Foes see agency causing harm; backers cite smugglers, cartels.
Both sides of a debate over a proposed law giving the Border Patrol more access to protected lands say they're trying to do what's right for the environment.
The National Security and Federal Lands Protection Act would waive laws such as the Endangered Species Act and the Clean Air Act on federal lands within 100 miles of the border, affecting protected areas such as Big Bend National Park.
Environmentalists say the law could contribute to the decline of habitat for animals such as the endangered ocelot and jaguarundi, small wildcats whose range extends into South Texas. Proponents of the bill say restricting Border Patrol activity in federally protected borderlands just creates lanes for smugglers, who have no regard for the environment.
The act moved out of a House committee last month. Similar legislation has been introduced in the Senate.
The bill by U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, allows the Border Patrol to build roads and other infrastructure on federally protected lands by waiving more than two dozen environmental and historical regulations. Agents are inhibited in some places by not being able to move freely through federal lands, said Shawn Moran, vice president of the National Border Patrol Council, a union representing agents. Read more …