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Thursday July 14, 2011 | 08:30 AM

A proposal by a conservative Republican House member from Utah to waive environmental laws within 100 miles of an international border or shoreline would cover the entire state of Maine and gut clean air and water protections, says Rep. Chellie Pingree.

Pingree, D-1st, is reacting in a release to a bill introduced by Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, that remains in the subcommittee chaired by Bishop, the House Committee on Natural Resources’ National Parks, Forests and Public Lands Subcommittee. There was a hearing on the measure July 8, when a group of Democrats and environmentalists slammed the measure, but it has not been sent to the full committee yet.

Still, Pingree warns that, “If this law goes through, basically the entire state of Maine has no protection from letting the agency do whatever it wants to on our lands, air, and water. I just don’t see how protecting endangered species and clean water stands in the way of national security.”  

The bill also has been criticized by environmental advocacy groups such as the Sierra Club and Pew Environment Group. Advocates and Democrats who oppose the bill note that it would waive some three dozen environmental laws affecting some two-thirds of Americans.

Bishop has said the Department of Homeland Security’s efforts to catch illegal immigrants, narcotics traffickers and terrorists trying to come over the border is hampered by environmental restrictions. Democrats charge that Bishop is using national security as cover to gut environmental laws.

Bishop has cited support from organizations such as the National Association of Former Border Patrol Officers and the National Cattleman’s Beef Association.

“The land is being harmed and our national security is threatened, and the status quo will remain until we give the Border Patrol the access they need to do their jobs,” Bishop said earlier this month.

Jane Danowitz of the Pew Environment Group says that,  “While we strongly support making America’s borders more secure, this sweeping waiver of the nation’s bedrock environmental and land management laws has little to do with accomplishing that goal.

“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," Danowitz said earlier this month just before Bishop's hearing. "It would leave Congress and the public without a voice, even though at stake are hundreds of popular destinations including Glacier National Park, the Florida Everglades and beaches along Cape Cod, the Great Lakes and the California coastline."

If Bishop’s bill, which was first introduced in April, advances through the House, it would presumably face an uphill struggle in the Democratic-controlled Senate.

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Kevin Miller is Washington bureau chief for the Portland Press Herald and MaineToday Media. He has worked as a journalist in Maine for 6 ½ years, covering the environment, politics and the State House. Before arriving in Maine, he wrote about politics, government and education for newspapers in Virginia and Maryland.
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