How does waiving the Endangered Species Act in Glacier National Park help secure the border?
Simple. It doesn't.
But that doesn't matter to Rep. Rob Bishop of Utah, author of the National Security and Federal Lands Protection Act (HR 1505). Bishop claims that U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), which includes the U.S. Border Patrol, cannot enforce immigration laws without violating the rest of our nation's laws, so his bill waives 36 important laws on federal lands within 100 miles of the U.S.-Mexico and U.S.-Canada borders for anything that CBP may want to do, from carving roads through wilderness areas to building Border Patrol bases in national parks to erecting walls.
Most of the laws that HR 1505 tosses aside, including the Endangered Species Act, Wilderness Act and Safe Drinking Water Act, protect the environment. But the bill also waives laws like the Farmland Policy Protection Act and the American Indian Religious Freedom Act.
Bishop's bill is an expansion of the Real ID Act, a Bush era policy intended to address federal ID card standards and certain aspects of immigration law. Tucked into Real ID's overarching language was Section 102, 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 have paved the way for tremendous environmental damage. To build border walls in California's Otay Mountain Wilderness Area, 530,000 cubic yards of rock were blasted from mountainsides; walls have caused serious flooding in Arizona's Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument; and walls fragment the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge in Texas, which was established for the preservation of ocelots, an endangered feline. Without the waivers, those walls would be illegal.
Would complying with our nation's laws really prevent CBP from securing our borders?
Not according to the Border Patrol.
The irony is that the Border Patrol has not asked for the power to ignore environmental laws, but instead has sent officials to testify against Bishop's bill in Congress. Last spring, the Government Accountability Office said, "Most agents reported that land management laws have had no effect on Border Patrol's overall measure of border security."
So what is the pressing need that justifies expanding the Real ID Act's destructive reach and undermining the rule of law?
Bishop's targeting of environmental laws simply fits the current Republican zeitgeist. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor has attacked environmental regulations and the Environmental Protection Agency as "obstacles to economic growth" that must be "removed," and Mitt Romney says the Clean Air Act should be rewritten to exclude the regulation of greenhouse gasses.
Environmental laws have nothing to do with our economic crisis, but the bad economy provides cover for efforts to repeal or rewrite them.
The National Security and Federal Lands Protection Act is just more of the same.
Waiving environmental laws would not make our nation any safer, but then Bishop's bill isn't really about protecting our borders. It is an assault on federal lands and environmental laws that uses border security as a convenient Trojan horse.
Scott Nicol co-chairs the Sierra Club's Borderlands Team. For more information, visit www.sierraclub.org/borderlands. This article was distributed by the American Forum. Photo: Tyler J. Swenson // CC 2.0