HOUSE PASSES BILL THAT WOULD WIPE OUT ALL PROTECTIONS ON FEDERAL FORESTS AND RECREATIONAL LANDS OUR REGION

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Bill also jeopardizes national parks along U.S.-Mexico and Canadian borders;

2 local Congressmen vote to kill environmental protections for all federal lands within 100 miles of borders--encompassing vast swaths in San Diego

 
By Miriam Raftery 
 
June 19, 2012 (Washington D.C) - The U.S. House of Representatives has passed legislation that would give the Department of Homeland Security the power to override dozens of environmental laws on all federal lands that lie within 100 miles of the Mexican and Canadian borders--even though Homeland Security opposes the bill.
 
That would encompass virtually all federal lands in San Diego County, wiping out protections not only for Bureau of Land Management, Cleveland National Forest and military properties throughout San Diego County.
 
Proponents say the legislation is needed for border security. Opponents say it would undermine the most basic protections for dozens of national parks and forests, including California's Joshua Tree National Park and Cleveland National Forest. 

Kristen Brengel, Director of Legislative and Government Affairs with the National Parks Conservation Association, says the measure is an overreach.

"The problem is giving a federal agency carte blanche to do whatever they want on federal public lands. And this is absurd in a way because this is an agency that hasn't even requested this authority."

Brengel says the legislation could potentially damage historic sites and other protected areas such as Joshua Tree National Park, which borders Mexico.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano has called the legislation "unnecessary and bad policy." Further, the Government Accountability Office concluded that federal land management and law enforcement agencies were working well together to protect both U.S. borders and public lands.

During consideration of H.R. 2578, the Conservation and Economic Growth Act, Congressman Bob Filner (D-San Diego) spoke in opposition to the provision that would exempt the Department of Homeland Security from dozens of environmental, land use planning, and land management laws on public lands within 100 miles from the US border.

Among San Diego's Congressional delegation, Republicans Duncan Hunter and Brian Bilbray voted for the bill, while Democrats Susan Davis and Bob Filner voted no.  Republican Darrell Issa did not vote.

“This is a ridiculous provision that removes the protection of laws aimed at improving public health, providing clean drinking water and clean air and puts our border communities at risk-simply because these communities are within 100 miles of the border,” said Filner, whose 51st Congressional district runs the length of the border in San Diego and Imperial Counties.

He noted that the provision has not been endorsed by the Department of Homeland Security. In fact, U.S. Customs and Border Protection testimony submitted for the July 8, 2011, subcommittee hearing on this bill, stated, “CBP enjoys a close working relationship with the Department of Interior (DOI) and Department of Agriculture (USDA) that allows us to fulfill our border enforcement responsibilities while respecting and enhancing the environment.”

The provision was the text of H.R. 1505, which was introduced by Congressman Rob Bishop of Utah.  

Congresswoman Susan Davis (D-San Diego) also opposed the legislative attempt by Republicans, who control the House, to systematically dismantle a number of environmental protections. The ironically titled Conservation and Economic Growth Act is an unnecessary solution looking for a non-existent problem, she suggested.

“It is disappointing that Congress is not focused on what should be our top priority and that is creating jobs,” said Davis.  “I fail to see how this bill creates middle class prosperity. It simply eliminates a series ofenvironmental protections while claiming that such an act will create economic growth.”

Davis’ office describe the “bill” as a package of 14 bills - including the contentious provision to create a 100-mile zone along the northern and southern land borders of the U.S. to be under the control of the Department of Homeland Security and waives numerous key environmental protections within this zone.  These provisions are strongly opposed by numerous environmental, conservation, Latino, tribal, hunting, and fishing groups.

Under sworn testimony, the Border Patrol asserted that current environmental laws do not hinder their efforts on border security.

Protected under Marine Mammal Protection Act, sea lions that are feeding on salmon in the Columbia River would be exposed to hunting under the bill. Under the bill, up to 85 sea lions could be slaughtered each year.

The misleadingly titled Conservation and Economic Growth Act passed the House on a vote of 232-188, but may face tougher times in the Senate.

President Barack Obama has voiced opposition to the bill.

More information is at npca.org . For information on this bill and several others that also threaten national parks with development, see http://www.marketwatch.com/story/nps-retirees-54-national-park-areas-jeopardized-under-bogus-national-security-bill-advancing-in-us-house-2012-04-18.