WASHINGTON, Oct. 18, 2018 — Conservation groups sued the Trump administration today for waiving 28 conservation laws to speed construction of the border wall along the Rio Grande Valley in Texas.
Border-wall construction would cut through the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge, National Butterfly Center, Bentsen-Rio Grande State Park and the grounds of the historic La Lomita Chapel, as well as family farms and other private property.
“The Trump administration is casting aside bedrock environmental protections with no regard for human health, wildlife or the law,” said Jean Su, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Waiving these laws is disastrous for border communities and imperiled animals, and it’s unconstitutional. We hope the courts stop Trump’s reckless abuse of power before bulldozers destroy some of the most spectacular wildlands in Texas.”
Today’s filing in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C. says the Department of Homeland Security does not have authority to waive the Endangered Species Act, National Environmental Policy Act or other laws that protect clean air, clean water, public lands and wildlife in the borderlands.
The department wants to sweep aside these laws to speed construction of 18 miles of 30-foot-high, levee-style border walls in Hidalgo County, as well as gates and other border-wall infrastructure in Cameron County.
The levee-style walls planned for construction will block the natural migration of wildlife and cause dangerous flooding. Existing walls have been implicated in the deaths of hundreds of Texas tortoises and other animals due to flooding, which is common in the Rio Grande Valley.
The waivers also will allow bulldozing of a 150-foot “enforcement zone” south of the wall and installation of surveillance equipment, lighting and other infrastructure with no meaningful environmental review.
“These most recent waivers of vital environmental and animal-protection laws demonstrate the administration’s continued disregard for wildlife, including the most fragile species that could be pushed to extinction by these projects,” said Animal Legal Defense Fund Executive Director Stephen Wells. “Building a wall that cuts through the heart of vital parks, wildlife refuges and the National Butterfly Center will have devastating effects on these critical areas and the wildlife that calls these areas their home.”
Dozens of rare wildlife species, including the ocelot, jaguarundi and aplomado falcon, make their homes in this region of Texas, as do hundreds of species of migratory birds and butterflies. The area is also within historic jaguar habitat.
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“The administration’s latest actions spotlight their willingness to gamble with our country’s natural heritage and environmental health,” said Bryan Bird, Southwest program director for Defenders of Wildlife. “Ignoring environmental and public-safety laws puts wildlife and borderland communities in the region at unnecessary risk and denies the public due process. We will do whatever it takes to fight these reckless decisions and to protect the Lower Rio Grande Valley for future generations.”
Today’s lawsuit states that the waiver authority, granted in 2006, expired years ago and is an unconstitutional delegation of power to the department. The waiver authority applied to border-wall construction under the 2006 Secure Fence Act, which required the agency to build hundreds of miles of border barriers. That mandate was met several years ago, with the department using REAL ID authority five times to waive more than 35 laws on 625 miles of border-wall and barrier construction.
Last week’s border-wall waivers were issued in the middle of a public comment period that remains open until Nov. 6. So far more than 9,000 people have said they oppose the plan. U.S. Customs and Border Protection opened the comment period after the Center and 42 groups requested public input and increased transparency.
Beyond jeopardizing wildlife, endangered species and public lands, the U.S.-Mexico border wall is part of a larger strategy of ongoing border militarization that damages human rights, civil liberties, native lands, local businesses and international relations.
The border wall impedes the natural migrations of people and wildlife that are essential to healthy diversity.