Is Rep. Denny Rehberg trying to give millions of acres of Montana to a federal agency while suspending a long list of environmental protection laws?
Or, as some Washington insiders insist, is there a zero percent chance of this scheme succeeding?
Finally, why would any Montana politician – Republican or Democrat – become involved in such a plot?
The plan, for good or ill, is wrapped in House Resolution 1505. Steve Daines, a Republican candidate for Rehberg’s seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, has joined a chorus of critics in blasting H.R. 1505, calling the legislation “Congressman Rehberg’s federal land-grab bill.”
H.R. 1505 has become a major issue in Rehberg’s U.S. Senate campaign.
Calling it Rehberg’s bill gives Denny too much credit. Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, wrote the legislation and 59 Republican congressmen signed on as co-sponsors.
Calling it a land grab is not totally out of bounds. It does give U.S. Customs and Border Protection easy access within 100 miles of the Canadian and Mexican borders and unlimited access to a patch of Montana 100 miles deep and more than 400 miles long.
Vic Miller, Missoulian columnist, notes that that’s the entire top third of our state. It’s the entire Hi-Line, most of the Missouri River and the Flathead Valley, all of Glacier National Park and the Bob Marshall Wilderness, several national forests and five of the seven Indian nations in Montana.
Within this domain the Border Patrol would be free to build roads in roadless areas, build through Indian reservations, national parks (including Glacier National Park) build fences and forward bases.
Border patrol agents would patrol the area in jeeps or other vehicles, and cameras mounted on towers or carried aloft in drones or manned aircraft would keep an eye on Montanans in the area.
An anti-Rehberg campaign commercial calls the spying “creepy.” Hunters and ranchers have warned “they (the CBP) could even fence off the 100-mile border zone.” Indian tribes complain, “We were never consulted.”
Tester supporters call HR 1505 “a gift.” Tester spokeswoman Alexandra Fetissoff labeled the bill a police state border bill that gives the Department of Homeland Security unprecedented authority to control Montana’s public lands.
Several dozen vendors and manufacturers of outdoor equipment have joined a letter writing campaign.
Associations of hunters and fishermen have protested that 1505 would result in a loss of rights and a surrender to “big government.”
The Daily Kos, a liberal blog, calls 1505 “a plan to rape our national parks.”
Environmentalists note that among the laws suspended within the zone are National Environmental Policy Act, the Endangered Species Act, the Federal Water Pollution Control Act, the National Historic Preservation Act, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.
They ask, “Why would these acts be waived if there was no intention of violating them?”
I’m wondering why the GOP took a swing at this tar baby in the first place. The act does exclude mining, logging and manufacture from its control. Too many GOP votes in those constituencies.
Congressman Bishop contends that national parks, Indian reservations, National Forests and other federal lands are inaccessible to the United States Border Patrol but offer safe haven to criminal drug and human smugglers entering our country illegally. But Homeland Security Chief Janet Napolitano, who would execute the act if it became law, panned the legislation and said it is not needed.
The bill passed the House last month. Does it have a chance in the Senate? It will pass the Senate when pork chops sprout wings.
Senate approval is a cinch compared to presidential approval. President Obama will veto 1505 in a Washington, D.C., minute.
However, if Obama loses the election, the Republicans win control of both houses of Congress and pigs land in the tree tops – my guess is the measure might have as much as a 5 percent chance of becoming law.