How is the Department of the Interior's jurisdiction over federal lands along the U.S.-Mexico border affecting security? During today's OnPoint, Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah), chairman of the Western Caucus, explains why he believes Border Patrol should have priority over endangered species concerns and wilderness designations. Bishop also discusses proposed legislation that would broaden the Clean Water Act's jurisdiction.
Monica Trauzzi: Welcome to the show. I'm Monica Trauzzi. Joining me today is Congressman Rob Bishop, Republican of Utah and chairman of the Congressional Western Caucus. Congressman Bishop, thanks for coming on the show.
Rep. Rob Bishop: Thanks for having me here, appreciate it.
Monica Trauzzi: Congressman, border issues, immigration reform are dominating the headlines this week. Both chambers are discussing legislative approaches. In the House legislation has been introduced that would essentially stop Interior from interfering with border patrol efforts. Why is there such a lack of clarity between Homeland Security and Interior when it comes to border security?
Rep. Rob Bishop: You know, that's an excellent question because I think anyone with common sense would say there should not be, but it's simply a matter of fact that from California to Texas, on our border, about 40 percent, over 40 percent of the land against that border is owned by the federal government. And the land managers currently manage the land so that endangered species and wilderness status is the highest priority. And that prohibits, in many situations, border security and border patrol from access onto that land, definitely for motorized access onto the land or for placing monitory devices where they need to be, so we have huge holes within that border, which is primarily where most of the illegal drugs, the human trafficking, the violence against women and potential terrorists are coming into this country and exiting again. So, what we need to do, and I think this is just common sense, what I think people want, is simply saying that because the Department of Interior is placing those two as the highest priority, we need to change that priority and the priority is border security until we can stop all the drugs and all the terrible people that are coming through. And so you simply make the statement that border security will not be impeded in their efforts to secure the border.
Monica Trauzzi: But there is an environmental argument here. As you mentioned, there are reasons why, they have endangered species on these lands. Is there a way to address the environmental issues and also the border security issues?
Rep. Rob Bishop: Could be an easier way to do that and one of the things is the irony of this entire situation. When you put the wilderness characteristic of the land as the highest priority and then have all the drug cartels coming through those lands, they despoil the environment. So we are destroying the environment in the effort to try and save the environment and that just does not make any sense whatsoever. So, simply allowing border security to have the access that they need will not destroy the characteristics of the land nearly as much as having all the illegal drug cartels and the human traffickers coming through and despoiling the environment. They're doing a terrible job in leaving trash, ruining things, you know, destroying endangered species, tearing down cacti, all that kind of stuff that's taking place right now.
Monica Trauzzi: So, does this mean Interior wouldn't have jurisdiction over these areas?
Rep. Rob Bishop: They would have jurisdiction, but they would not be able to impede border security. So, right now, when they ever come to any kind of debate, not debate, I'm sorry, when they come to some kind of agreement on what the procedures will be, Homeland Security has the upper hand - Interior has the upper hand, Homeland Security just has to do what they're told and then pay a fee, which doesn't make sense either. What we're try to say is simply switch that balance so Homeland Security will have the highest priority when you're making those protocols.
Monica Trauzzi: So, over on the Senate side of the Hill climate and energy are competing with immigration reform for some floor time. Can a bipartisan approach be made on immigration and is there enough time on the legislative calendar to craft some legislation and have a debate?
Rep. Rob Bishop: To be honest, I don't know. Whether there's enough time or will to do that is extremely difficult and also the immigration issue, as well as the climate issue, the immigration issue has several parts to it. So, what I'm talking about in border security is simply one of the first things you have to do before you go on to tackle any of the other problems is you have to have control of that border and not necessarily just because of immigration. Once again, my biggest concern is the ravaging effects on our society from the drug cartels and the traffickers and the potential terrorist element. That's the reason you have to control it, but that becomes the first step and if you can't do that first step, all the other steps become moot after that. So, I think what we're trying to talk about is let's do what we can do first and then move on and that would presuppose that you need to take a couple of steps back before you do anything that would be comprehensive.
Monica Trauzzi: What's your take on the political wrangling that we see in the Senate right now on climate and energy?
Rep. Rob Bishop: I don't know. Well, first of all, it's the process of the Senate, which, I'm sorry, this is the way they've always worked, but part of it is also that no one really knows what they are negotiating. None of the bills are public yet. Maybe some of them aren't even written, outlines are written, negotiations are going on. Part of it is a process that I don't really like coming from a state legislative angle where everything was much more transparent than what we do here in Washington, DC. I would like those negotiations to be a little bit more open to the public so we could actually tell what the areas of negotiation discussions are. That never happens.
Monica Trauzzi: Changes to the Clean Water Act, another issue you're concerned about. Congressman Oberstar has introduced legislation that would drop the word navigable from the Clean Water Act, so more bodies of water will be under its jurisdiction. What's the impact of such a move on industries and farmers?
Rep. Rob Bishop: It could be catastrophic, to be honest with you. We've seen an effort recently for the administration and those in Washington to try and consolidate power here to make decisions out of Washington that are a one-size-fits-all decision for the rest of the nation. This is an effort to try and now have Washington control all water, whether it's on public or private lands, regardless of who the owner of those water rights are. It would be controlled, once again, by Washington and that could be extremely dangerous. You know, when the Supreme Court looked at the existing law and they basically said if you have an area of water that fills up from rainfall, but because a bird could fly into it, therefore the United States should control it, that's not logical. What this bill is doing is saying, OK, let's take out the logic part and say because it's water we get to control it regardless of whether it's logical or not. Some of the biggest problems I do have with constituents deals with regulatory takings of their land based on definitions of water and what is a wetland and what is not a wetland and, I'm sorry, some of those justify common logic. If a wetland is going to be regulated by the federal government, even though the water would have to go an uphill grade to get to any body that is navigable, that defies common sense. So, what we need to do is not go after the broader power in Washington, what you really need to do is allow to do what the Supreme Court said, is we need to really redefine what we're trying to do with water so that not every irrigation ditch should be under the control of the federal government in Washington. That makes no sense and that's the result.
Monica Trauzzi: But there are concerns though that even some small bodies of water can impact drinking water and wildlife habitat. So, if a body of water is affecting the safety of our drinking water, for example, shouldn't it be regulated?
Rep. Rob Bishop: That would be nice, but that presupposes or this bill presupposes that only Washington is smart enough to figure that out. I'm sorry, these bodies of water are already regulated by state and local municipalities. They know what they're doing, they understand the situation and they should be given the prerequisite and they should be given the opportunity to make those decisions. They're not incompetent. Washington doesn't have to tell everybody how to live their lives and that really, I think, was the basis of what the Supreme Court was saying in both cases where they ruled against the federal government. You have overstepped your bounds. This is a huge overstep of our bounds.
Monica Trauzzi: OK, we're going to end it there. Thank you for coming on the show.
Rep. Rob Bishop: Thank you, appreciate it.
Monica Trauzzi: And thanks for watching. We'll see you back here tomorrow.
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