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Environmental Laws to Be Waived for Fence - 2 April 2008

Lawmaker Accuses Administration of Abusing Authority to Build Barrier at Mexican Border

By Juliet Eilperin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 2, 2008; Page A04

The Bush administration will waive more than 30 environmental and land-management laws in order to finish building 470 miles of border fence in the Southwest by the end of the year, officials said yesterday.

The move, permitted under an exemption granted by Congress, will be the most sweeping use of the administration's waiver authority since it started building the fence to curb illegal immigration. It will affect environmentally sensitive areas in California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas.

In a statement, Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff said the agency has no choice but to bypass the standard environment reviews required of the federal government.

"Criminal activity at the border does not stop for endless debate or protracted litigation," Chertoff said. "Congress and the American public have been adamant that they want and expect border security. We're serious about delivering it, and these waivers will enable important security projects to keep moving forward. At the same time, we value the need for public input on any potential impact of our border infrastructure plans on the environment -- and we will continue to solicit it."

However, Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), who chairs the House Homeland Security Committee, said the administration has exceeded what Congress intended when it granted the department added flexibility under the Real ID Act. "Today's waiver represents an extreme abuse of authority," he said in a statement. "Waiver authority should only be used as a last resort, not simply because the Department has failed to get the job done through the normal process. It was meant to be an exception, not the rule."

. . . read the remainder of this article here on the Washington Post . . .