House committee passes border security bill that would exempt huge areas of land from environmental regulations
By Summit Voice
SUMMIT COUNTY — Under the guise of homeland security, the House Committee on Natural Resources this week passed H.R. 1505, the National Security and Federal Lands Protection Act, by a vote of 26 to 17.
The bill would cede control of all federal lands with 100 miles of the U.S. border to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security by prohibiting the Department of the Interior and the Department of Agriculture from using environmental regulations to hinder U.S. Border Patrol from securing the border on federal lands.
“H.R. 1505 is a common sense solution that addresses one of the prevailing issues preventing us from gaining full operational control of the border – the U.S. Border Patrol’s lack of sufficient access to millions of acres of federally owned land,” said Utah Rep. Rob Bishop, chair of the considered further and ultimately brought to the floor of the House for a final vote,” said National Parks, Forests and Public Lands Subcommittee.
Conservation groups are not happy with the bill — to say the least. According to the Wilderness Society, the measure would also exempt the Department of Homeland Security from compliance with dozens of environmental statutes that protect the air and water quality, as well as habitat for endangered species. The group characterized the measure as an unwarranted land grab.
Even the Department of Homeland Security opposes the bill, said The Wilderness Society president William Meadows.
“The National Security and Federal Lands Protection Act is an overreaching bill that tramples on the rights of Americans to clean water, healthy air and a world-class natural legacy. It is manipulating a serious security issue to eviscerate long-standing and overwhelmingly popular public health policies,” Meadows said.
“Under this bill, some of our nation’s most iconic places – such as Olympic National Park, Big Bend National Park, Allegheny National Forest, Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, and Glacier National Park – could be at risk. If the co-sponsors were serious about protecting America’s borders and our citizens, they would offer a thoughtful and serious proposal; not a land grab disguised as ‘border security.”
Committee chair Doc Hastings, (R-Wash.) said the bill would cut red tape and enable the border patrol to effectively police the zone.
“Today, a majority of our Committee has voted to prioritize national security over bureaucratic red tape,” Hasting said. “Border Patrol has become encumbered with layers of environmental regulations and procedural hurdles that inhibit them from being able to do their job efficiently and effectively. As a result, our public lands are specifically targeted by criminals, drug smugglers and human traffickers who damage the environment and endanger American lives.
As proposed, the bill would:
• Prohibit the Secretaries of the Interior and Agriculture from impeding, prohibiting or restricting the work of the Border Patrol on public lands within 100 miles of the U.S. border with Mexico and Canada.
• Allow border patrol agents access to federal lands for the following activities: maintain and construct patrol roads; construct fences; use vehicles to patrol, install, set up and maintain surveillance equipment and sensors; use aircraft; and deploy temporary tactical infrastructure, including forward operating bases.
• Extend the same environmental waiver authority found in the Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 exercised by DHS Secretary Chertoff in 2008 to construct U.S.-Mexico border fence. Through that authority, it prevents environmental regulations and lawsuits from impeding U.S. Customs and Border Patrol’s ability to prevent unlawful entries into the United States.
• Sunset after five-years from the date it is enacted in order to allow Congress the opportunity to evaluate its effectiveness.
Filed under: Environment, Summit County news Tagged: | H.R. 1505, House Natural Resources Committee, National Security and Federal Lands Protection Act, United States, United States Border Patrol, United States Department of Homeland Security, Wilderness Society