In 1996, the US State Department assumed a newly enlarged environmental role, planning to establish six hubs worldwide to focus on environmental issues. Each hub will examine transboundary environmental issues in its region of the world and will prioritize those environmental issues according to their relevance to the United States. They will also ensure the coordination of US agencies abroad and help maximize the impact of US dollars spent on the environment. The first two hubs will be in San José, Costa Rica, and Amman, Jordan.
On January 26, Canada, Mexico and the United States announced that they would work together and through the Commission on Environmental Cooperation (CEC) to concentrate on lowering the levels of mercury, DDT, and chlordane. After a 1995 decision to control PCBS, the countries selected these three pollutants because these are the only three chemicals targeted by the United Nations Environment Programme that are still used in North America. In March, the United States decided to allow specialized companies to import PCBs into the country for incineration (40 C.F.R. pt. 761). This decision was especially important to Mexico, which does not have similar incineration technology and has to dispose of much of the chemical. Problems with chlordane and DDT will be addressed in Mexico, as it is the only NAFTA country still using these chemicals.
The NAFTA countries also agreed on April 9 to share plans and programs for wildlife and natural resource protection. A new trilateral commission created by this agreement is to meet annually and will absorb three previously created commissions: the 1972 United States--Mexico Joint Committee for Wildlife Conservation, the 1988 Trilateral Committee for the Preservation of Aquatic Birds and their habitats, and NAFTA's 1994 Cooperative Program for Biodiversity Conservation.
On June 6, the CEC Secretariat, acting pursuant to Art. 14 of NAFTA's environmental side accord, requested that the environmental ministers of the three countries prepare a report on the alleged failure of Mexico to apply its environmental laws in approving construction of pier and port facilities near the island of Cozumel. The request had been prompted by a complaint to the CEC on December 18, 1995, which alleged that Mexico did not require a comprehensive environmental impact study for the project located in a nat