Trade treaty may protect Arizona river

  • San Pedro River

    Robin Silver
  The U.S. government must respond this month to a citizens' petition accusing one of its Army bases of helping to dry up Arizona's last free-flowing river, the San Pedro (HCN, 6/12/95). The river boasts North America's largest surviving expanse of cottonwood and willow forest and serves as a migratory coridor for many birds.

The petition took advantage of North American Free Trade Agreement provisions that NAFTA members comply with their own environmental laws. The 14-page document asserts that a planned expansion of the 75,000-acre Fort Huachuca will harm the San Pedro River and violate the National Environmental Policy Act. The March deadline represents a first; never before has the international NAFTA commission required a response from the U.S. government.

Lawyers at Earthlaw, which filed the petition for the Southwest Center for Biological Diversity, were surprised by the ruling. "We didn't think we would get the decision we were looking for," says law clerk Dawn McKnight. "We're very happy that they decided to look into this further."

Nonetheless, the reaction of Robin Silver of the Southwest Center was guarded. "In reality, there is no enforceable structure to make a (NAFTA) member country keep its promise," he says. "But at least an international commission has recognized that the United States government refuses to obey its own laws."

" Sarah Dry

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