Environmental Groups Bring Complaint about Baja California Liquefied Natural Gas Plant to NAFTA Environmental Panel

Article excerpt

The Montreal-based Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC) has agreed to review a complaint by several US and Mexican environmental organizations against the US-based multinational company Chevron Corp. and its plans to build a liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal just off the coast of Baja California.

The CEC is an environmental advisory body created under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). The panel is not empowered to stop the project, near the Coronado Islands, but can issue recommendations. In agreeing to take on the project, the NAFTA environmental commission said it is first analyzing the complaint to establish whether it falls under its jurisdiction.

"The CEC might decide to investigate the complaint and publish a factual record of its findings, which then would be forwarded to the...parties," the CEC said.

Environmental advocates say a ruling in their favor could boost their position as they seek other avenues to stop construction of the terminal.

The groups that filed the complaint--including Greenpeace Mexico, Wildcoast, the Los Angeles Audubon Society, the Pacific Environment and Resources Center, the Center for Biological Diversity, and the American Bird Conservancy--argue that the LNG plant will threaten the breeding activities of the endangered Xantus's Murrelet and other at-risk species that make a home in the Coronado Islands.

The Secretaria de Comunicaciones y Transportes (SCT) formally approved the project in March of this year after reviewing an environmental-impact report by the Secretaria del Medio Ambiente y Recursos Naturales (SEMARNAT). The report said the project would not significantly harm bird, plant, and sea life nor pose a safety threat to metropolitan communities in northern Baja California and Southern California.

Groups concerned about damage to local wildlife

"The submitters assert that the Environmental Impact Assessment that Mexico approved...did not adequately take into account the impacts of light pollution on nocturnal seabirds, the risk of catastrophic explosions, the risks of introducing rats to the Coronado Islands or other impacts related to tanker and gas terminal activity," the CEC said in its decision to accept the complaint from the environmental groups.

The environmental organizations also contend that the SEMARNAT report did not sufficiently assess the risks to wildlife and that the plant does not comply with standards established by Mexico's Ley General del Equilibrio Ecologico y de Proteccion al Ambiente (LGEEPA) and the Ley General de Vida Silvestre.

"It's great that the CEC is willing to take on the complaint, but we shouldn't have to resort to an international tribunal," Wildcoast project manager Aaron Quintanar told The San Diego Union Tribune. …