One sentence tucked inside the foot-thick omnibus spending bill could spell trouble for wildlife along the nation's borders. Signed into law Oct. 1, the provision allows the U.S. attorney general to waive both the Endangered Species Act and the National Environmental Policy Act for border projects such as fences or roads.


The provision was crafted specifically to ensure that environmental consultations couldn't slow down a fence project in Southern California. "We don't need more studies," says Harold Stavenas, press secretary for one of the bill's sponsors, Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif. "We need to seal the border and we're going ahead with that."


Although environmentalists say it's unlikely the attorney general would ever invoke the provision, they worry it sets a precedent for ignoring both environmental laws and the border area itself. Migration corridors for endangered species such as the ocelot and the Sonoran pronghorn antelope could potentially be blocked by new fences.


"It indicates a lack of concern for the border environment and the people who live there," says Marc Coles-Ritchie of the nonprofit Border Ecology Project. "The implications are enormous," adds Todd Tucci of the National Audubon Society. "This law stands until the president signs a repeal bill."


* Elizabeth Manning