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For Immediate Release, September 14, 2011

Contact: Randy Serraglio, (520) 784-1504

Congressional Push Continues to Gut Environmental Protections Along U.S. Borders

TUCSON, Ariz.— Under the guise of border security, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) offered an amendment to the Department of Homeland Security appropriations bill today that would grant border-enforcement agencies free rein on federal lands within 300 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border. After criticism from colleagues in his own party that the 300-mile limit went far beyond the scope of border-enforcement activities, McCain scaled it back to 100 miles, and the amendment was added to the bill.

“Politicians are playing games with important border-security legislation at the expense of laws that protect clean air, water and endangered species,” said Randy Serraglio, a conservation advocate at the Center for Biological Diversity. “This amendment is unnecessary, unwanted and threatens significant harm to the wildlife, natural landscapes and people of the border region.”

The McCain amendment introduced today, similar to a bill proposed earlier this year by McCain and Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), does not specifically name any laws, but its guarantee of unfettered access for border-enforcement agencies on federal lands effectively neutralizes protections afforded by the Endangered Species Act, Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act. Existing law permits essential border-security activities even in designated wilderness areas, and an existing memorandum of understanding between Homeland Security and the Department of the Interior provides for cooperation between land managers and border agencies.

“Despite repeated statements and congressional testimony from border-security agencies that they neither want nor need the authority granted in this amendment, radical anti-environment forces in Congress continue to push this hoax on the American people,” said Serraglio. “The losers in this game will be jaguars, ocelots, Sonoran pronghorn and residents of border communities that will no longer benefit from fundamental protections that allow them to live and thrive in a healthy environment.”

The nonpartisan Government Accountability Office concluded in a recent report that access to federal lands has not been limited in 22 of 26 sectors along the border, and that the only problems that have occurred in other sectors have been “minor delays.” Meanwhile, between 8,000 and 20,000 miles of wildcat roads have been blazed through a wilderness area in southern Arizona’s Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge, a majority of which, in recent years, has been caused by enforcement activities, according to a July report by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

“This amendment pretends to address a problem that does not exist,” said Serraglio. “Clearly, access to federal lands for border-security personnel is not a significant issue in achieving operational control of the border. At best, the McCain amendment is a case of political grandstanding.”

“The false premise inherent in this proposal is that border security and a healthy environment are somehow mutually exclusive,” said Serraglio. “The truth is just the opposite. It has been shown time and again that collaboration between land managers and security agencies enhances both border security and protection of the diverse and vibrant landscapes of the borderlands.”

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