Friday, July 29, 2011

New Amendments Threaten Protected Lands

US representative Gosar has introduced two amendments (no. 20 and 55) to the Department of the Interior's annual appropriations bill that would do tremendous damage to our nation's protected federal lands. Representative Gosar’s (R-AZ) amendment No. 20 is an extreme attack on public lands even more overreaching than recent controversial legislation (H.R. 1505). Under this amendment the U.S. Border Patrol would be exempted from any regulation that would “impede or obstruct” patrol activities on every acre of federal land throughout the United States, putting national treasures at risk and throwing away a century of laws designed to protect our natural resources.

What federal lands would be put at risk?
All of them. This amendment decimates environmental and other protections on every single acre of federally owned lands, from areas in the southwest already at risk from Border Patrol Activities, like the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge in Arizona, to places far from the border, including the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone National Park, and the Cape Hatteras National Seashore.
• This amendment is NOT restricted to areas near the southwest border or even to areas near all borders, as past legislation has proposed.

What laws would be overturned?
All of them. This amendment is even more overreaching in its impact on federal lands than the controversial H.R. 1505 because it is not restricted to a long list of environmental regulations, but prevents the enforcement of any regulation, even those put in place for safety and other reasons.
• Other regulations that could be completely ignored are those that support economic development, allowing Border Patrol to interfere with grazing, mining, and drilling for oil and gas on public lands.

What Border Patrol activities would be exempted from any oversight?
• All of them. The amendment does not clearly define what “impede or obstruct” means or who would decide whether a law or regulation meets this standard and could therefore be ignored.
• The amendment is even more overreaching than past bills on the Border Patrol because it does not limit exempted activities to “operational control” – or activities specifically intended to prevent illegal entry into the country. Instead it exempts all “patrol activities” which, without definition, could mean any activity undertaken by the Border Patrol.
• This will create conflict between agencies that have begun to work very effectively together to resolve issues surrounding Border Patrol activities.

Is the amendment even needed by the Border Patrol?

No. The amendment would override multiagency coordination that has been occurring on Federal lands since a 2006 Memorandum of Agreement between the Departments of Homeland Security, Interior, and Agriculture that has led to increased cooperation and leveraged resources.
• 22 out of 26 Border Patrol stations on the southern border with Mexico report that the border security of their area of operation has not been affected by land management laws beyond some minor delays. Instead, factors like rugged terrain—and not access delays or restrictions—have the highest impact on operational control.
• Exemptions already exist that allow Border Patrol Officers in pursuit to continue onto any federal land regardless of regulations or laws. Other exemptions have also been established administratively to ensure the Border Patrol has the access necessary to secure the border.

In addition, Rep. Gosar has also introduced amendment No. 55, another extreme attack on federal lands. Similar to amendment No. 20, this amendment would exempt the Border Patrol from any environmental review, from protecting clean air and water, from honoring and respecting the history and culture of native people, from preserving biodiversity, and more.

Who isn’t hurt by this amendment?
Representative Gosar’s friends in industries like oil and gas drilling, grazing, mining, and logging are taken off the hook in this updated version of amendment No. 20. Amendment No. 20 exempts the Border Patrol from “any regulation” meaning that rules allowing for development and resources extraction could also be trampled by any Border Patrol activities. Amendment No. 55, however, spares these special interests and instead focuses its attack on the environment, biodiversity, and native people.

What environmental and cultural laws would be overturned?
A similar list of laws to that found in H.R. 1505 is included in the amendment. These laws represent a century of bipartisan efforts to protect the environment, intelligently manage public lands, and demonstrate respect for historical and cultural sites.

The exempted laws include:

The National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (42 U.S.C. 4321 et seq.)
The Endangered Species Act of 1973 (16 U.S.C. 1531 et seq.)
The Clean Water Act (33 U.S.C. 1251 et seq.)
The National Historic Preservation Act (16 U.S.C. 470 et seq.).
The Migratory Bird Treaty Act (16 U.S.C. 703 et seq.)
The Clean Air Act (42 U.S.C. 7401 et seq.).
The Archeological Resources Protection Act of 1979 (16 U.S.C. 18 470aa et seq.).
The Safe Drinking Water Act (42 U.S.C. 300f et seq.).
The Noise Control Act of 1972 (42 U.S.C. 4901 et seq.).
The Solid Waste Disposal Act (42 U.S.C. 6901 et seq.).
The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980 (42 U.S.C. 9601 et seq.)
The Archaeological and Historic Preservation Act' and the Archaeological Recovery Act (16 U.S.C. 469 et seq.).
The Antiquities Act (16 U.S.C. 431 et seq.).
The Historic Sites, Buildings, and Antiquities Act (16 U.S.C. 461 et seq.)
The Farmland Protection Policy Act (7 U.S.C. 4201 et seq.).
The Coastal Zone Management Act of 1972 (16 U.S.C. 1451 et seq.).
The Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 (43 U.S.C. 1701 et seq.).
The Wilderness Act (16 U.S.C. 1131 et seq.).
The Bald Eagle Protection Act of 1940 (16 U.S.C. 668 et seq.).
The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (25 U.S.C. 3001 et seq.).
The American Indian Religious Freedom Act (42 U.S.C. 1996 et seq.).
The Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (42 U.S.C. 2000bb et seq.).
The Federal Grant and Cooperative Agreement Act of 1977 (31 U.S.C. 6303 et seq.)

What Species would be impacted?
The bill waives compliance with all provisions of the ESA on federal lands. Species throughout the nation that would be impacted include

In the Southwest
• Mexican spotted owl
• Desert tortoise
• Jaguar
• Ocelot
• Sonoran pronghorn
• Chiricahua leopard frog

Elsewhere in the country
• Florida Panther
• Canada lynx
• Polar bear
• Hawaii akepa (honeycreeper)
• Leatherback sea turtle
• West Indian manatee

Thursday, July 7, 2011

How much do border walls cost? Just the facts:

There is a wide cost range for the construction of pedestrian border walls, resulting from factors which include labor (some sections were built by members of the National Guard, while others were built by private contractors); topography; remote vs. urban locations; land purchases and condemnations; materials (wall sections built in the 1990’s used scrap metal, obtained from the military for free, while more recent sections have required the purchase of concrete, steel, etc.); and the design that is being utilized.

In October 2008 the Houston Chronicle reported that “The Army Corps of Engineers estimated that the amount spent for pedestrian fencing has jumped 88 percent since February to $7.5 million per mile. The costs for vehicle barriers have increased 40 percent to $2.8 million per mile, according to the GAO.”
“As border fence lags, costs, controversy rise” by Stewart Powell, Houston Chronicle, October 10, 2008

In January, 2009, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported that costs for sections built up to that point ranged from $400,000 to $15.1 million. They also noted that these cost estimates were not independently verified and, “An Independent Auditor's Report on DHS's Fiscal Year 2008 Financial Statements found that CBP did not have adequate policies and procedures in place to properly account for steel purchases and construction of the U.S. border fence in an accurate and timely manner. As a result, for several months throughout the year, CBP’s financial statements did not accurately reflect the construction activity.”
Secure Border Initiative Fence Construction Costs, United States Government Accountability Office, January 29, 2009

The GAO’s January 2009 report only included border wall sections that had been completed, not those which were under construction or in various stages of planning.

Sections that were later constructed included the 3.6 miles of pedestrian border wall built through the Otay Mountain Wilderness Area, at a cost of $57.7 million, averaging just over $16 million per mile.
“$57.7-million fence added to an already grueling illegal immigration route” by Richard Marosi, Los Angeles Times, February 15, 2010

Also unfinished at the time were the border wall and earthen berm blocking Smuggler’s Gulch, near San Diego, which cost $59 million for 3.5 miles, averaging $16.8 million per mile.
“A Barren Promise at the Border” by Rob Davis, Voice of San Diego, October 22, 2009

According to the GAO it will cost an estimated $75 million per year to maintain border walls. As of mid-May 2009, the fence had been breached more than 3,300 times, with costs to repair each breach averaging $1,300.
Secure Border Initiative: Technology Deployment Delays Persist and the Impact of Border Fencing Has Not Been Assessed, Government Accountability Office, September 2009

In 2011 the GAO stated that “CBP estimated that the border fencing had a life cycle of 20 years and over these years, a total estimated cost of about $6.5 billion to deploy, operate, and maintain the fencing and other infrastructure. According to CBP, during fiscal year 2010, there were 4,037 documented and repaired breaches of the fencing and CBP spent at least $7.2 million to repair the breaches, or an average of about $1,800 per breach.”
BORDER SECURITY: DHS Progress and Challenges in Securing the U.S. Southwest and Northern Borders, United States Government Accountability Office, March 30, 2011

In the spring and summer of 2011, CBP replaced 2.77 miles of existing “landing mat” fence in Nogales, which had suffered numerous breaches, with “bollard” fencing, at a cost of $11.6 million.
“Barrier Rebuilt” by Margaret Regan, Tucson Weekly, June 23, 2011

In 2010 the GAO reported that “Since fiscal year 2006, DHS has received about $4.4 billion in appropriations for SBI, including about $2.5 billion for physical fencing and related infrastructure, about $1.5 billion for virtual fencing (e.g., surveillance systems) and related infrastructure (e.g., towers), and about $300 million for program management.”
SECURE BORDER INITIATIVE: DHS Needs to Strengthen Management and Oversight of Its Prime Contractor, United States Government Accountability Office, October, 2010