Cape Cod Day
July 14, 2011
by Kaimi Rose Lum
PROVINCETOWN — A bill proposing to give the Dept. of Homeland Security ultimate control over federal lands located along maritime and international borders, including Cape Cod National Seashore, is making its rounds in the U.S. House of Representatives.
HR Bill 1505, the “National Security and Federal Lands Protection Act,” would force the Secretary of the Interior to cede authority of coastal public lands, as well as lands located along the borders of Canada and Mexico, to the Secretary of Homeland Security when the latter sees fit. It would give the Dept. of Homeland Security the ability to construct roads and fences, deploy patrol vehicles and set up “monitoring equipment” in the National Seashore with impunity. And it would waive the need for the Dept. of Homeland Security to comply with environmental laws in areas within 100 miles of a coastline or international border.
The laws from which the Dept. of Homeland Security would be exempt include the National Environmental Policy Act, the Endangered Species Act, the National Historic Preservation Act, the Clean Air Act, the Coastal Zone Management Act, the Federal Water Pollution Control Act, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act and virtually every other piece of environmental legislation passed by Congress.
Rep. Rob Bishop, a Republican from Utah, introduced the bill in April. It was referred to the House committees on Natural Resources, Agriculture and Homeland Security, and on Friday, July 8, had its first hearing before the subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands, of which Bishop is chair.
Although it’s in its early phases, the proposed law has already met with strong criticism from Lynn Scarlett, a former deputy Interior secretary under President George W. Bush. And a spokesperson for Congressman William Keating (10th District) said Tuesday that the bill was in need of further clarification.
“While HR 1505 is just starting to be reviewed by the appropriate committees and as such, is subject to extensive modification, Congressman Keating believes the legislation in its current form needs to be clarified so as to appropriately assess the border security risk levels of various locations throughout the country and balance our national security against other vital protections, such as environmental safeguards, which should not be discarded haphazardly,” said Lauren Amendolaro, communications director for Keating.
Keating currently sits on the House committee on Homeland Security.
The Pew Environment Group has condemned the bill, calling it a “sweeping waiver of the nation’s bedrock environmental and land management laws” that has little to do with accomplishing the goal of national security.
“Instead, the proposed legislation would give unprecedented authority to a single federal agency to destroy wildlife habitat and wetlands, impair downstream water quality and restrict activities such as hunting, fishing and grazing. It would leave Congress and the public without a voice, even though at stake are hundreds of popular destinations,” including Glacier National Park, the Great Lakes, the California coastline and Cape Cod, said Jane Danowitz, director of U.S. public lands for the Pew Environment Group.
Areas in which environmental laws would be waived under the proposed law include the entire border of Alaska, most of Puerto Rico, all of Hawaii and all of Florida. Other national parks that be would affected include Olympic National Park and Mt. Rainer National Park in Washington, Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico, Big Bend National Park in Texas, Acadia National Park in Maine and Cape Hatteras National Seashore in North Carolina.
The text of the bill states that its purpose is to “prohibit the Secretaries of the Interior and Agriculture from taking action on public lands which impede border security on such lands, and for other purposes.”