Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Rodriguez files bill to address ecological impacts of border wall

Rio Grande Guardian
September 22, 2009
by Steve Taylor

WESLACO, Sept. 22 - U.S. Congressman Ciro Rodriguez has filed legislation to identify and address the ecological impacts of fencing along the border.

The Healthy Borderlands Act of 2009 requires the Department of Homeland Security Secretary to develop a mitigation plan to begin to address ecological impacts of border fencing.

The move has been welcomed by No Border Wall, but the environmental pressure group said more needs to be done.

“Our borderlands are rich in natural and cultural resources, but they also can be places for illegal activity,” said Rodriguez, D-San Antonio, in a news release issued Tuesday. “This bill is the next logical step in protecting the ecological integrity of our borders while also pursuing the measures necessary to secure our borders and defend our communities.”

Rodriguez represents a larger portion of the U.S.-Mexico border region than any other member of Congress. His district runs from El Paso to Eagle Pass.

Rodriguez pointed out that as things currently stand DHS has no program to continuously monitor and mitigate environmental impacts. He said that as a member of the House Appropriations Committee he worked to provide $50 million in fiscal year 2009 to mitigate environmental impacts.

While DHS has agreed to work with the Department of Interior on environmental impacts, it has not initiated a plan to utilize these funds, Rodriguez said. An additional $40 million was approved in the House for fiscal year 2010. In order to ensure these funds go toward fixing and preventing environmental damage caused by border security efforts, a long-term program must be in place, he said.

Rodriguez said the mitigation plan will be science-based, incorporate extensive monitoring protocol and be developed in conjunction with state and tribal wildlife agencies and authorities.
Robert L. Bendick, director of U.S. Government Relations for The Nature Conservancy, applauded the filing of the bill.

“This Act will establish a comprehensive, science-based and collaborative approach to ensuring that the ecological impacts of border security measures along our international borders will be comprehensively monitored and that action will be taken to mitigate any such ecological impacts,” Bendick said. “We believe the Act should be supported on a broad, bipartisan basis and look forward to its speedy enactment.”

Rodriguez said the bill specifically authorizes DHS funding to be spent on private, state, tribal or federal lands for the purpose of mitigation and allows for those funds to be transferred to other federal agencies as needed.

Scott Nicol, a co-founder of the No Border Wall Coalition, said it was “great to see” that Rodriguez in continuing to support border communities, both human and ecological.

“As a result of former DHS Secretary Chertoff's Real ID Act waiver, which brushed aside federal laws including the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Water Act, and the National Environmental Policy Act, tremendous environmental damage that would normally be illegal has been done to our borderlands,” Nicol said. “Representative Rodriguez' bill, if passed, will mark a first step towards mitigating some small portion of that damage.” Nicol said it is important to recognize the fact that the extinction of species is permanent. It is impossible to mitigate the loss of the ocelot or Sonoran pronghorn, for example.

“The boulders blasted from the slopes of mountains in the Otay Mountain Wilderness Area that now clog the Tijuana River can not be put back in place,” Nicol said. “We should do what we can to lessen the border wall's impacts, but we must be aware that no amount of money will restore the borderlands to their pre-wall state.” Nicol said No Border Wall supports the Healthy Borderlands Act of 2009. However, he said stopping Congress from including a key amendment by U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint, R-South Carolina, in the DHS appropriations bill is even more important. The amendment calls for hundreds of miles of new border walls. “So long as section 102 of the Real ID Act allows for the waiving of all laws - not just those that relate to the environment - border wall construction will be able to proceed no matter how devastating the cost,” Nicol said.

“Some in Congress still seem to be wedded to the border wall's symbolism, despite the Government Accounting Office report released this week that found no evidence that the wall has any impact at all.”

As an example, Nicol cited an amendment to the Department of the Interior's appropriations bill introduced just this week by U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Oklahoma. The provision would amend H.R. 2996 to prohibit the use of funds to “impede, prohibit, or restrict activities of the Secretary of Homeland Security to achieve operational control over the international land and maritime borders of the United States.”

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