Critics wary of Homeland Security bill

Sept. 27, 2011 at 9:47 AM
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WASHINGTON, Sept. 27 (UPI) -- Supporters of a sweeping bill say it would help secure U.S. borders while opponents say it would give the Department of Homeland Security unrestricted power.

The proposed National Security and Federal Lands Protection Act would waive three dozen federal environmental protection laws so Homeland Security could patrol public lands near the U.S. borders, USA Today reported Tuesday.

"The simple idea of the bill is to provide the border patrol with the same access on federal land that it currently has on state and private land," said Rep. Denny Rehberg, R-Mont., one of 49 Republican co-sponsors of the measure. "There is nothing about this bill that creates any new authority to intrude into the lives of Americans."

Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., and other critics countered that the bill would grant the federal government overreaching powers.

"It's a federal land grab at its worst," Tester said. "I just can't see how any lawmaker would think it's a good idea to allow the Department of Homeland Security to make sweeping decisions about our land and ignore our rights without any public accountability."

The bill would give the Homeland Security secretary the authority over federal lands within 100 miles of the U.S. land and maritime borders for "activities that assist in securing the border," including maintaining and building roads, constructing a fence, using patrol vehicles and setting up monitoring equipment.

The bill also would waive the Clean Air Act, Endangered Species Act, the Federal Water Pollution Control Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, the National Historic Preservation Act and the National Park Service Organic Act.

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