House Bill Would Lift Environmental Laws, Allow Wilderness Roads

Shutterstock_23541940_USBorderPhoto: Shutterstock/Amy Walters

Last month, the House of Representatives passed an omnibus bill that would exempt the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) from more than 10 important environmental laws, including the Wilderness Act, the National Environmental Policy Act and the Endangered Species Act.

The contentious legislation, dubbed the National Security and Federal Lands Protection Act, would essentially prevent the Departments of Agriculture and the Interior from enforcing environmental laws that might "impede, restrict or prohibit" the activities of the Border Patrol on federal land within 100 miles of the southern and northern U.S. borders.

The bill's backers say that the CBP is often hampered or slowed in its efforts to monitor and patrol federal borderlands, specifically along the southwestern border, because it must get clearance for many of those activities. Its opponents, which include high-ranking officials in both the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of the Interior, say the CBP doesn't need such an overarching policy change.

In an interview early this year, National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis told Outside that the NPS has cooperative relations with the border patrol and the Department of Homeland Security. "Now, obviously there are some areas of the border that are greater challenges than others, so I think a case by case and park by park approach is appropriate, and not one size fits all [approach]," he said.

Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano has even come out against the bill (formerly H.R. 1505) by calling it "unnecassary and bad policy."

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