House passes bill to exempt Border Patrol from environmental laws along border
Wednesday, June 20, 2012
WASHINGTON, D.C. — A package of bills including one that allows the U.S. Border Patrol to ignore 16 environmental laws on federal lands within 100 miles of Canada or Mexico passed the U.S. House of Representatives on Tuesday.
The House voted 232-188 in favor of 14 bills, called the Conservation and Economic Growth Act, or H.R. 2578. Reps. Doc Hastings and Cathy McMorris-Rodgers voted in favor of the bill. Rep. Reichert — also a Republican — voted against it. He was one of 19 Republicans voting against the bill. Sixteen Democrats voted in favor of it.
The bills will now go to the U.S. Senate for consideration.
The package includes the National Security and Federal Land Protection Act, which would allow the Border Patrol and Department of Homeland Security to build roads through roadless areas, construct fences and bases, and drive vehicles in wilderness areas to protect international borders.
The Border Patrol would only use those powers when needed to prevent illegal activities at the border, said Crystal Feldman, press secretary for the House Committee on Natural Resources.
She said several police organizations supported the law, including the National Association of Former Border Patrol Officers and the National Border Patrol Council. “It’s not the Border Patrol who are hurting or ruining our environment. It’s the people who come across illegally, who have no regard for our laws,” she said.
But environmental groups say the bill, along with 13 others passed in the package of bills, is a direct attack on environmental laws that the Republican-controlled House hopes to compromise.
“Unfortunately, the bills contained in this legislation do not support conservation, nor do they support economic growth. Instead, it contains a showcase of some of the largest congressional attacks on our environment,” said Tom Uniack, conservation director of Washington Wild. The organization is one of 18 environmental groups across the state that came out in opposition to the bill on Monday.
Uniack said that the agencies involved — including the U.S. Border Patrol and the Department of Homeland Security — have said they don’t need these extreme measures to protect international borders.
The Los Angeles Times reported in April that the Border Patrol testified before Congress that it had forged agreements with the National Park Service and other land managers and were working cooperatively with those agencies to access the border. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano testified before Congress in March, saying the bill “is unnecessary, and it’s bad policy.”
“The argument that environmental regulations are creating an issue for homeland security is something the proponents of this bill are putting forward. It’s not the agencies,” Uniack said.
He said environmental groups will now work to prevent the bill from passing the Senate. He said the current makeup of the Senate makes that unlikely, but there’s strong concern that the bill may get through a back door, as an unnoticed rider attached to another bill.
K.C. Mehaffey: 997-2512
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