Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Assault on Public Lands and Environmental Laws up for a House Vote

By Scott Nicol

How does waiving the Endangered Species Act in Hawaii help secure the U.S. – Mexico border?

Simple. It doesn’t.

But that obvious fact is irrelevant to Representative Rob Bishop of Utah, author of the National Security and Federal Lands Protection Act (HR 1505). Bishop claims that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) cannot enforce immigration laws without violating the rest of our nation’s laws, so his bill waives 36 federal laws within 100 miles of the U.S. – Mexico border, the U.S. – Canada border, and all U.S. coastlines, for anything that DHS may want to do.

Most of the laws that HR 1505 tosses aside, including the Endangered Species Act, Migratory Bird Treaty Act, and Safe Drinking Water Act, protect the environment, but it also waives laws like the Farmland Policy Protection Act and the American Indian Religious Freedom Act.

This bill is an expansion of the Real ID Act, which gave the Secretary of Homeland Security the authority to waive local, state, and federal laws to build walls along the southern border.

The existing Real ID Act waivers, which HR 1505 expands, have caused tremendous environmental damage. To build border walls 530,000 cubic yards of rock was blasted from mountainsides in the Otay Mountain Wilderness Area; walls have caused serious flooding in the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument; and walls fragment the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge, which was established for the preservation of endangered ocelots. Without the waiver, these walls would be illegal.

Bishop’s bill would also give DHS the run of all federally owned lands, in all 50 states, with absolutely no restrictions. Has a lack of access to the Everglades, or Hawaii’s Volcanoes National Park, or the lawn around the Statue of Liberty, prevented DHS from securing the southern border?

Not according to the Border Patrol.

The irony is that the Border Patrol, which operates under DHS’ umbrella, has not asked for the power to overrule land managers or ignore environmental laws. Last spring the Government Accountability Office found that, “Most agents reported that land management laws have had no effect on Border Patrol’s overall measure of border security.”

When Rep. Bishop introduced a similar bill last year Brandon Judd of the National Border Patrol Council said, “I would definitely look and see if there are some restrictions that are too restrictive. But to get rid of all restrictions, you would destroy the land.”

Representative Bishop has a long history of attacking protected lands and environmental regulations. He is currently pushing for a repeal of the Antiquities Act and a ban on new National Monuments. HR 1505 is just more of the same.

This Wednesday the National Security and Federal Lands Protection Act will be up for a vote in the House Natural Resources Committee, which Rep. Bishop, in a bit of Orwellian irony, chairs. Packed with Tea Party darlings like Bishop, the bill is almost certain to pass and be sent on to the full House of Representatives.

This is the week to contact your representatives and tell them that HR 1505 is not about protecting our nation. It is an assault on federal lands and environmental laws using border security as a convenient cover, nothing more.

For more information, visit www.sierraclub.org/borderlands.

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