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Monday, August 8, 2011

More Threats on the Way to Public Lands

The latest – and thus far the most extreme – in a string of recent attacks on public lands, H.R. 1505, or “the National Security and Federal Lands Protection Act,” was recently introduced by Rep. Rob Bishop (R-UT). This bill would give Department of Homeland Security (DHS) rights to override 36 key environmental and other laws for all areas within 100 miles of United States borders and coasts. This is an extremely large amount of U.S. land(in fact – the size of Wyoming!) to be placed in the control of one government department. The proposed area completely encompasses 10 entire states, including Florida, New Hampshire, Maine, and Hawaii.

Bishop’s bill would have an enormous impact on Washington State as well. The proposed 100 mile coast and border radius covers nearly all of Washington’s wild lands, including North Cascades National Park, Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, Olympic National Park, Mt. St Helens National Monument, and Alpine Lakes Wilderness, – essentially, every one except for the Umatilla National Forest, in the southeastern corner of the state. Just a few of the environmental laws the Department of Homeland Security would be free to override include: the National Environmental Policy Act, Endangered Species Act, Clean Air Act, Safe Drinking Water Act, Wilderness Act, Federal Land Policy and Management Act, National Park Service Organic Act, Migratory Bird Treaty Act, and the Coastal Zone Management Act.

The overarching purpose of the bill, according to Bishop, is to increase national security protections on our nation’s borders. While the security of U.S. borders is important, it should not require the sacrifice of environmental protections. This new bill would give the DHS a free pass to control and alter the areas as they see fit, without any environmental studies of potential impacts or limitations on roads or other developments.

Jane Danowitz, Pew Environment Group’s director of U.S. public lands, calls H.R. 1505 a “sweeping waiver of the nation’s bedrock environmental and land management laws,” which “has little to do with accomplishing [the] goal” of border security. According to Danowitz, H.R. 1505 would “leave Congress and the public without a voice” and remove “fundamental environmental protections that have been on the books for decades.” Read the rest of Danowitz’s statement here.

The Department of Homeland Security is a department of the federal government, created to protect the territory of the United States along its borders. Specifically, the DHS monitors immigration enforcement, customs, and border protection. The environmental protections threatened under this bill were set in place to protect U.S. lands, waters, and wildlife, and the DHS should be able to work with these protections to maintain the goal of a safe, clean, and beautiful nation.

Read more about other current threats to Washington’s public lands here.

Terra Miller-Cassman is WWC’s summer conservation outreach intern and blog writer. She recently completed her first year of UW’s environmental studies. For questions, contact Terra at terra@wawild.org.

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