Thursday, April 28, 2016
Environmental Laws Threaten Safety in Borderland Communities
Washington, D.C. – Today, the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations held a hearing on impediments imposed by federal land management regimes in securing the international borders of the United States.
Federal land management regulations create obstacles for the United States Border Patrol in effectively securing the border. This leaves borderland communities both environmentally degraded and vulnerable to smuggling operations.
“It is a fact that drug cartels and human traffickers have long used our unsecured borders to conduct their operations—and thousands of people have died as a result. […] But federal government has chosen to favor environmental regulations over national security interests and human lives, this emergency continues. […] Traffickers and drug lords could care less about bats, ocelots, and Sonoran Pronghorn. And yet, land managers at the Department of the Interior have blocked Border Patrol from accessing these lands, so that they can secure our borders, enforce our laws, protect tour land, save human lives and our precious species,” Subcommittee Chairman Louie Gohmert (R-TX) said.
Panelists shared their personal experiences navigating these dangers, highlighting the continuing need to facilitate border patrol access to federal land. Commissioner of Boundary County, Idaho and former Border Patrol agent, LeAlan Pinkerton, described the environmental regulations restricting border security operations.
“The U.S. Forest Service (USFS) and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service managers have affected a number of measures to inhibit the Border Patrol’s ability to access the border areas. They have placed gates on roads not previously gated. They have not provided keys in a timely fashion. They have changed locks on gated roads currently in use without providing keys in advance. They have removed culverts, decommissioned roads, dug tank traps and placed large boulders in roadways, etc. The USFS seldom gives any notification or fore-warning that such measures were scheduled or taking place,” Pinkerton stated.
Witness Tricia Elbrock, testifying on behalf of the New Mexico Cattle Growers’ Association, called for a federal overhaul of land use regulations to ensure border security.
“Our region from Arizona to Texas has a wide variety of federally owned lands ranging from the Bureau of Land Management and USFS to wildlife refuges and monuments. Many of these federal designations don’t allow for appropriate surveillance. Mountains near us have been burned to the ground due to fires started by illegals. Federal land use regulations need an overhaul to address the specific and special needs of the borderlands. Law enforcement agencies and the Border Patrol need access to every inch of federal lands to be able to protect our families and communities,” Elbrock stated.
Land managers can take years to issue permits needed to effectively patrol the border, if granted at all. The Committee aims to guarantee access to federal land necessary to install security technology, maintain roads and secure basic patrol access.
“It seems clear to me that we are placing environmental priorities over our national security. It is inexcusable when permitting […] takes so long that what’s needed for border security is no longer applicable,” Rep. Jody Hice (R-GA) said.
Click here to view the full witness testimony.