By Jessica Goad, manager of research and outreach, Public Lands Project, Center for American Progress Action Fund.
Forty Republicans in the House of Representatives are promoting a bill that would allow the secretary of homeland security to permanently waive all or part of 36 laws on both public and private lands within 100 miles of any U.S. border or coast. Some of the laws waived by H.R. 1505, the “National Security and Federal Lands Protection Act,” are strictly public health laws, like the Clean Air Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, and the Superfund law. Others are environmental, such as the National Environmental Policy Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Endangered Species Act. Two-thirds of the American population lives in the areas covered by this bill, because most major cities are along the borders and coasts.
Further, H.R. 1505 could give the Department of Homeland Security complete authority over public lands across the entire United States. It would allow DHS to undertake any activities on public lands the secretary deems necessary for border security, such as building fences and roads, installing monitoring equipment, and instigating closures—all without any opportunity for public comment or judicial review.
During a press conference earlier this morning before a hearing on the bill, Representatives Ed Markey (D-MA), Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), and John Garamendi (D-CA) spoke to the overreach of this bill:
This bill waives the Clean Water Act. We will not keep undocumented workers out of the country by letting pollution into our drinking water. The bill waives the Clean Air Act. We will not keep illegal drugs out of our country by letting smog into the lungs of children and the elderly in our country. The bill waives the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act. We will not honor our national sovereignty by trampling the sovereign rights of native people to protect the grave sites of their ancestors. The bottom line is, we will not prevent illegal entry into this country by degrading the quality of life for nearly two-thirds of the people who already live here.
It’s unclear what exactly this bill would mean on the ground, because so much is left to the discretion of the secretary of homeland security. But it is almost certain that recreation activities on public lands—hunting, fishing, hiking, off-road vehicle use, beach access—etc. could be cut off without any notice on the whim of one agency. Many favorite places on public lands could be closed, like the Superior National Forest, Glacier National Park, and Cape Cod National Seashore.
Perhaps most astoundingly is that the Administrative Procedures Act could be rolled back for lands within the 100-mile zone. This act governs every administrative agency in our country, keeps agencies from enacting regulations that are arbitrary and capricious, and also allows for judicial review of regulations. Without this act in place, our country’s checks and balances system would be extremely compromised.
Real solutions to border security are complex and varied, but certainly mean ensuring a strong budget for security and border patrol. Republicans cut the budget for the Department of Homeland Security by 6.8 percent in their H.R. 1 spending bill, including a drastic 65 percent cut below the president’s request for state and local homeland security grant programs which fund disaster assistance, major emergencies, and first responders to terrorist attacks. Instead of funding these programs, conservative lawmakers in the House have offered a bill that Garamendi called “the epitome of stupidity” and former Solicitor (General Counsel) of the U.S. Department of the Interior John Leshy called “the most breathtakingly extreme legislative proposal of its kind I have ever seen.”