Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Chertoff Waives Environmental Laws to Build Border Fence

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff decided this week to waive environmental laws and build 6.9 miles of fence in Arizona's San Pedro Riparian National Conversation Area. The decision to resume construction of fencing in the area, which is home to numerous species of animals and ancient archaeological sites, drew strong criticism from both southern Arizona Congressional representatives.

Representatives Gabrielle Giffords and Raul Grijalva emphatically challenged Secretary Chertoff's disregard for the concerns border communities have expressed. Representative Giffords whose Congressional district includes the San Pedro, said "the Department of Homeland Security must listen to the environmentalists and border residents of southern Arizona before resuming fence construction."

"It is implement a policy that affects communities and the environment several thousand miles away, ignoring the residents, culture, and landscape. But, this wall does not protect our communities; it separates our history, culture, wildlife and natural habitats," said Representative Grijalva.

On Oct. 10, in a suit brought by the Sierra Club and Defenders of Wildlife, Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle of the federal court for the District of Columbia ordered the delay of portion of the fence construction on the grounds that the government failed to carry out the required environmental assessment.

Secretary Chertoff's ability to waive environmental and other laws is the result of the REAL ID Act passed in 2005. This is the third time Secretary Chertoff has used the waiver provision.

"The REAL ID Act, which allows the Secretary of Homeland Security... to waive all laws for fence and road construction along the border, was never intended to be used along the entire U.S.-Mexico border. Instead, the waiver was intended only for use on a small section of fencing in San Diego." said Representative Grijalva. As such, Representative Grijalva introduced the Borderlands Security and Conservation Act of 2007 (H.R. 2593) which would amend existing laws, including REAL ID, to help alleviate the enivornmental damage of border enforcement activities on Federal and tribal lands.