The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Randy Serraglio, Center for Biological Diversity, (520) 784-1504
Scott Nicol, Sierra Club Borderlands Team, (956) 532-5983
Jenny Neeley, Sky Island Alliance, (520) 624-7080 x 13
Matt Clark, Defenders of Wildlife, (520) 623-9653
Mike Quigley, The Wilderness Society, (520) 334-8741
Nathan Newcomer, New Mexico Wilderness Alliance, (505) 843-8696
Matt Skroch, Arizona Wilderness Coalition, (520) 247-1754

Congressional Proposals Aim to Eviscerate Environmental Laws Along U.S. Borders, Coasts

Under Guise of Border Security, Bills Would Eliminate Measures Protecting Air, Water, Endangered Species


Two bills pending in Congress would eliminate environmental laws along U.S. borderlands -- including those that protect endangered species and safeguard clean air and water -- under the guise of improving border security. The "National Security and Federal Lands Protection Act" (H.R. 1505), introduced by Utah Rep. Rob Bishop, would permanently exempt border-enforcement activities from 31 environmental and cultural resource laws within 100 miles of all U.S. borders and coasts.

The "Border Security Enforcement Act of 2011" (S. 803), introduced by Arizona Sens. John McCain and Jon Kyl, would effectively give the Department of Homeland Security veto power over environmental protections on public lands within 150 miles of the southwestern border. Land managers in the border region would be prevented from acting to protect the resources they manage if their actions were perceived to conflict with Department of Homeland Security activities.

"These bedrock environmental laws were put in place for a reason: to protect the air we breathe, the water we drink and the natural resources and wildlife we value," said Randy Serraglio, a conservation advocate with the Center for Biological Diversity. "It makes no sense to turn our back on these laws to satisfy the narrow agenda of a few politicians looking to score points with their most extreme constituents."

The authority included in these bills has not been requested. In fact, it has been deemed unnecessary by border-enforcement agencies. During an April 15 congressional hearing on border security, U.S. Border Patrol Deputy Chief Ronald Vitiello testified that his agency "enjoys a close working relationship" with public lands agencies that "allows it to fulfill its border enforcement responsibilities." Vitiello said his agency "is fully committed to continuing our cooperative relationships with the Department of the Interior and the Department of Agriculture."

"These bills have been introduced solely to satisfy the radical whims of a small minority of anti-environment extremists in Congress," said Jenny Neeley, conservation policy director for Sky Island Alliance. "These proposals threaten the entire Sky Islands region we work to protect by establishing a dangerous legal precedent of permanently erasing environmental and cultural resource protections across huge swaths of the United States."

Barrier and road construction, off-road driving, stadium lighting and other border-enforcement activities already threaten parks, refuges and other protected areas as well as many species in the border region, including endangered jaguars and ocelots in Arizona, New Mexico and Texas.

"Too much damage has been done to our borderlands already," said Scott Nicol, Sierra Club Borderlands Team co-chair. "From massive blasting and erosion in California wilderness areas to devastating floods in Arizona and fragmented habitat for endangered species in Texas, the implementation of border enforcement with callous disregard for our nation's environmental laws has caused one disaster after another."

"Protections for endangered wildlife, water and clean air are not standing in the way of border security," said Matt Clark with Defenders of Wildlife in Tucson. "All Congress has to do is look at the facts: Apprehensions of immigrants illegally crossing the border have fallen by two-thirds over the past decade. Border Patrol and land-management agencies have been effectively working together, and it's clear that it takes teamwork to secure the border and protect the environment."

"These efforts to discard the rule of law rest on the false premise that we can have border security or we can have functioning borderlands ecosystems, but not both. That's wrong. We can -- and we should -- have both," said Mike Quigley, Arizona representative of The Wilderness Society.

"Protected areas such as wilderness and national parks along our borders provide us with essential environmental services, premier recreation opportunities and important habitat for our wildlife heritage," said Matt Skroch, executive director of the Arizona Wilderness Coalition. "These shortsighted efforts to waive laws are penny wise and pound foolish. Border enforcement and natural resource management are not and should not be mutually exclusive."