NOGALES, Ariz. — Cattle ranchers are on opposite sides over a sweeping proposal to waive environmental reviews on federal lands within 100 miles of Mexico and Canada for the sake of border security.
Under the plan, the Border Patrol would have a free hand to build roads, camera towers, helicopter pads, and living quarters without any of the outside scrutiny that can modify or even derail plans to extend its footprint.
The US House approved the bill authored by Republican Rob Bishop of Utah in June. But prospects in the Democratic-controlled Senate are extremely slim and chances of President Obama’s signature even slimmer. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano testified in Congress this year that the bill was unnecessary and ‘‘bad policy.’’
Still, an idea that House Republicans kicked around for years has progressed further in the legislative process than ever before and rekindled discussion over how to balance border security with wildlife protection.
The wilderness areas in question are generally off-limits to motorized vehicles and environmental reviews are required to extend a dirt road. Even so, some cattle ranchers say Border Patrol construction has flooded their land and eroded the soil.
The United States has erected 650 miles of fences and other barriers on the Mexican border, almost all of it after a 2005 law gave the Homeland Security secretary power to waive environmental reviews. The administration of George W. Bush exercised its waiver authority on hundreds of miles after years of court challenges and environmental reviews delayed construction on a 14-mile stretch in San Diego.