Policy Update Jan 27, 2015

Position on H.R. 399, the Secure Our Borders First Act

NPCA, along with partner organizations, submitted the following position on H.R. 399, the Secure Our Borders First Act, to the House of Representatives in January 2015.

On behalf of the millions of Americans represented by our organizations, we write to strongly oppose H.R. 399, the “Secure Our Borders First Act of 2015,” in particular Section 3, “Operational Control of the Border,” and Section 13, “Prohibition on Actions that Impede Border Security on Certain Federal Land.” Under the guise of enhancing border security, Section 3 would further militarize natural areas and communities already glutted with border walls, roads and towers; Section 13 would undermine fundamental environmental and conservation laws and would allow further damage to the fragile border environment and the people and communities dependent upon it.

Section 3 calls for the completion of 700 miles of double-layered fencing along the Southwest border previously authorized by the Secure Fence Act even though reports by the Government Accountability Office and other organizations have found no evidence that the 650 miles of barriers already constructed have made a significant contribution to border security. Moreover, the existing fencing, built at a cost of millions of dollars per mile, has caused or exacerbated disastrous flood events in border communities, has fragmented wildlife habitat, and has caused harm to numerous imperiled species. Section 3 also requires additional construction and maintenance of roads in specific locations that would degrade wildlife habitat, air, and water in and adjacent to important natural areas such as Big Bend National Park in Texas.

Section 13 would give unilateral authority to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to build forward operating bases, construct roads, fences, patrol by vehicle and aircraft and more on Federal public and tribal lands within 100 miles of the U.S. borders with both Canada and Mexico. Section 13 also would waive sixteen environmental, historic preservation and conservation laws on Federal public and tribal lands within that 100 mile zone including the National Environmental Policy Act, the Endangered Species Act, the Wilderness Act, the National Historic Preservation Act, the Antiquities Act, the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act and the National Park Service Organic Act. This 100-mile exemption is an extreme overreach covering huge swaths of the American landscape encompassing millions of acres of national parks, monuments, wildlife refuges, wilderness areas, forests and Indian reservations including iconic places such as Joshua Tree National Park, North Cascades National Park, Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, Glacier National Park, the Boundary Waters Wilderness, White Mountain National Forest, Glacier Bay National Park, and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

DHS and its agencies already have unprecedented authority to operate on public lands, including national parks, national monuments, national wildlife refuges and other public lands. In many cases, their actions fall under what the Congressional Research Service has characterized as the largest waiver of law in American history. There is simply no law that prevents, impedes or prohibits the Border Patrol from taking actions needed to fulfill its mission. That is why both DHS and Customs and Border Protection have repeatedly testified that waivers of this type are unnecessary. Indeed, the hasty construction of the existing border wall, without benefit of environmental review, as referenced above, has contributed to several incidents of the wall being knocked down by flood waters as well as other environmental problems.

Sections 3 and 13 would only harm special places, wildlife, and communities along the border while contributing nothing to increase border security.

Read more from NPCA