SAN DIEGO (CN) – San Diego’s congressional leaders sat down for a roundtable discussion Tuesday about the pollution crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border and what they think of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russian meddling in the 2016 election.
U.S. Reps. Mike Levin, Duncan Hunter, Juan Vargas, Scott Peters and Susan Davis sat down for a conversation hosted by the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce and attended by 400 people.
The conversation kicked off with what San Diego’s congressional delegation called the “real” crisis at the border: sewage which spills into U.S. waterways during the rainy season due to Tijuana’s inadequate wastewater infrastructure.
“We do have a crisis when it comes to sewage. We do have a crisis now they are pulling officials off the line in Otay Mesa,” Vargas, a Democrat representing the entire region along the U.S.-Mexico border in San Diego, said of the “gigantic” 8-hour wait to enter the United States at the Otay Mesa Port of Entry.
Peters, also a Democrat, said the border water infrastructure program has been underfunded for years, and while San Diego secured $15 million from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to make improvements this year, the “whole problem is probably a few hundred million-dollar project.”
Vargas said his staff was working to secure $100 million to improve water infrastructure at the border because “$10 million, $15 million won’t do it. Every time it rains Tijuana gets overwhelmed.”
San Diego’s current water treatment system catches 25 million gallons a day from Tijuana. But during wet weather, the system cannot catch all the stormwater and raw sewage and other pollutants foul San Diego’s southernmost beaches and the Pacific Ocean.
Peters pointed out the pollution has even become a national security issue with Border Patrol agents suffering health injuries while working in the contaminated environment and Navy Seal training is put on hold when local waters are polluted.
The pollution crisis has triggered multiple lawsuits by several San Diego County cities, a local water agency and the state of California claiming the International Boundary & Water Commission-United States Section and Veolia Water North America West are violating the Clean Water Act. The cases are currently pending.
Beyond the pollution issue, the lawmakers also discussed technology needs to reduce long wait times to cross the border into San Diego.
Vargas said the chamber in San Diego has advocated for federal dollars to be allocated to expand services at San Diego’s ports of entry and that all of San Diego’s congressional delegation – even the lone Republican Hunter – agree investing in technology is important for both curbing illegal immigration and the drug trade and moving people and goods across the border “efficiently, safely and legally.”
The conversation got lively when moderator Amy Brown, a political consultant from Sacramento, asked the lawmakers about their opinion of the recently released Mueller report on Russian meddling in the 2016 election, and whether President Donald Trump was involved.
Hunter said he is “glad it’s over.”
“We have rehashed this and rehashed this. I hope it’s over enough that the rest of Congress can move forward,” Hunter said, adding: “I know Mueller didn’t say Trump is the next coming of Jesus, but there was no collusion.”
But Vargas challenged Hunter’s suggestion the investigation was only politically motivated.
“There is a difference between politics and our constitutional responsibility and what the Constitution demands of us,” Vargas said, noting if a president “goes awry” and commits impeachable offenses, they “have” to impeach.
Peters said Democrats are facing more pressure to denounce the president’s actions because Republicans have taken the position the report found Trump didn’t do anything.
“That’s just not the case,” Peters said, pointing to incidents where the president had instructed his staff members to lie.
As for the Green New Deal, Levin – a Democrat and original backer of the plan – said he has been working on climate change since Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who introduced the plan with Rep. Ed Markey, “was in high school.”
Levin said many of the suggestions in the Green New Deal “have already been done in California” and believes the opportunity for developing new clean technologies can help grow the economy.
“I’m convinced in 20 or 30 years everyone will be using a whole host of new technologies. It’s the greatest wealth opportunity and we’re blowing it because this president thinks windmills cause cancer and climate change is a hoax,” Levin said.
Davis called the Green New Deal “a good aspirational piece.” But the Democrat said she is concerned about the focus on the way the plan is being packaged and the negative attention by conservatives who “want to make fun” of the plan.
“My concern is absent the concrete steps we need to take in legislation, we can use up all the oxygen in the room talking about the Green New Deal,” Davis said.