Much of the United States’ preserved and pristine wilderness lies within national parks and government state land. This week in particular, however, the government has taken many steps that threaten these sanctuaries of environmental preservation. Members of Congress have been fighting recently to allow border patrol immunity to the restricting environmental laws on the U.S. borders. At the same time, Obama has approved oil and gas drilling off the Alaskan coastline despite environmental concerns associated with drilling there.
The U.S. Border Patrol is claiming that environmental rules are impeding upon their ability to safeguard both the Mexican and Canadian border, according to the New York Times. Members in congress are vying for a bill that would allow border patrol to evade many environmental laws, including the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act, in areas of protected wilderness. Much of the 100- mile zone around the Canadian border encompasses protected wilderness, such as the Glacier National Park, and so this debate is especially pertinent on the northern border. The bill might also allow for border control agents to build new roads and establish bases on the federal protected land.
The bill, which has 32 co-sponsors in the House, is being debated vigorously, especially in Northern states such as Montana, because of environmental concerns. Many environmentalists are arguing that the ecological damage is not worth the extra security measures on the Northern border. The amount of illegal activity along the Northern border is estimated to be minimal compared to the Mexican border.
“Part of it is that the geography works to our advantage,” Superintendent of North Cascades National Park Chip Jenkins is quoted as saying in the New York Times. “It is incredibly rugged terrain, and very difficult to navigate.”
The lack of illegal immigration or activity has many people arguing that it might not be worth risking the preservation of these pristine wilderness areas for the sake of expanding border control.
Washington D.C. is also housing disputes this week about protected wilderness preserves with respect to oil and gas drilling. A little over a week ago, the Obama administration approved oil and gas drilling off Alaska’s coast and in the Gulf of Mexico from 2012 to 2017, according to an article from National Public Radio.
These three leases off Alaska’s coast will be the first since 2008, as drilling in Alaska faces much more opposition than in the Gulf. The acreage that will be leased is in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas, which have not been drilled before on such a large scale.
Many environmentalists are wary about potential spills from drilling in Alaska, especially because there is a lack of proven spill-response strategies and little infrastructure in Alaska to respond to a large spill.
In a statement published by The Wilderness Society, their President William H. Meadows wrote that the lease is “putting big oil first, threatening our few remaining pristine areas with drilling and spilling.”
Lawmakers in Alaska, on the other hand, are supportive of the leases, as the drilling will boost the state’s economy. The Obama administration stated that they would follow many precautions off the shore of Alaska to hopefully prevent any ecological damage. The drilling will occur later in the five-year leased period, after significant scientific research about the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas and clean-up strategy plans for potential oil spills.
Contact Cassidy Holahan at [email protected]