A package of bills that would toss aside environmental laws and regulations protecting a number of national parks passed out of the U.S. House of Representatives on Tuesday, though its prospects in the Senate were unclear.
The package, if it managed to become law, would give the U.S. Border Patrol wide-ranging access to lands managed by the National Park Service, the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, and other federal lands that lie within 100 miles of an international border.
Parks that fall within that 100-mile swath include Big Bend, Isle Royale, Everglades, Biscayne, Dry Tortugas, Glacier, North Cascades, Voyageurs, Virgin Islands, Olympic, Redwoods, Channel Islands, and all the national seashores.
Environmental laws and regulations set aside by one piece of the package, H.R. 1505, include The Wilderness Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, the Endangered Species Act, the National Historic Preservation Act, the Antiquities Act, the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, the Federal Land Policy and Management Act, the National Wildlife Refuge System Administration Act, the Fish and Wildlife Act, the National Park Service Organic Act, and the National Parks and Recreation Act, among others.
"This is just one more example of the House attempting to push something through the Congress that is extreme and an overreach," David Moulton, senior legislative director for The Wilderness Society, told the Traveler on Tuesday evening. "I think we can beat it in the Senate, but we have to keep up the pressure.”
The House vote was 232-188. Sixteen Democrats voted for the bill, while 19 Republicans opposed it. Whether the Senate takes up the measure is unclear. Currently, there is no companion bill in the Senate, where rules could make it difficult to move a stand-alone bill. However, said Mr. Moulton, a senator could try to amend the package to a "must-pass bill," such as an appropriations measure or transportation bill.
The Wilderness Society official said if the measure somehow became law, it "would allow road building, construction and development on lands that are loved for hunting, fishing, hiking and other recreational activities. This vote was not in the best interest of the people who enjoy the land for its natural beauty.”
The main architect of H.R. 1505 was U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, who long has sought to free the U.S. Border Patrol from observing environmental laws in its bid to secure the country's borders.
"This legislation is the right thing for this country," the Republican said earlier Tuesday in a release. "At the end of the day, this matter is far too important to go unaddressed and shoring up these trafficking corridors will help close the gaps that are preventing us from having a truly secure border."
General Accounting Office reports, however, have struck down Rep. Bishop's contention that environmental regulations are hamstringing the Border Patrol.
Democrats on the House Natural Resources Committee have launched a website called DRONEZONE that allows Americans to look at national, state, and even Congressional district maps to see if they live or could potentially visit this expanded DHS patrol area.
“This is theater of the absurd,” said Rep. Raul Grijalva, the Ranking Member of the National Parks, Forests and Public Lands Subcommittee. “Republicans have wanted to gut these laws for decades, and each excuse seems to get a little flimsier. They’re not afraid to invent new reasons to get their way, and when those run out they just use the old ones again. The days of scaring everyone by shouting ‘national security’ are long over, and Republicans would do everyone a favor by admitting it.”