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— Saldaña says she and her Ensenada-based oceanographer husband argue the issue constantly. "He says, 'NAFTA will be a wonderful thing for improving the situation in Mexico.' I argue that 'It's going to open the door for the slippery slope of environmental regulations. We're going to slip down to the lower level of Mexico's environmental laws, and what can we do to maintain the level that we have in the United States?' Yet in Ensenada I have seen some very real improvements to the wastewater treatment system in that city, which used to discharge [sewage] right into Ensenada harbor. Now they have improved that, and that's the result of some BECC funds.

"The BECC has given grants and loans totaling nearly $700 million that have helped communities plan for needed water and sanitation projects and solid-waste disposal. So I'm seeing some results from the BECC grant money, the loans that are being made to these border communities."

Of course, Takvorian and Saldaña (who teaches at the San Diego Community College and Mira Costa College) are neophyte members of a body -- the Advisory Council -- with nine American and nine Mexican members, political appointments all. "The Mexicans tend to be more academic than the Americans," says Saldaña. "And, yes, our council needs to be more proactive." Yet proactive at what? Their 1997 job description is far from clear.

* Recommend Certification of Projects under Consideration

* Assist with Project Solicitation and Development

* Strengthen Technical Assistance Program

* Advise BECC on Public Sentiment

Saldaña says she's there to change things. "Freedom of Information is not assumed to be a right in Mexico. Even though there are laws on the books, there's not that belief that it'll work. We grow up in this culture of democracy [assuming] we have the right for a public hearing; we have the right to review an environmental impact document; we have the right to request, under Freedom of Information, reports on what is being emitted through the air or into the water. What I would like to see happen as a result of the BECC is those [civil rights and environmental] organizations beginning to develop along the border and in Mexico."

"I thought long and hard about [joining BECC]," says Takvorian. "We're going to be looking at it very critically, and at any point if we thought we were supporting philosophy that we couldn't support, I'd consider resigning. NAFTA appears to be here to stay. I agree with Congressman Filner that the body's there: let's try to use it. I'm not buying that NAFTA is a good trade agreement. I still think it is very flawed. But...it's what we have to work with."

The advisory council will meet in San Diego on Tuesday, July 27.

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