June 6, 2008

Commentary:

Senator Feinstein, you are wrong!

By Congressman Bob Filner

Senator Diane Feinstein’s intervention in San Diego’s problems in dealing with Mexican sewage flows shows the danger of Washington overruling local officials and communities who have been dealing with an issue for decades.

Her decision to fund an upgrade to the existing treatment waste plant on the U.S. side of the border and reject the Bajagua project—a more cost-effective, environmental-friendly plant on the Mexican side—means we will be right back where we started 10 years ago: closed, polluted beaches, 25 million gallons a day of untreated Mexican sewage endangering the health of U.S. neighborhoods, an obsolete U.S. plant which, due to an incompetent Federal bureaucracy, will still fail to comply with the U.S. Clean Water Act.

Senator Feinstein has misread a recent Government Accountability Office (GAO) report on the situation and places her faith in the International Boundary & Water Commission (IBWC), a bureaucracy which has failed for decades to solve the problems and has refused to implement recent laws which mandated the innovative Bajagua solution.

The GAO report which Senator Feinstein relies upon for her actions admits that it didn’t have the time or information to really compare the true costs and environmental sensitivity of the two competing proposals. For example, the fact that the Bajagua plan proposed to recycle water for use in Mexico (while the U.S. plant just dumps treated water into the ocean) is not analyzed.

Nor does Senator Feinstein seem to realize the “higher” cost of Bajagua is due to its treating more than twice the amount of sewage than the U.S. plant and to a higher level of purity—it’s actual unit cost is actually far less!

And the “uncertainty” she attributes to Bajagua fails to appreciate both the 10 years of Bajagua planning and the total failure of IBWC to solve sewage problems for the many decades it had the responsibility—not only in California, but across the entire U.S. –Mexican border. Budget runs over, technical failures, a plethora of leadership charges have been the hallmark of IBWC and the reason for the present plant is failure to comply with U.S. Clean Water standards is due to the incompetence of the very same IBWC that Senator Feinstein now wants to return authority to “fix” the situation!

Assuming IBWC actually demonstrates the competence and the Congress authorizes sufficient funds (both of which are shaky assumptions!) for the U.S. plant, what have we actually accomplished? We will treat 25,000,000 gallons a day of sewage (when the problem will soon be double to 59,000,000 gallons per day) to secondary standards (not to the recyclable, tertiary level) — the same situation which drove Congress to authorize the innovative Bajagua approach in the first place!

San Diegans need to ask: why are we wasting hundreds of millions of U.S. taxpayer dollars on Feinstein’s Folly? The Senator should return the decision-making authority to those of us who have been up to our ears in Mexico sewage for decades.

Congressman Bob Filner, Representative for California’s 51st Congressional District

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