WASHINGTON -- February 9 -- Measure needlessly suspends all environmental laws along all U.S. borders, endangering communities and natural resources
Submitted by Center for Biological Diversity
On January 26, House Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) introduced H.R. 418, the Real ID Act of 2005. Although the legislation primarily addresses national security and immigration issues, Section 102(c) of H.R. 418 also includes sweeping language allowing the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security to exempt itself from all federal, state and local environmental laws when constructing walls, fences, roads and other barriers along U.S. borders.
Applies To All U.S. Borders With Both Canada and Mexico, Nearly 7,500 Miles In All
Although Representative Sensenbrenner describes H.R. 418 as applying only to a border fencing project in San Diego1, section 102(c)1 would in reality waive laws in all areas not only along, but "in the vicinity of", U.S. international borders with both Mexico and Canada.2 Border construction has already done extensive environmental damage to many of these areas; the potential for increased damage would skyrocket if all environmental protections were waived.
Threatens Protected Public Lands, National Parks and Wilderness Areas
The exemptions would apply to all U.S. border areas with both Mexico and Canada, including border areas that run near or through national parks, forests and monuments, wildlife refuges, wilderness areas and other environmentally sensitive areas. Nearly half of the 1,950 mile U.S. Mexican border and roughly a quarter of the 5,500 mile U.S.-Canadian border lies within federal public lands. This includes more than 365 miles within the National Park system alone, running through such national treasures as Glacier, Voyageurs, Isla Royale, and Big Bend National Parks, and Organ Pipe Cactus and Grand Portage National Monuments.3 Many National Wildlife Refuges, including Cabeza Prieta, Buenos Aires and Lower Rio Grande, are also directly in the path of H.R. 418. The bill would allow the U.S. Border Patrol to build roads, walls, fences and other barriers within these critically important areas without having to consider or even disclose potential environmental impacts, let alone meet the requirements of federal laws intended to protect them.
Strips Protections for Endangered Wildlife
Many imperiled species depend upon borderland habitat for their continued existence. In Arizona alone, the Border Patrol estimates that 39 species protected or proposed to be protected under the Endangered Species Act are being affected by its operations.4 Many of this countrys most spectacular wildlife, including grizzly bears, jaguars, Sonoran pronghorn, wolves and woodland caribou, depend upon protected public lands along U.S. borderlands for migration corridors between countries. H.R. 418 would eliminate vital protections under the Endangered Species Act, National Forest Management Act and other laws intended to protect these species.
Provides Unprecedented Exemptions
H.R. 418 exempts the Department of Homeland Security from complying with all laws to which all other federal agencies are subject. The environmental and other laws targeted by this legislation have long been supported by the American people, and include measures essential to conserving air and water, and protecting the health of people who live in and around borderland communities. These statutes already provide the flexibility needed to balance environmental protection and national security by allowing exemptions on a case-by-case basis. The type of sweeping exemption proposed by this legislation is completely unnecessary and excessive, and sets a dangerous precedent by allowing a federal agency to operate outside the laws of this country.
Eliminates the Publics Right to Know
The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) gives Americans the right to know what their federal government is doing and the ability to democratically voice their opinion during the federal decision-making process. By exempting the Border Patrol from NEPA processes, H.R. 418 would eliminate the agencys responsibility to inform and involve communities in proposed construction projects along the border, as well as its duty to consider less harmful alternatives to its proposed action. This provision would allow the Department and the Border Patrol to ignore the likely impacts of their actions and afford them an unnecessary level of secrecy, potentially endangering the borderland communities most affected by these projects.
Eliminates the Federal Judiciary
In a direct affront to our nations most basic Constitutional principles of checks and balances and separation of powers, section 102(c)(2) of H.R. 418 would strip courts of all jurisdiction to hear claims arising under any law when waived by the Secretary of Homeland Security, regardless of any damage caused or threatened as a result of the road or construction project.
Ignore Proactive Solutions to Border Security at the Expense of Our Environment
There is no question that the environmental damage being caused by border enforcement activities and undocumented migration will continue to worsen in the absence of sincere efforts by the federal government and local agencies to address the overall problem of illegal immigration. We encourage lawmakers to address this aspect of the issue in a way that takes into account all key concerns, including security and law enforcement, human health and safety, and the need to protect the environment.
1 "Real ID Legislation Introduced in House." James Sensenbrenner Press Release, January 27, 2005. Available at:
2 See Congressional Research Service "Border Security: Fences Along the International Border." January 13, 2005.
3 "Border Security: Agencies Need to Better Coordinate Their Strategies and Operations on Federal Lands." GAO-04 590. June 2004.
4 Revised draft programmatic environmental impact statement for Office of USBP operation activities within the border areas of the Tucson and Yuma Sectors in Arizona at p. 3-15. December, 2004.