April 18, 2008

Guest Editorial:

Homeland Security head wields too much power over the environment

By José Miguel Leyva

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff is out of control.

He recently decided to waive more than 30 different environmental protection laws so he can proceed with a fence along our southwest border. That decision revealed not only his disregard for vulnerable lands and animal habitats but also the extraordinary power that he now wields.

No one should have such power to disregard our laws.

But Congress gave Chertoff that power when it passed the REAL ID act in 2005. That law gives extensive waiving powers to Secretary Chertoff, including the provision that “a cause of action or claim may only be brought alleging a violation of the Constitution of the United States.”

Since then, Chertoff has used this power several times, each to bypass environmental laws such as the Endangered Species Act and the National Historic Preservation Act. Just last October he used this power to sweep aside laws preventing construction of border fence across the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area in Arizona.

Now he is barrelling along with his decision to build the fence through the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge in Alamo, the Sabal Palm Audubon Center and El Paso’s Rio Bosque Wetlands Park.

This section of the fence would separate the Rio Bosque wetlands from the Rio Grande, effectively ruining ten years of hard work to restore the wetlands by the University of Texas at El Paso and its Center for Environmental Resource Management.

“This blanket waiver of laws like the Clean Air Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act is a clear and disturbing abuse of the secretary’s discretion,” said U.S. Rep. John Dingell (D-MI). And yet the Department of Homeland Security has thus far blocked efforts by Congress to seek an explanation for the most recent series of waivers.

Congress created a monster with the Real ID act: a runaway secretary of Homeland Security. Now Congress ought to go out and rein him in.

José Miguel Leyva is a freelance writer and novelist living in El Paso. He can be reached at pmproj@progressive.org.

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