Montana's Congressman, Denny Rehberg, today released the following statement after the House Natural Resources Committee considered H.R. 1505, the National Security and Federal Lands Protection Act, including many changes that he proposed to make the bill work better for Montana. The Changes were approved by the Committee, and the bill was then cleared for action on the House floor.
"Border security is national security, and in Montana that means safety for our families and communities," said Rehberg, co-chair of the Congressional Northern Border Caucus. "It's time to put an end to the dangerous turf war where federal land managers hide behind environmental laws in order to prevent border patrol agents from doing their jobs on federal land. I'd like to thank Chairman Bishop for his leadership and for listening to some of the ideas I've heard from Montana. These ideas will help make this bill work even better for Montana. This legislation is now much more targeted than the sweeping measure that unanimously passed the Senate in 2009. We built in protections for grazing rights and more narrowly focused the intent of the law on efforts to secure the border. We also added a sunset provision so the law can be reviewed by Congress to make sure it's working as intended. This was a good bill, and now it's even better."
Chairman Rob Bishop (UT-01) had this to say:
"Securing our nation's borders must be among our highest priorities," said House National Parks, Forests, and Public Lands Subcommittee Chairman Rob Bishop. "Right now, public lands inaccessible to the United States Border Patrol offer nearly unfettered safe harbor for criminal drug and human smugglers entering our country illegally. The Border Patrol must have improved access in order to deter and apprehend those using our federal lands as trafficking routes. Congressman Rehberg was exceptionally helpful to our efforts to make adjustments and improvements to the bill. His insightful recommendations were instrumental in many of the changes made during today's markup. I appreciate his continued dedication to helping ensure that we protect the interests of our public land users as we work to secure our nation's porous borders."
The bill, as amended, is available online here: http://naturalresources.house.gov/UploadedFiles/MU_HR1505_Bishop.ANS.pdf
The changes that were approved by the committee are listed below:
1) Clarifies the waiver authority in HR 1505 only applies to public land managed by Department of the Interior and Department of Agriculture within 100 miles of the border.
2) Removes language which included "maritime" borders, therefore limiting the bill to the land border with Mexico and Canada.
3) Adds language to protect existing legal uses, such as leasing of federal lands for grazing. This authority cannot be used to eliminate recreational or economic activities.
4) Changes references to "The Secretary of Homeland Security" to "U.S. Customs and Border Protection." This is to emphasize that this authority is limited to border security operations and personnel. It is not a broad new authority across the federal government.
5) The amendment strictly limits what the authority may be used for. Those activities are:
1) Construct and maintain patrol roads
2) Construct fences
3) Use vehicles to patrol
4) Install, maintain and operate surveillance equipment and sensors
5) Use of aircraft
6) Deployment of temporary tactical infrastructure, including forward operating bases
6) Adds a five-year sunset from the date of enactment of the bill. Congress will have to evaluate whether or not the intent was met through this legislation and decide if it should be renewed.