WASHINGTON — House Republicans want to give the U.S. Border Patrol unprecedented authority to ignore 36 environmental laws on federal land in a 100-mile zone along the Canadian and Mexican borders.

If the legislation is approved, the Border Patrol would not have to comply with the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Air Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Solid Waste Disposal Act and 32 other federal laws in such popular places as Olympic National Park, Glacier Park, the Great Lakes and the Boundary Waters Wilderness Area.

Under the GOP plan, the Border Patrol would have free rein to do such things as build roads and offices, put up fences, set up surveillance equipment and sensors, and use aircraft and vehicles to patrol in all national parks, forests and federal land in the zone.

Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, said the Border Patrol “has become encumbered with layers of environmental regulations,” making it difficult to deal with drug smugglers, human traffickers and other criminals who are targeting public lands along the U.S. borders.

The committee passed the plan on a 26-17 party-line vote this month.

A vote by the full House is expected soon, though no date has been set, and similar legislation has been introduced in the Senate.

In Washington state, where the zone would include nearly half the state, Democratic Gov. Chris Gregoire is questioning why such a law is needed. She noted that the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees the Border Patrol, has not asked for the change.

“The current approach, partnering with sister agencies — Interior and USDA (U.S. Department of Agriculture) — seems a reasonable approach,” Gregoire said.

Environmental groups say they’re alarmed by the proposal.

Jane Danowitz, the Pew Environment Group’s director of public lands, called the plan a sweeping waiver of environmental laws that would allow a single federal agency to destroy wildlife habitat and wetlands and hurt water quality.

“We’re talking about waiving laws that protect habitat and clean air and clean water in national parks and other beloved places that Americans really cherish, and that belong to all of us,” she said.

Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee’s subcommittee on forests and public lands and the bill’s chief sponsor, said the legislation is needed because the Border Patrol does not have sufficient access to millions of acres of federally controlled land.

“The policies of the United States unfortunately and unwittingly make it easier for illegals to come across public lands,” he said.


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