USMCA commission to open environmental probe of Mexico train project

Streaming HUBApril 26, 2023

The Trilateral Commission for Environmental Cooperation set up by the US, Mexico and Canada has recommended launching an investigation into Mexico’s billion-dollar tourist train project on the Yucatan Peninsula.

Environmentalists filed a complaint saying that the Maya Train project threatens forests and limestone caves that contain precious fresh water. The caves have also yielded some of the oldest human remains ever found in North America.

Presently the train is being sent for completion. It is the pet project of Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who wants to complete it before he leaves office in September 2024.

The Trilateral Commission was established in 1994 by the governments of Mexico, the United States, and Canada, and operates under the USMCA Free Trade Agreement.

It has the power to prepare fact-finding reports that can be used in trade disputes. This will happen only if two of the three countries agree; The US government has always voted in favor of pursuing such investigations.

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The USMCA trade agreement requires member countries to enforce their environmental laws, and they may face tariffs or other sanctions if they do not.

The commission said in a statement late Tuesday that the investigation “will look into the environmental impact assessment procedures for the Maya Train project, including the alleged fragmentation of relevant studies and environmental impact studies, as well as changes in land use authorization.”

The 950-mile Maya train line runs in a rough loop around the Yucatan Peninsula, connecting beach resorts and archaeological sites.

Originally estimated to cost around $8 billion, the train line is now expected to cost as much as $15 billion and possibly as high as $20 billion. Because no actual feasibility study was done, it is unclear whether the train will attract enough tourists or recover its costs.

While some parts of the train line run on existing tracks or alongside existing roads, other parts are being cut through the jungle, including a controversial stretch that runs 68 miles between the resorts of Cancun and Tulum. Cuts at a distance of .

Mexico Eco Train

A bulldozer clears an area of ​​jungle that will be the Maya train line on August 2, 2022 in Puerto Morelos, Quintana Roo state, Mexico. (AP Photo/Eduardo Verdugo, File)

At the heart of the complaint is the hurried approval and construction on the Cancun-Tulum section.

Activists say the massive, high-speed rail project would fragment coastal forest and often run over the terraces of fragile limestone caves, known as cenotes, which – because they are surrounded by floodplains, and are often incredibly narrow – can take decades to detect.

Inside those water-filled caves are archaeological sites that have lain undisturbed for millennia, such as Naia, the nearly complete skeleton of a young woman who died some 13,000 years ago.

Jose ‘Pepe’ Urbina, a diver who has explored the caves for decades, welcomed scrutiny of the train project, even as the Mexican government has begun sinking concrete piles into the fragile limestone soil to build the railway .

Urbina said, “This is good news, it comes a little late, but better late than never.” “Let’s see what the Mexican government says or does. Environmental destruction is a reality that their propaganda can no longer hide.”

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The stretch of track is believed to have originally been built on elevated track above the existing coastal highway that connects the two resorts. But opposition from hotel owners caused López Obrador to move the train tracks inland, requiring workers to cut grass through the jungle. The change was made with almost no prior study of its environmental impact.

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