Policy Update Oct 19, 2023

Position on H.R. 1727 and Ensuring Border Access and Protection on Federal Land Act Discussion Draft

NPCA submitted the following positions to members of the House Committee on Natural Resources Subcommittee on Federal Lands ahead of a hearing scheduled for October 19, 2023.

H.R. 1727 – Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park Commission Extension Act: NPCA **supports **this bill to amend the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Development Act to extend the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park Commission. For more than 40 years, the C&O Canal National Historical Park Advisory Commission has served as a connector between the National Park Service and the many communities that surround the park. C&O Canal National Historical Park is unique because it includes a historic towpath, heavily used for recreation, that extends 184.5 miles through the District of Columbia, Maryland and West Virginia. The Advisory Commission plays an important role in engaging states and local municipalities in operations, maintenance and restoration efforts. Extending the Commission for an additional 10 years is critical as visitation continues to increase—which now exceeds 5 million hikers, campers, bicyclists and history enthusiasts annually.

H.R. ____ (Rep. Westerman) - Ensuring Border Access and Protection on Federal Land Act: The majority of what this discussion draft seeks to accomplish is already present along the border region. Over 800 miles of border wall and fencing stretch along the U.S.-Mexico border, including along the entirety of public lands like Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. Additional infrastructure accompanies these barriers, including roads, lights, towers and other facilities. Should the Department of Homeland Security need to build additional roads, they have the authority to do so, as evidenced by the current open comment period for the Holden Canyon Road Connector Project proposed by Customs and Border Protection and the U.S. Forest Service.

A 2006 Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) among the Departments of Homeland Security, Agriculture and the Interior outlines the expectations between the national security agencies and the land management agencies in the border regions. While the MOU emphasizes a cooperative spirit and outlines the need to protect natural and cultural resources, it makes clear that national security needs take primacy. And within the sixty-foot Roosevelt Reservation directly along the U.S.-Mexico border, where much of the border infrastructure including barriers and roads are located, federal land managers have no oversight or control. Border Patrol can restrict or allow access to that area as they deem appropriate.

NPCA does appreciate the inclusion of language calling for compliance with NEPA and other applicable laws. As the committee is aware, border infrastructure construction has proceeded under the waiver authority authorized through the Real ID Act of 2005. This has led to border wall construction moving ahead with no consideration of the consequences to environmental or cultural resources and no planning for potential mitigation efforts post-construction. Given the interest expressed through this draft bill in returning the rule of law to the border region, we look forward to working with committee members to urge the current administration to revoke all existing waivers and to pass legislation to remove the Real ID Act waiver authority.