Republicans trying to turn back clock on bedrock environmental protections

These days, sitting through hearings on the House Natural Resources Committee means watching environmental standards get rolled back one by one. The House majority has an agenda to repeal decades of conservation progress in this country, and they’re not slowing down.

My predecessors in this congressional seat, Morris “Mo” Udall  (D) and his older brother, Stewart (D), would be shocked at this misguided effort to gut the kind of sensible conservation policies they championed — policies backed by Americans from both sides of the aisle.

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Some days it’s like watching a wrecking crew tear down a building, breaking the whole thing to pieces before anyone realizes what they’re up to. The other day we had a hearing on one of these wrecking crew specials. They call it the “National Security and Federal Lands Protection Act.”

In my congressional district, which extends from Tucson south to the border and then west all the way to Yuma, we have extraordinary federal lands — the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge, the Pajarita Wilderness area and other magnificent wild places in the Coronado National Forest. Why wouldn’t all Arizonans welcome legislation that seemed aimed at “protecting” all these federal lands?

In fact, protection is not the intent of this bill. It draws a 100-mile-wide band around the borders of the United States — the Mexican border, the Canadian border and the Atlantic, Pacific and Caribbean — and then states that the Department of Homeland Security can do absolutely anything it wants within this huge area without even a glance at dozens of fundamental environment protection laws.

In all, the bill “waives” 36 conservation and pollution-control laws, including such basics as the Clean Air Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Wilderness Act and the Federal Water Pollution Control Act.

Passing this bill would mean saying goodbye to more than a century of hard-won land- and wildlife-protection and pollution-control laws.

Don’t fall for the argument that somehow we need to abandon these conservation and pollution-control laws in order to safeguard our borders. Our border enforcement officials have all the power they need to protect our borders, to build fences and walls, to go anywhere to apprehend people and to use all manner of equipment in the process. This legislation does nothing to enhance that. It uses border control as cover behind which to hide the Republicans’ real ambition, which is to turn back the clock on our bedrock environmental protections.

Another of their efforts, the “Wilderness and Roadless Area Release Act,” would open up as many as 50 million acres of our lands — roughly the size of the state of Nebraska — giving them away to oil-and-gas interests, off-roaders and those who would log or mine these pristine places. Our established procedure is to hold detailed hearings and listen closely to local people in reaching important decisions about how to manage our land. This great-outdoors giveaway bill would replace this practice of finding balance in land use, tipping the scales totally toward development and leaving our nation’s wild places and national forests vulnerable.

This same group is adding language to spending bills that cuts protections for clean water, endangered species and wildlands, as well as open public lands around Grand Canyon National Park to new uranium mining. If these bills are passed, they will undermine fundamental conservation laws fashioned over decades and with bipartisan support.

This is a moment when we need a Teddy Roosevelt like never before. He’d have known how to blow the whistle on this extreme agenda. He’d remind us, as he wrote in 1916, that “our duty to the whole, including the unborn generations, bids us restrain an unprincipled present-day minority from wasting the heritage of these unborn generations.”

I hope conservation-minded Republicans, as well as Democrats, will join me in holding the line. If you enjoy the outdoors, these bills just don’t make sense.

Grijalva is ranking member on the House subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands.