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06/19/2012

HR 1505: A Big Polluter Ploy on Our Borders

Markey
A diverse coalition of environmental, immigrant, sportsmen, and tribal groups held a press conference today on the capitol triangle to voice their joint opposition to an especially destructive piece of the House Republicans’ reckless agenda. H.R. 1505 - the so-called "National Security and Federal Lands Protection Act" - would override all environmental protections and safeguards within 100 miles of the border, supposedly in the name of increased border security. But rather than increase security, this short-sighted legislation instead threatens the health of the region and its residents.

According to Representative Ed Markey (D-Mass, photographed above), who spoke against the bill today, an area the size of Massachusetts, California, Connecticut, and New Hampshire combined would be left with no provisions to protect clean air, clean water, or the health of American families. Markey described the bill as a Republican ploy to cater to the wishes of big polluters, not border security.

In fact, while GOP lawmakers are championing the expanded powers the Department of Homeland Security would have under the new law, the head of that very Department - Secretary Janet Napolitano - and the Border Patrol have said that they don’t need such sweeping power and that environmental regulations do nothing to interfere with border security.

Joining Markey today on Capitol Hill, Congressman Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz) noted the bill isn't about securing anything. Instead, he said its real purpose was to "finally get at those pesky laws" that the allies of big polluters in Congress don't like.

This legislation would void 36 of those "pesky" environmental protections in the 100-mile swath of land Markey called the "national sacrifice area," including parts of the Clean Water Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act. And - make no mistake - the sacrifice is significant. The loss of these safeguards could prevent residents from enjoying public lands and potentially harm the health of all who inhabit the affected area.

Sanchez
Hector Sanchez – Chair of the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda.

While H.R. 1505 would impact everyone in the region - hunters, ranchers, park patrons, and families - it disproportionately affects Latino communities in the border area already overwhelmingly victimized by environmental degradation. According to remarks from Roger Rivera, President of the National Hispanic Environmental Council, Latino children in our country have a higher incidence of asthma because their communities face high levels of exposure to contaminated air. Given that many of these families also lack clean water, this legislation could just make a bad situation worse, Rivera said.

Matt Kirby, Washington Representative for Sierra Club's Lands Team, said the legislation presents a false choice between clean water and air and border security. Kirby noted that for years the Border Patrol has been successfully working in conjunction with the EPA to maintain security while protecting our clean air, water, and land.

Voiding decades of the nation's fundamental environmental protections - as H.R. 1505 seeks to do - would be a huge step backward in protecting public health, and would do little to advance the cause of border security. The legislation represents nothing more than a thinly-veiled attempt to appease polluters by giving them a zone where they have free rein to harm our wild heritage and threaten the health of our families.

Take action today: Tell your representative to vote no on HR 1505.

-- Athan Manual, Sierra Club Public Lands Director. Photos by Emily Simons.

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