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Friday, October 25, 2002

Mexico wants to turn border into 'energy corridor'

By JULIE WATSON
Associated Press Writer

SALTILLO, Mexico (AP) - Mexico wants to see its border with the United States become an "energy corridor" with pipelines and power lines running across the 2,000-mile international boundary to meet a growing demand in both countries, Mexico's energy secretary said Thursday.

Speaking at the 9th annual Border Energy Forum, Energy Secretary Ernesto Martens said the neighboring nations are missing out on opportunities because of a lack of infrastructure to be able to send natural gas and electricity across the border.

"Our challenge is to convert the zone into an energy corridor that supports and contributes to the development of the border region," Martens said.

U.S. and Mexican business leaders and government officials are meeting in the northern city of Saltillo to discuss ways the two sides can work together. The conference ends Friday.

"If we had more integration, our prices would be better, our reliability would be better and even our understanding of the market would flow better," said Veronica Angulo, of the White House Task Force on Energy Projects.

Demand already is outstripping supply on both sides of the industrialized border region and projections show it is expected to more than double over the next decade.

In the past few years, the United States has turned to Mexico -- with its vast natural gas deposits -- for its energy needs. While the fuel is cleaner and more efficient than oil or coal, the deposits are in remote areas, beyond the reach of pipelines.

Mexico has electricity to give but its border region has lacked the lines to deliver it to California, which suffers power shortages, Martens said.

Baja California state now is seeing companies line up to build generating plants to supply energy-starved California.

Two power plants are under construction near the border town of Mexicali, as is a 215-mile natural gas pipeline between Blythe, California, and Tijuana. Other U.S. firms have their own projects on the drawing boards.

But "a robust" binational plan is needed to transform the Mexican border into a major supplier for both sides, Martens said.

Environmentalists fear companies may be taking advantage of Mexico's vulnerability as a poorer nation to accept air pollution and other environmental woes generated by the plants that Americans don't want in their cities.

Officials promised to take the environmental impact into account.

"This is a single environmental region," said Armando Jimenez, Mexico's general director of energy policy. "What happens north always affects somebody in the south and vice versa."

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