Members of Congress Question DHS Waiver Decision

Article excerpt

Rep. Bennie G. Thompson (D-Miss.), chairman of the Committee on Homeland Security, is leading a group of 14 members of Congress, including eight committee chairs, in submitting a notice of intent to file an Amicus Curiae brief in the Defenders of Wildlife case (No. 07-1180). The brief, which will be filed by the end of the month, pertains to the Bush Administration's plans to waive more than 30 environmental laws and regulations to speed construction of the U.S.-Mexico border fence.

At issue are plans by Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff to waive virtually all environmental laws so the U.S. can finish building 470 miles of border fence by year's end. The waiver would allow the federal government to sidestep the National Environmental Policy Act, Endangered Species Act, Clean Water Act and the Coastal Zone Management Act among others.

The REAL ID Act of 2005 gives the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) broad authority to waive legal requirements that the secretary "determines necessary to ensure expeditious construction of the barriers and roads."

The petitioners in the case--Defenders of Wildlife and the Sierra Club--are challenging the premise of the law that allows the exemptions.

"The issue here is not security versus wildlife, but whether wildlife, sensitive environmental values and communities along the border will be given fair consideration in the decisions the government makes," said Rodger Schlickeisen, president of Defenders of Wildlife.

Joining Thompson in the case is Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman John Dingell (D-Mich.); Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers (D-Mich.); Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman James Oberstar (D-Minn.); Education and Labor Committee Chairman George Miller (D-Calif.); Rules Committee Chairwoman Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.); Veterans Affairs Chairman Bob Filner (D-Calif.); Intelligence Committee Chairman Silvestre Reyes (D-Texas); Rep. Solomon Ortiz (D-Texas); Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.); Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas); Rep. Susan Davis (D-Calif.); Rep. Raul M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.); and Rep. Yvette D. Clarke (D-N.Y.).

"This waiver by the Secretary of Homeland Security is a direct challenge to Congress's Constitutional role. …