nafta

While American conservatives have traditionally been supportive of free trade, including the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), no deal is perfect. The latest testament to that fact comes in the form of this bit of news: Mexico continues to export toxic waste to the US, courtesy of NAFTA—and in Texas, regulators might even let some rich guy house it in a landfill he’s building in a floodplain:

Toll road developer Carlos “C.Y.” Benavides III is continuing to press on with his plans for a toxic waste dump in a south Texas floodplain, despite toxic spills from flooding due to Hurricane Harvey around the city of Houston. Benavides’ dump would receive waste from Mexico and other U.S. states around Texas.

“Building a landfill in the middle of a floodplain is a flagrant and reckless disregard of the health and safety of both humans and the environment,” Laredo City Council Member George Altgelt said.

The issue has been kicking around for about a year, but in the wake of three spills from one of Houston’s most polluted Superfund sites being reported within days of Hurricane Harvey, it has been generating fresh attention and outcry.

The proposed toxic waste dump is located in a 100-year floodplain area; the Houston area alone has seen three 500-year floods in the last three years, raising significant concerns that risks associated with flooding in areas housing toxic waste may be significantly higher than previously assumed.

The property developer in question is a wealthy Laredo landowner with an interest in exotic sheep and deer. He has significantly boosted Democratic congressman Rep. Henry Cuellar over the years and is alleged to have been arrested on domestic violence charges.

On the other side of the fight are members of Benavides’ extended family, and a group of less well-off Laredo residents called Citizens Against Laredo Landfill, who charge that if built, the dump will “blow toxic waste from the landfill” into their neighborhood, harming respiratory health, quality of life and potentially property values.

Undoubtedly, neither Benavides nor his opponents favor nixing NAFTA. But it’s a fair bet that some Laredo residents, much as their local economy depends on free trade with Mexico, see some downside to the agreement, given Benavides’ plans for his land.

Ultimately, the issue can disposed of by the Texas Council on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), which has been weighing the proposal for several years. TCEQ has not yet rejected Benavides’ plan, which would allow the housing of about 4 million tons of waste a year. However, residents hope TCEQ will act rather than leaving the matter to come further to the fore in the context of NAFTA renegotiations kicked off by President Trump.