U.S. challenged by Mexican over environmental criticism


MEXICO CITY -- The president of Mexico's National Institute of Ecology challenged Americans yesterday to conduct an examination of the United States' progress in enforcing environmental laws before criticizing Mexico.

Sergio Reyes Lujan said he strongly disagrees with the Clinton administration's demands for the negotiation of a parallel accord to strengthen environmental protection provisions of the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Mexico, he said, already has established sufficient mechanisms for enforcing environmental laws.

"We still have many things to accomplish," said Mr. Reyes, who has headed the government institute for seven years. "But the rate of progress in Mexico has been greater than any other country."

"Protection of the environment is a moral imperative of President Salinas," he added, referring to Mexican President Carlos Salinas de Gortari.

At a conference last week, U.S. environmental experts agreed that the Mexican government was in some ways achieving progress more rapidly than the United States as a result of its General Law for Environmental Equilibrium, passed in 1988.

The law, said Mr. Reyes, is "modern, complete, and in some ways it is more strict than its counterparts in the United States and Canada."

For example, he said environmental impact statements must be submitted before any private or public work is approved.

Mexican law also requires companies that violate environmental laws to be closed either temporarily or permanently. In the United States, companies generally are fined.

And, Mr. Reyes pointed out, an environmental impact study must be conducted before any public or private work is approved.

To the criticism that environmental inspectors along the border are under trained and overworked, Mr. Reyes said, "Every inspector has a college degree. I'd like to see how many inspectors on the other side of the border have a college degree."

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