Another Attack on Public Lands and Environmental Laws

Here's another example of how House Republicans are working to undermine not only the environmental integrity of public lands but the most basic environmental laws we've got. Yesterday, during a series of votes on the homeland security appropriations bill, the House approved an amendment, sponsored by Rep. Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.), that took away DHS' ability to work with the Interior Department on cleaning up the damage that border patrol activity inflict.

The amendment keeps DHS from transferring any funds to Interior for mitigating the Border Patrol's environmental impacts. On the floor, Republicans argued that money awarded to DHS should stay in DHS.

But Lummis' statement on the amendment and a "dear colleague" letter circulated by House committee chairmen Rep. Doc Hastings (R-WA) and Rep. Peter King (R-NY) show what the amendment is really about: scorn for the value of the environment and the laws that protect it. These statements argue that Interior's silly environmental concerns are keeping the Border Patrol from doing its job, even though the GAO report they cite as evidence found that "22 of the 26 agents-in-charge reported that the overall security status of their jurisdiction is not affected by land management laws." The laws that Interior's following here aren't obscure statutes: they're foundational laws like the Endangered Species Act and the National Environmental Policy Act.

These laws have already been dramatically rolled back in favor of border security concerns: DHS was making the payments that the Lummis amendment blocks to mitigate the harm caused by building hundreds of miles of fencing on the southwestern border. This project is already exempt from the Endangered Species Act and from NEPA. The Secretary of Homeland Security, in fact, has the authority to bypass any legal requirements she wants if it'll speed up fence construction.