Senate Energy Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman today took to task the Interior Department and Department of Homeland Security for waiving nearly 40 Federal laws in order to speed construction of the U.S.-Mexico border fence. While Bingaman is a strong supporter of strengthening security along our nation’s borders, he questions the need to waive laws such as the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and the Noise Control Act in order to get this done.
“I favor building barriers along the border where Border Patrol agents think they will help them do their job. In fact, I have helped secure millions of dollars for vehicle barriers in New Mexico. But I have not yet heard any justification for why the Bush Administration cannot abide by current laws in the construction of this fence,” Bingaman said.
In separate letters, Bingaman urged Interior Secretary Kempthorne and DHS Secretary Chertoff to justify the need for these blanket waivers. He wrote to Kempthorne because Chertoff said in his announcement that the Interior secretary had urged him to take action. “While I think it is appropriate for the Secretary of Homeland Security to have the authority provided by law, I am troubled that Secretary Chertoff’s sweeping waiver of Federal environmental laws gave no reason why the waiver is necessary ‘to ensure expeditious constructions of the barriers and roads’ … While the Act gives the Secretary the unilateral authority to waive those laws, I always understood that the Secretary would make that determination only to the extent necessary, after careful consideration and analysis,” Bingaman wrote.
To Chertoff , the ENR chairman noted, “I share your desire to improve security along the border and I agree that there may be certain instances where it is necessary to waive legal requirements; however, there must be a sound justification for doing so.”