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

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 deregulation darlings like Bishop, the bill is almost certain to pass and be sent on to the full House of Representatives.

This is the week for Texans to contact their 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.

Scott Nicol co-chairs the Sierra Club’s Borderlands Team.  He lives in McAllen, Texas.   For more information, visit www.sierraclub.org/borderlands

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One response to “Assault on Public Lands and Environmental Laws up for a House Vote this Week

  1. elizabeth riebschlaeger

    I live in the heart of the Eagle Ford Shale in Texas. I regularly visit LaSalle County and witness the onslaught of the oil and gas industry there as well.
    I have seen an active drilling rig operated by El Paso Oil and Gas placed directly across a narrow state highway from a senior high school, placing everyone on those premises in danger of exposure to explosion, fire and spewing toxic chemicals and sulfur dioxide gases which can kill. If terrorists had planned to locate these toxins on that same site, Homeland Security would have identified them as “terrorists”, swarmed to the site, removed them, arrested them and thrown them into federal prison, keeping us truly safe. But o/g companies who contribute big money and create deadly-risk jobs for American citizens can put their fellow Americans under the same threat with no problem. The toxic and explosive threat is the same. Only those posing it are different: one we call terrorists; the other we call “job-creating corporations”. The only difference? The money flowing into politicians’ pockets from big o/g for being allowed to theaten the lives and health of their fellow Americans. Rep. Bishop should be counted as promoting terrorism, not as favoring homeland security. He and his irresponsible oil and gas buddies who despise accountability are the real threat. When will US citizens figure this out? Would you trust Rep. Bishop with the life of your child in that school? HR 1505 is only giving a green light to corporations who threaten them. Look past the PR TV ads and “nice guy” reps living in your communities and see what is really happening in your once-safe neighborhoods, farms and ranches. Who do they think they are kidding?

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