Week ahead: Lawmakers weigh border patrol access on federal lands

Week ahead: Lawmakers weigh border patrol access on federal lands
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The House Natural Resources Committee will hold a hearing Thursday to discuss the security and environmental impacts of granting the U.S. Border Patrol more access to federal lands.

The oversight hearing, entitled "The Costs of Denying Border Patrol Access: Our Environment and Security," comes a week after the committee's chairman, Rep. Rob BishopRobert (Rob) William BishopSome doubt McCarthy or Scalise will ever lead House GOP McCarthy and Scalise front-runners to replace Paul Ryan Puerto Rico governor rips GOP rep over ‘truly disturbing’ letter MORE (R-Utah) toured the U.S.-Mexico border.

Bishop visited the southern border with Rep. Bruce Westerman (R-Ark.).

"Last weekend, Chairman Bishop & @RepWesterman toured the Southern border. It's unacceptable that Border Patrol agents cannot access federal lands to do their jobs. #BuildTheWall," the committee tweeted.

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Another tweet from the account on Jan. 30 read off a list of harmful impacts from illegal border crossings, including environmental damage and increased wildfires.

Bishop has long called for expanded access for border patrol agents on public lands.

In 2010, he introduced a bill that would grant agents access to wilderness areas along the U.S.-Mexico border and bar the federal government from restricting their surveillance activities on those lands. The bill passed the House but was never taken up in the Senate.

Bishop told Utah's Deseret News at the time that increased access would "not only remedy weaknesses in border security, but also improve the health and vitality of our protected lands, which have been severely damaged by years of abuse from drug and human traffickers."

Another argument he's made in recent years is that regulations restricting the use of motor vehicles on public lands have placed an unnecessary burden on agents' ability to do their jobs.

"[The problem] the Border Patrol has is that they are not allowed to go into those wilderness areas in any kind of mechanized transportation unless they are in hot pursuit, and no one knows how to define that," Bishop told C-SPAN in 2015.

"So it simply means, they come to an arbitrary line in the border and all of a sudden they have to stop and go in on foot — or they have to wait until the horses arrive for them. That's ridiculous."

The Natural Resources Committee hearing caps what will be a busy week in Congress with both the House and Senate in session.

On Monday, the public will finally get a peek at the White House's long-anticipated infrastructure plan and 2019 fiscal budget proposals.

A White House official confirmed to The Hill that President TrumpDonald John TrumpClinton takes swipe at 'false equivalency' in media coverage of 2016 election Trump asked Netanyahu if he actually cares about peace: report Official: Trump to urge North Korea to dismantle nuclear program in return for sanctions relief MORE will release rebuilding "principles" for an infrastructure package of "at least $1.5 trillion."

During his State of the Union, Trump called upon Congress to craft a $1.5 trillion infrastructure plan that would utilize state, local and public-private partnerships "where appropriate."

Democrats are calling on the federal government to increase its investment to rebuild U.S. roads, bridges, airports and other public works, while Republicans are also concerned about the plan's revenue sourcing.

A number of members of Congress on both sides of the aisle are hoping the plan will include funding for revamping energy and clean water infrastructure projects, including infrastructure creation in rural areas of the country.

At a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing last Friday, Sen. Maria CantwellMaria Elaine CantwellLobbying World Interior won't lower offshore drilling royalty rates Watchdog: Zinke could have avoided charter flight after meeting with Las Vegas hockey team MORE (D-Wash.) called for more investments in modernizing infrastructure.

"We need to invest in modernizing our infrastructure to meet demands, help lower consumers' bills, and provide security," she said. "We know that there is a good return on this investment. We learned from the Recovery Act, that $1 billion dollars invested in smart grid technologies created nearly $7 billion dollars in economic output and nearly 50,000 jobs."

At the same hearing, Sen. Steve DainesSteven (Steve) David DainesAmend the SAFETY Act to cover state actor cyberattacks GOP senators push back on calls to investigate Pruitt Worried GOP views Trump trade war with angst MORE (R-Mont.) said that that his energy infrastructure priorities were national parks, securing the electricity grid and building more pipelines for the transportation of energy such as natural gas.

The White House will also release its budget for fiscal 2019 on Monday, which will include proposed numbers for the Department of Energy, Interior Department and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

An employee at the EPA's budget office tells the Hill to expect a lot of red. A leaked draft of the budget obtained by The Washington Post earlier this month also gave a taste of what might come next for the Department of Energy. The Post reported that the draft budget proposed cutting the Energy Department's renewable energy and energy efficiency programs by 72 percent overall in fiscal 2019.

Also in the coming week, on Wednesday, the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on the environment will hold an oversight hearing on "Permitting Challenges for Manufacturing and Infrastructure."

The subcommittee will consider the EPA's current process for reviewing existing facilities that might create air pollution. Under the current process, any existing facilities that opt to make major changes to their infrastructure or systems must go through a new source review to obtain permits.

Industry groups as well as Republicans have said the process deters companies from improving their facilities because of the oversight hurdles. They believe that companies should be able to make changes without triggering the new source review.

 

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