Two new power plants being built just south of the U.S. border will generate billions of watts of electricity for Californians, a handful of jobs for Mexicans, and plenty of pollution for everyone. The plants, which are the first to be built in Mexico specifically to provide power to the U.S., mark a new era in the relationship between the two nations. Some hail the development as a perfect example of the merits of free trade, while others excoriate it as a prime case of neo-colonialism, calling the plants “energy maquiladoras,” in a reference to the assembly-line factories where Mexicans labor at low wages for multinational corporations. The plants capitalize on Mexico’s weaker environmental law enforcement, its less-than-transparent government, and its desire for foreign capital. President Bush and the U.S. Energy Department issued special permits for the plants, one of which does not meet California pollution standards and would not be licensed in the U.S.

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