Homeland Security Plans to Void Homeland’s Environmental Laws

February 10th, 2005 - by admin

Natural Resources Defense Center – 2005-02-10 08:10:50


Urgent Alert —
Proposed Environmental Waiver Borders on Irresponsible

NRDC’s EarthAction
The Bulletin for Environmental Activists

(February 9, 2005) — House vote scheduled for February 10! Tell your representative not to let the Department of Homeland Security disregard health, safety and environmental laws.

Today, February 10th, the House of Representatives will vote on a bill that would grant the Department of Homeland Security sweeping new authority to waive all federal and state laws — including those that protect public health, worker safety and the environment — for the construction of roads, walls, fences and other barriers along US borders.

Under this sweeping waiver, the DHS would be free to undertake large construction projects without oversight, accountability, or legal constraints anywhere along our borders — from the densely populated border communities in California, Texas and Washington, to the remote wilderness of Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge in Arizona, to the pristine islands and waters of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area in northern Minnesota.

Federal and state laws that protect citizens from criminal activities and negligent business practices, as well as those that ensure civil rights, public health and safety and environmental protections, could be disregarded. Long-standing laws like the Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act and Safe Drinking Water Act could be ignored, putting communities at risk for increased pollution.

Additionally, our border areas contain an enormous amount of protected federal lands, including national parks, wildlife refuges, forests and wilderness areas, that could be subject to this provision.

Border security can be ensured while shielding the public and the environment from harm and, indeed, the DHS has not demonstrated a need to waive any laws. In fact, not a single congressional hearing has illustrated a need for these broad exemptions. Never before has any federal agency been provided with such a breadth of unjustified exemptions from our laws.

Action to Take
Send a message urging your representative to oppose any attempts to allow the Department of Homeland Security to waive environmental, health and safety laws.

Email or fax your representative directly from NRDC’s Earth Action Center or call your representative via the Capitol switchboard number at: 202-224-3121 (or toll-free at 800-839-5276).

The Natural Resources Defense Council is a nonprofit environmental organization with more than 550,000 members nationwide and a staff of scientists, attorneys and environmental experts. Our mission is to protect the planet’s wildlife and wild places and ensure a safe and healthy environment for all living things. Natural Resources Defense Council 40 West 20th Street New York, NY 10011 212-727-4511 (voice) / 212-727-1773 (fax) Email: nrdcaction@nrdc.org http://www.nrdc.org

• Also visit: BioGems — Saving Endangered Wild Places A project of the Natural Resources Defense Council http://www.savebiogems.org

• Bryn Jones Desert Program Director California Wilderness Coalition 4065 Mission Inn Ave Riverside, CA 92501 www.calwild.org (951) 781-1336 bjones@calwild.org

Environmental Impacts of Sensenbrenner’s Immigration Bill (H.R. 418)

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 the agency itself from all federal, state and local environmental laws when constructing walls, fences, roads and other barriers along U.S. borders.

Applies To All Of US Borders With Both Canadaian, and Mexican Borderso, Approximately 7,500 Miles In All Vast and Vaguely Defined Areas ëIn The Vicinity Ofí Both International Borders

Although Representative Sensenbrenner describes H.R. 418 as applying only to a border fencing project in San Diego , section 102(c)(1) would in reality likely waive laws in all areas not only along, but ìin the vicinity ofî, U.S. international borders with both Mexico and Canada. 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.

Eliminates the Federal Judiciary
In a direct affront to our nationís 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.

Threatens Protected Public Lands, National Parks and Wilderness Areas
The exemptions would apply to all U.S. border areas with both Mexicano 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.

In fact, nearly half of the 1,900 miles along the U.S.-Mexico border are federal public lands, while the figure is approximately 25% for the U.S.-Canadian border. This includes Mmore than 365 miles of U.S. borderlands alone are within the National Park system ,alone, running through such national treasures as including North Cascades, Glacier, Voyageurs, Isla Royale, and Big Bend National Parks, and Organ Pipe Cactus and Grand Portage National Monuments. Many National Wildlife Refuges, including Cabeza Prieta, Buenos Aires and Lower Rio Grande, are also directly in the path of along U.S. borders. H.R. 418.

The bill would allow the U.S. Border Patrol , the Department of Homeland Security agency primarily responsible for border enforcement, to build roads, walls, fences and other ìbarriersî within these critically important areas without having to even 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. Many of this countryís 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, 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 those that conserve the air and water, and protecting the health of people who live in and around borderland communities. These statutes now under fire already provide the flexibility needed to balance environmental protection and Nnational Ssecurity 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.

A Solution in Search of a Problem
Under the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996, the Attorney General was given authority to waive provisions of the Endangered Species Act and National Environmental Policy Act in order to expedite construction of border projects. The Attorney General has never utilized this authorityówhich can be invoked for any reason, including national security. As of 2001, the Border Patrol and other agencies have constructed more than 75 miles of fencing and other barriers along U.S. borders without the need of legal exemptions.

Eliminates the Publicís Right to Know
The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) gives provides Americans with the right to know what their federal government is doing and the ability to democratically voice their opinion during the federal decisionmakingdecision-making process. By exempting the Border Patrol from NEPA processes, H.R. 418 would eliminate the agencyís 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 projects and afford them would grant them an unnecessary level of secrecy, potentially endangering the borderland communities most affected by these projects. who would be kept in the dark about projects that impact their neighborhoods.

Eliminates the Federal Judiciary
In a direct affront to our nationís 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 a 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.