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Montanans seldom have much cause to worry about the international border we share with Canada. A federal bill approved in the U.S. House of Representatives on June 19 – legislation intended to make the borders more secure and thus less cause for concern – is itself cause for concern.

The National Security and Federal Lands Protection Act, introduced by Republican Utah Rep. Rob Bishop last year as House Resolution 1505, purports to be necessary in order to “prohibit the secretaries of the Interior and Agriculture from taking action on public lands which impede border security on such lands, and for other purposes,” according to its introductory language.

It’s the “other purposes” that are giving people – particularly those living in border states like Montana – pause. HR 1505 would grant U.S. Customs and Border Protection special authority, even above other federal agencies, to do pretty much whatever it deems necessary within 100 miles of the border.

That would include a pretty significant stretch of Montana – a 32,000-square-mile stretch, in fact, that includes numerous prized public lands, not the least of which is Glacier National Park. We simply do not need border agents granted the supreme authority to build roads and bases in Glacier National Park. If such construction is indeed necessary, let them work with the U.S. Forest Service to do so in a way that better balances the nation’s interests.

Originally, the act would have done away with 36 federal environmental protection laws; amendments have reduced that number to 12. A dozen laws that the border authority can choose to ignore is still a dozen too many.

Supporters say the bill is necessary to stop terrorists and illegal immigrants. But it isn’t. No less an authority than U.S. Customs and Border Protection itself says so. It has gone on record opposing the bill, noting that it is not necessary and that the agency already has cooperative use agreements in place with other agencies that allow them to work together when necessary for the nation’s protection. Surely, if the agency was having trouble protecting the nation from outside threats due to a lack of cooperation with other federal agencies, it would have seized this chance to complain about it. Tellingly, it has said just the opposite.

Even so, nearly 60 Republican U.S. representatives have signed on as co-sponsors of HR 1505, and surprisingly, Montana’s own congressman, Denny Rehberg, is one of them. Montanans should urge Rehberg to rethink his support of this bill.

And they should urge Montana’s senators, Max Baucus and Jon Tester, to oppose it when it comes before them in the Senate.

EDITORIAL BOARD: Publisher Jim McGowan, Editor Sherry Devlin, Opinion Editor Tyler Christensen

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