The federal government has no problem delaying for years — at immense cost — the construction of major public works projects like reservoirs and highways over environmental concerns. But the government also has no problem running roughshod over those same environmental barriers when it suits its purpose.

Michael Chertoff, Homeland Security secretary, waived several environmental laws last week to continue building a border fence through a national conservation area in Arizona, bypassing a federal court ruling that had suspended the fence construction. Citing “unacceptable risks to our nation’s security” if the fence along the border with Mexico was further delayed, Chertoff invoked waiver authority granted him under a 2005 bill that mandated construction of the fence, the New York Times reported. He ordered work to continue on 6.9 miles of fence along the border through the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area in Cochise County in southeastern Arizona.

The area, which includes the San Pedro River, hosts a diverse assortment of flora and fauna while providing an important bird migration flyway. But it also provides a popular illegal immigration corridor, apparently, as department officials said some 19,000 illegal immigrants were detained passing through the conservation area in the 2007 fiscal year. They suggested that the immigrants’ trash, human waste and illegal roads had caused more damage to plant and animal life than the fence would. But the possibility that some of those entering the country illegally could be terrorists is the department’s justification for immediate action.

A spokesman for the Sierra Club in Arizona said America can secure its borders and still protect public lands, and that “bulldozing” the conservation area was not necessary to manage the border. The area near the San Pedro River is described as one of America’s most unique and biologically diverse areas.

Immigration reform and border protection are topics that are high on the political priority list of millions of Americans, but this type of disregard of not only federal conservation land but also private property owners does not make the government’s task any easier.

Brownwood Bulletin