Late last month, House Republicans introduced an emergency bill related to security on the U.S. border with Mexico. This controversial bill would cost taxpayers $659 million. These funds would be allocated in ways that would permit the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency to construct surveillance posts, roads and other structures designed to aid in security-related operations.

This bill is obviously controversial due to its cost and due to its aims. However, it is also controversial due to its potential impact on environmental law. The roads and structures that the Border Patrol would be permitted to erect would potentially be placed on numerous protected lands. This kind of environmental law exception could cause other agencies and business organizations to question why they are not being granted waivers to circumvent federal environmental law.

The so-called border crisis bill would effectively allow the Border Patrol to do as they pleased within 100 miles of the U.S. border with Mexico, as the legislation specifically states that neither the departments of Agriculture nor Interior shall “impede, prohibit or restrict” its activities within this range of space. U.S. News & World Report notes that this provision effectively nullifies more than a dozen environmental laws at once.

The House passed this bill, though it is not expected to pass the Senate, nor is the president expected to sign such a bill even if it did pass the Senate. However, it raises important questions about what kinds of governmental and business interests warrant intrusion onto protected federal lands.

Source: U.S. News & World Report, “GOP Border Crisis Bill Would Erase Environmental Protections,” Alan Neuhauser, July 30, 2014