By Scott Nicol
Republicans recently passed a wrong-headed bill in the House that could threaten some of our most treasured national parks and wild lands.
Even though net migration from Mexico into the United States has dropped to zero, with roughly the same number of Mexican citizens heading south across the border as north, Republicans are still hyping the immigration issue.
The misnamed National Security and Federal Lands Protection Act (HR 1505) was recently approved by the U.S. House of Representatives. Aimed at stopping the nonexistent flood of immigrants, this extreme bill waives 16 laws on all federal lands within 100 miles of both the northern border and the southern border for any activity the Border Patrol can dream up.
If it is signed into law, bases could be built, roads could be cut, and new border walls could tear through national parks from Glacier National Park to the Olympic National Park along the northern border and to Joshua Tree to Big Bend in the south, as well as national forests, wildlife refuges and wilderness areas, with no concern for the environment.
The bill’s author, Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, seems to believe that the Border Patrol is incapable of enforcing immigration laws without violating other crucial laws such as the Endangered Species Act and Safe Drinking Water Act.
“I want this resolved so border security has the precedence down there,” Bishop has said. “If it means you lose a couple of acres of wilderness, I don’t think God will blame us at the judgment bar for doing that.”
But this bill goes beyond eliminating environmental protections “down there” on the U.S.-Mexico border. It actually threatens lands and lakes within 100 miles of the northern border as well. Canoeing the Boundary Waters Wilderness and hiking in the White Mountain National Forest could be a thing of the past if the Border Patrol says it wants to halt imaginary Canadian invaders.
The Border Patrol has not asked for this extreme power, and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano recently called HR 1505 “unnecessary” and “bad policy.”
She’s right. Waiving laws will not make our nation any safer, and despite its name, Bishop’s bill isn’t really about national security. Targeting environmental laws simply fits the current Republican mindset.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor has attacked environmental laws and the Environmental Protection Agency as “obstacles to economic growth” that must be “removed,” and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney says the Clean Air Act should be rewritten to exclude the regulation of greenhouse gasses. The National Security and Federal Lands Protection Act simply continues the Republican assault on the environment, this time using border security, instead of the economy, as a Trojan horse.
Environmental laws exist for a reason. They protect the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the very land that is the United States. If ours is a nation of laws, we must uphold all of our laws, not cherry-pick a few and waive the rest.
Scott Nicol co-chairs the Sierra Club’s Borderlands Team. He lives on the southern border in McAllen, Texas. He can be reached at email@example.com.