by Lucas O’Connor/Two Cathedrals
Some predictable theatre played out in Washington over the last week, as the House GOP took up legislation to waive environmental protections and give the Department of Homeland Security unlimited access to national parks within 100 miles of the border. That would effectively impose martial law over national parks near the border. It passed, with the support of Brian Bilbray.
Purely by coincidence, the debate over whether to essentially declare a state of immigration emergency to overrule environmental laws comes just days after President Obama announced a policy shift to provide relief from deportation to immigrant young adults brought to this country by their parents at an early age.
Your cynicism may vary, but as has been noted elsewhere already, this is no small roll back of environmental protections:
The legislation would override 36 environmental, safety and other regulations, including the Wilderness Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, the Endangered Species Act, the National Historic Preservation Act, the Antiquities Act, the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, the Migratory Bird Act, the National Wildlife Refuge System Administration Act, the Fish and Wildlife Act, among others.
Let’s highlight just a couple of those. The Antiquities Act is what invented national monuments in the first place. The Endangered Species Act is pretty self-explanatory, but this change would effectively mean that wiping out entire species is just the price we might have to pay to slightly reduce undocumented immigration.
But would it come to that? Sounds like it:
This legislation…would allow the department to do many things on this land, including using vehicles, building roads, fences, living quarters and airstrips and deploying forward operating bases. For example, national parks advocates have raised concerns that if the department determined it needed surveillance equipment in a park – say on Chief Mountain in Glacier National Park – it could install it without any public comment or even internal review process.
Of course it’s important to remember as Bilbray tries to throw the nation’s entire environmental protection system overboard, that authorities are already allowed to pursue into these wilderness areas. This is just an extra attempt to suspend all other laws to streamline the destruction of our national parks. May as well be martial law.
Of course, this argument of Bilbray’s that we must destroy our parks to save them is uncomfortably familiar. Early in his congressional career, Bilbray tried to permanently exempt San Diego from the Clean Water Act, later voting to gut the act. Bilbray has voted in lockstep with the GOP leadership for years to keep us in Iraq and Afghanistan. His strategy for fixing the health care system was to vote against providing health care to children. And one plan he floated for reducing undocumented immigration was to cut education to create our own poverty.
Might have written that off as a joke, but since then he’s gone after college financial aid programs, education funding for children with disabilities and low-income school districts. So he’s practicing what he preaches. With student loan interest rates set to double on July 1st, we’ll see where Brian Bilbray is.
It’s particularly interesting timing since Bilbray is now back in his ‘uh-oh, better start looking moderate’ kabuki mode that we get every two years about this time. This year, he’s once again facing the challenge of threading the needle between his hyperbolic freak outs over immigration and pretending to be an environmentalist. But when push comes to shove, Bilbray’s priority is clear: Abandon any environmental protection that gets in the way… or even the ones that don’t.