UC Law Environmental Journal


Keari Platt


The wastewater pollution crisis at the United States-Mexico border garners renewed attention every few decades as sewage and toxic runoff overburden treatment facilities in the border region, polluting the Southern San Diego County coastline. Following several years of increasingly catastrophic sewage discharge incidents, the City of Imperial Beach filed suit against the federal government, alleging that the United States Section of the International Boundary Water Commission’s frequent discharge of pollutants into the Tijuana River violated the federal Clean Water Act and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. The lawsuit prodded the federal government to appropriate $300 million to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to respond to the issue. In 2020, the EPA proposed the Comprehensive Infrastructure Solution—a suite of wastewater infrastructure projects along the border—to capture and treat runoff in the Tijuana River Valley through 2050.

This paper assesses the EPA’s Comprehensive Infrastructure Solution to determine whether it legitimately addresses underlying causes of toxic wastewater runoff in the border region. In doing so, this paper posits that the maquiladora industry—through binational free-trade agreements, exploitative consumerism, and private enterprise—has a significant role in the unabated dumping of toxic waste into the environment. Recognizing the promise of economic opportunity that maquiladora employment provides, this paper suggests that in addition to the EPA’s proposed infrastructure projects, private environmental governance strategies could ameliorate harms experienced by maquiladora workers and residents on behalf of large, multinational corporations. This note suggests that strategies such as private certification and ecolabeling might address the issue by demystifying the role of maquiladoras in the supply chain, while empowering stakeholders and consumers alike.