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CENTER for BIOLOGICAL DIVERSITY Because life is good

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The National Security and Federal Lands Protection Act

This bill has little to do with either national security or protecting federal lands. Introduced by Rob Bishop (R-Utah), one of the most anti-environment members of Congress, the bill (H.R. 1505) would waive 31 environmental and cultural-resource laws within 100 miles of all land and maritime U.S. borders with regard to all border-security activities. Included on the list are such bedrock protections as the Endangered Species Act, Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act and National Environmental Policy Act.

Rep. Bishop’s rationale for pushing this bill — the notion that environmental laws somehow hinder efforts to secure the border — has been shown to be false time and again. Neither U.S. Customs and Border Patrol nor the Department of Homeland Security has requested the authority granted by the bill. In fact, both agencies have stated that the authority is unnecessary. This bill is clearly just the latest cynical maneuver in Rep. Bishop’s career-long assault on environmental protections.

The Border Security Enforcement Act of 2011

This legislation (S. 803) would essentially give the Department of Homeland Security veto power over any environmental protections on public lands within 150 miles of the southwestern border. Land managers would be prohibited from taking any actions to protect the resources they manage if those actions were perceived to conflict with or hinder the activities of the Department of Homeland Security. Introduced by Arizona Sens. John McCain and Jon Kyl, the bill would also mandate a massive escalation in the ongoing militarization of the U.S.-Mexico border, with the deployment of thousands of new troops, agents, vehicles and extensive infrastructure at great taxpayer expense.

Like the Bishop bill, this bill is unnecessary overkill. Homeland Security and Border Patrol officials have testified that they have developed a good working relationship with agencies that manage public lands and have implemented a formal memorandum of understanding that allows them to fulfill their border-enforcement responsibilities. The Government Accountability Office recently reported that access to public lands for border-enforcement activities is not limited and environmental restrictions are not a hindrance to border enforcement. Moreover, the Office concluded that access to environmentally sensitive areas was “not a primary factor to achieving operational control of the border.”

The Secure Fence Act of 2006

In late October 2006, former President Bush signed this bill into law — with potentially devastating consequences. This law mandated construction of 700 miles of double-layered reinforced wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, including an uninterrupted stretch from Calexico, California to Douglas, Arizona — nearly the entire length of Arizona’s boundary. The now-constructed wall poses an almost insurmountable threat to jaguar recovery in the borderlands, threatens the vitality of the San Pedro River riparian corridor, and impedes movement and migration of other imperiled wildlife along the border.

The border wall will do little to curb illegal immigration, yet it will have — and already has had — devastating effects on desert habitat. For example, a newly constructed part of the wall that runs through Organ Pipe National Monument was responsible for flooding during recent storms. The flooding has caused damage to existing infrastructure, led to severe erosion, had effects on riparian vegetation, and restricted the movement of floodwaters to adjacent deserts.

The areas being obstructed by the border wall serve as wildlife corridors for endangered species who don’t understand political delineations. Animals like the jaguar, Mexican gray wolf, Sonoran pronghorn, ocelot and flat-tailed horned lizard are harmed by militarization of the border, including the construction of walls and roads and the increased flights of low-level aircraft. The Center will do everything we can to combat the forces that are impeding the recovery of these imperiled species.

The Real ID Act of 2005

The Real ID Act gave the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security the authority to “waive all legal requirements such Secretary, in such Secretary’s sole discretion, determines necessary to ensure expeditious construction of the barriers and roads [along international borders].” This exemption allows the Department of Homeland Security to proceed with infrastructure projects while bypassing federal environmental laws, including the Endangered Species Act, Clean Water Act and National Environmental Policy Act — keystone environmental laws that have already been trampled to increase border infrastructure in California and Arizona.

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument photo © Robin Silver