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National Security Bill Questions for WYO

July 8, 2011

CASPER, Wyo. - A U.S. House committee today is to take up a bill that would expand the powers of the Department of Homeland Security by waiving compliance with 36 environmental laws, including the Clean Water Act, within a 100-mile buffer along borders and coastlines.

Lynn Scarlett, a former deputy Interior secretary under President George W. Bush, has reviewed the bill, H.R. 1505, and says she supports improving border security but thinks giving a single federal agency the authority to ignore laws and other federal, state and local agencies is a dangerous move.

Scarlett cites possible limits on hunting, fishing, recreation and grazing rights on border public lands and waters. She says she has other concerns as well.

"The danger is also that national security itself will suffer. There's wisdom in these agencies - law enforcement agencies, state agencies, federal agencies with boots on the ground. They have insights and knowledge that actually help us."

Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, introduced the bill, claiming federal and local laws and oversight have interfered with border security and that border areas are "overrun with criminal activity."

John Leshy, who was Department of the Interior solicitor general during the Clinton administration, makes the case that the law isn't needed and points to how it undermines bedrock environmental and land-management laws that also can reach onto private property.

"All of these environmental laws being waived are flexible. They can accommodate national security concerns. The land managers sit down with DHS and they can work these problems out. They are cooperating, they are collaborating."

Leshy outlines other concerns for all states.

"It would immunize DHS personnel from regulation and liability if their actions on federal lands polluted drinking-water supplies or destroyed prime elk-hunting habitat in Wyoming."

The text of H.R. 1505, the National Security and Federal Lands Protection Act, is online at thomas.loc.gov. A list of laws to be waived and a map of affected areas is at pewenvironment.org.

Deb Courson Smith, Public News Service - WY