This was a vote on an amendment by Rep. Cynthia Lummis (R-WY) that would prohibit Homeland Security Department funds from being used to address environmental damage caused by the construction of border fencing along the U.S.-Mexico border. This amendment was offered to legislation providing annual funding for Homeland Security Department (DHS) programs.
Specifically, the underlying Homeland Security bill allowed the Homeland Security Department to transfer funding to the Interior Department for initiatives intended to lessen the effects of environmental damage caused by the construction of border fencing along the U.S.-Mexico border. Such a transfer was necessary because the Homeland Security Department does not have the legal authority to acquire new federal land. (Supporters of this transfer of funding argued that new federal land acquisition could prove necessary in order to address environmental damage caused by border fence construction.) The Interior Department, however, does have this authority.
Rep. Rob Bishop (R-UT) urged support for this amendment: “Most people are not aware that we put money into this budget thinking it is going for Homeland Security, only to see it mysteriously transferred over to another agency without Congress ever understanding or authorizing where that transfer is or what that transfer may be….This becomes simply a secret slush fund from Homeland Security to Interior, and Congress has no idea or clue on how this money we are putting into Homeland Security's budget is being used….most of the environmental degradation that is taking place on our southern border, especially in the State of Arizona, is not being done by the Border Patrol; it's being done by illegal immigrants the drug cartels, the human traffickers, potential terrorists who are coming in here with no design and no care about the ecology of the area, or endangered species, or anything else. If we truly want to improve the ecology and improve our environmental quality on that border, you put every dime you can into Border Patrol, you let the Border Patrol have the access that they need to do their jobs, because stopping the illegal bad guys coming across is the only way, the only way we will ever have a true environmental solution on that particular border. So far we do not know how this money is spent.”
Rep. David Price (D-NC) opposed the amendment: “…Responding to concerns about possible environmental problems associated with such a massive construction undertaking, much of which has taken place on environmentally sensitive lands, Congress provided modest amounts to mitigate these potential environmental consequences: $50 million in fiscal 2009 and $40 million in fiscal 2010. Some of this mitigation effort involves acquiring land from willing sellers for buffer zones to protect fragile habitats, principally along the Rio Grande Valley in Texas. Since the Department [of Homeland Security] doesn't have the statutory authority to acquire land for the purpose of environmental mitigation, we came to an agreement among Democrats and Republicans last year in the context of negotiations over an omnibus 2011 bill to grant the limited authority to transfer these specific funds to the Department of Interior for land acquisition. Obviously, Interior has the statutory authority to acquire land for this purpose….as a government we have many responsibilities and priorities. These include, of course, securing our borders… It also includes protecting our natural and cultural resources. The sort of interagency agreement that Homeland Security and Interior have entered into for environmental mitigation is exactly what we should be encouraging…”
The House agreed to this amendment by a vote of 238-177. Voting “yea” were 228 Republicans and 10 Democrats. 174 Democrats and 3 Republicans voted “nay.” As a result, the House agreed to an amendment that would prohibit Homeland Security Department funds from being used to address environmental damage caused by the construction of border fencing along the U.S.-Mexico border. In order for this amendment to become law, however, it would need to pass the Senate as well.