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Today in America, 14 million people are out of work through no fault of their own, dragging our economy ever closer to another recession. The first priority of Congress should be to create jobs. The American Jobs Act, which would add nearly two million jobs to the economy, is being summarily dismissed by the Republican-controlled House of Representatives.

Meanwhile, the GOP leadership asks us to consider absurd bills like H.R. 1505, which this week passed the House Committee on Natural Resources, where I sit as a Member.  This legislation will hand over control of all public lands within 100 miles of the borders – like our national parks, forests, and beaches – to U.S. Customs and Border Protections.  Ironically, it’s named the National Security and Federal Lands Protection Act. Under H.R. 1505, without any public notice, U.S. Customs and Border Protection could build roads and gates and install surveillance equipment in places that Americans treasure – from Glacier National Park in Montana to Cleveland National Forest in California and Olympic National Park in Washington. This legislation would, in effect, hand over the keys to many of the most beautiful places in America – places you and I own as the birthright of being an American, places that with proper stewardship our great grandchildren will one day own too.

H.R. 1505 is the latest chapter in the ongoing story of a Republican Congress that is attacking decades of environmental protections – and their efforts are getting increasingly creative and desperate. This bill would exempt U.S. Customs and Border Protections from complying with dozens of popular protections for public health and our environment, including the Clean Air Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act and even the Farmland Protection Policy Act, which aims to preserve America’s agricultural lands. I’ve been in public service for decades, and I can’t recall a time when public lands were ever under such repeated assault by people who are dutifully sworn to protect them.  

There are several unanswered questions about how this legislation would impact rural communities, potentially decimating their economies and destroying local jobs.  The national outdoor recreation economy – which includes camping, hiking, hunting, fishing, and many other activities – contributes $730 billion annually to the U.S. economy and supports nearly 6.5 million jobs across America. How will H.R. 1505 affect areas that depend on outdoor recreation as their economic engine?  At a time of high unemployment in rural areas, we can’t afford to let that question go unanswered.

Disguised in the name of border security, this bill undermines the future of our national parks and forests, rolls back landmark environmental protections, and opens to the door to increased economic uncertainty in rural communities.  We must stand strong against H.R. 1505 and any further attempts by Republicans in Congress to attack our public lands.

Congressman John Garamendi sits on the House Natural Resources Committee. He previously served as the Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Interior Department under President Bill Clinton and as the chair of the California State Lands Commission.

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