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Trump Administration Waives Environmental Laws To Start Border Wall

by Countable | 8.2.17

What’s the story?

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced Tuesday that it will use the broad authority granted to it by Congress to waive a host of environmental and land management laws standing in the way of building the border wall.

Why does it matter?

DHS is moving forward with building border wall prototypes near San Diego, likely to begin construction in November. According to the Tuesday statement, the current projects will be confined to "an approximately 15-mile segment of the border within the San Diego Sector that starts at the Pacific Ocean and extends eastward." The department maintains that the border near San Diego “remains an area of high illegal entry for which there is an immediate need to improve current infrastructure and construct additional border barriers and roads.”

Opponents, including the Center for Biological Diversity and Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), ranking member on the House Natural Resources Committee, argue that there are 93 endangered species potentially affected by the construction of the border wall, including jaguars, Mexican gray wolves and, in the case of the San Diego section, Quino checkerspot butterflies and the coastal California gnatcatcher.

The San Diego Tribune also notes the proximity to residential areas that would be affected as well:

"Homeland Security had already identified a site for border wall prototype construction roughly 100 feet from the border and about two miles east of the Otay Mesa border crossing. It is across from a mixed-use industrial and low-income residential area in East Tijuana, near the Nido de las Águilas neighborhood."

Grijalva and the Center filed suit against the administration last month, alleging the administration failed to perform an environmental study to analyze the impact of slicing delicate ecosystems in half. Even they acknowledge, however, that given current law DHS is within their authority to bypass the usual environmental steps. Brian Segee, a senior attorney for the Center told the Washington Post:

"It’s an uphill battle...It’s a very broad waiver…[the Center] will definitely pursue any judicial avenues we have available to us however limited they may be.”

Grijalva and the Center are joined in their opposition by Rep. Scott Peters (D-CA), who feels that the project is not indicative of what the local community needs or wants:

"Waiving these laws shows the Trump administration intends to drown out the opposition from Democrats, Republicans, business owners, and immigration advocates in San Diego that see another layer of fencing in our county as unnecessary and harmful to our community."

In their statement DHS did not address local opposition, but they did offer assurances that they would work with authorities to mitigate the impacts of the project:

"While the waiver eliminates DHS’s obligation to comply with various laws with respect to covered projects, the Department remains committed to environmental stewardship with respect to these projects. DHS has been coordinating and consulting -- and intends to continue doing so -- with other federal and state resource agencies to ensure impacts to the environment, wildlife, and cultural and historic artifacts are analyzed and minimized, to the extent possible.”

Whether or not the current environmental suit succeeds, it will likely be followed by similar suits as wall construction proceeds. The Trump budget proposal plans for the wall to extend through the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, along the Rio Grande in Texas. The Refuge is home to multiple endangered species, including the the Texas ocelot and Gulf Coast jaguarundi.

What can you do?

Do you support construction of the border wall? Do you think the government should have to slow down the project to fully assess the potential environmental impact on animals and humans?

Use the Take Action button to tell your reps what you think!

— Asha Sanaker

(Photo Credit: Wikimedia / Creative Commons)

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