Texas border land owners, mayors and wildlife groups blasted the Bush administration's sweeping plan to waive nearly three dozen federal laws to speed construction of a border fence by year's end.
Using authority granted by Congress, the Department of Homeland Security announced Tuesday it plans to issue two waivers to complete 670 miles of fencing in four border states. DHS says it has finished 309 miles of fencing, leaving 361 miles to be constructed by a December deadline.
''Criminal activity at the border does not stop for endless debate or protracted litigation," Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said in a statement. ''These waivers will enable important security projects to keep moving forward."
Two environmental groups, the Sierra Club and Defenders of Wildlife, in March asked the U.S. Supreme Court to rule that earlier DHS waivers of federal law are unconstitutional.
''The Bush administration's latest waiver of environmental and other federal laws threatens the livelihoods of the ecology of the entire U.S.-Mexico border region," said Sierra Club Executive Director Carl Pope.
The laws the governments seeks waivers for represent legislation such as the Clean Water Act and more obscure regulations such as the River and Harbors Act of 1899.
Eagle Pass Mayor Chad Foster, who chairs a coalition of border leaders, expressed outrage at DHS for not having meaningful consultations with local officials. In January, a federal judge approved a DHS lawsuit to survey city land before Foster and the city had received a copy of the suit.
''I'm just a yahoo from Eagle Pass, Texas, but this is just the absolute height of folly," he said.
Foster said his city's top crime problem is an occasional Mexican shoplifter caught at the local mall. ''If shoplifting is a matter of national security, we have a problem," he said.