering with that country's traditions. Ever since the 1917 revolution, Mexicans have considered their energy resources to be part of what they call the "national patrimony."
Though Mexican law prohibits foreign ownership, US corporations are obsessed with taking over Mexican oil. Oil and auto are central to corporate expansion. Foreign investment has made Mexico's stock market one of the best performing in the world. In 1990, oil made up about a third of Mexico's export earnings.
Mexico became a world-scale producer and exporter of oil after offshore reserves were discovered in the Bay of Campeche in 1976. Production zoomed from 1 million barrels per day in 1977 to 2.7 million barrels per day in 1982. Nevertheless, Mexico still has considerable restrictions on foreign intervention in its economy. The proposed NAFTA is an attempt to undo these controls. US corporations want to reproduce the maquiladoras model throughout Mexico.
Between 1980 and 1988, the number of automobiles exported from Mexico increased from 18,000 to 173,000. Corporate forecasters anticipate that "US-Mexico automotive trade could double or triple during the 5 years after NAFTA..." They also hope for a "...doubling [of] oil production to 5 million barrels a day by the year 2005.
Auto and petroleum are just two industries which will vastly increase the amount of toxic wastes in Mexico. The result will be a massive poisoning of the Mexican people.
Shortly after being elected President, Bill Clinton met with Mexican President Salinas to assure him of support for NAFTA. According to the Wall Street Journal (Nov 9, 1992, p. C12), "...many market watchers now say that President Clinton is better positioned to shepherd the trade agreement through the Democratic Congress than President Bush would have been."
Greens have a different approach. Greens believe that people themselves, through their elected workplace and community representatives, should decide what to produce and how to do it. Citizens of the US, Mexico, and Canada should control our own economic destinies. NAFTA would be a sharp turn away from ecological sanity. Defeating NAFTA is a must; but, we need to do more. We must remove power from multinational corporations and create true economic democracy.