April 2012 Update: H.R. 1505 has been passed out of the House Natural Resources Committee, as well as the House Agriculture and Homeland Security Committees. This dangerous bill is set to be voted on by the full House of Representatives at any time. The bill is opposed by conservation groups, the Department of the Interior and the Department of Agriculture, outdoor recreation groups, and the Department of Homeland Security and poses an enormous risk to lands near the Canadian and Mexican borders.
Far from “protecting” federal lands, H.R. 1505, “National Security and Federal Lands Protection Act,” sponsored by Reps. Rob Bishop (R-UT), Peter King (R-NY), and 49 other Republicans, hands over “operational control” to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) of all federal lands, including National Parks, National Wildlife Refuges, National Forests, and BLM lands that lie within 100 miles of the Mexican and Canadian borders. In addition, the bill exempts the DHS from having to comply with dozens of environmental, public land management, and religious freedom statutes.
Under this bill, some of our nation’s most iconic places – such as North Cascades National Park, Big Bend National Park, Allegheny National Forest, Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, and Glacier National Park – could be at risk. The Seattle Times rightly notes, “If the legislation is approved, the Border Patrol would not have to comply with the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Air Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Solid Waste Disposal Act and 32 other federal laws in such popular places as Olympic National Park, Glacier National Park, the Great Lakes and the Boundary Waters Wilderness Area.” The Obama administration and the DHS have strongly opposed the bill on the grounds that the federal agencies involved, the Departments of Interior, Agriculture and Homeland Security, already partner together and work closely to make sure that the Border Patrol has appropriate access to public lands to maintain the security of our borders. This bill would try to solve a problem that does not exist by destroying decades worth of environmental protection and public health laws – all in the name of “national security.”