WASHINGTON — The Trump administration says it will bypass 37 environmental and other laws to expedite construction of a 15-mile-long section of President Donald Trump’s planned wall along the U.S.-Mexico border ― seemingly removing any doubt about whether the the wall will harm the environment.
The waiver, announced Tuesday by the Department of Homeland Security, applies to the construction of several wall prototypes, access roads and 14 miles of replacement fencing near San Diego, a Homeland Security official told HuffPost.
DHS has been granted authority to exempt itself from all legal requirements it determines necessary to construct barriers and roads under the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996. Between 2005 and 2008, the department invoked that authority five times, according to the agency.
DHS noted in its Tuesday release that in fiscal year 2016 the U.S. Border Patrol apprehended more than 31,000 illegal aliens and confiscated more than 9,000 pounds of marijuana and more than 1,300 pounds of cocaine in its San Diego Sector. It described the sector, which includes some 60 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border, as “an area of high illegal entry for which there is an immediate need to improve current infrastructure and construct additional border barriers and roads.”
Among the lengthy list of laws it will waive are the National Environmental Policy Act — a 1969 law requiring federal agencies to complete environmental assessments of their projects — the Endangered Species Act, the Migratory Bird Conservation Act and the Clean Air Act. It is likely a sign of how the administration, which has worked swiftly to roll back a slew of environmental regulations, plans to fulfill Trump’s pledge for a “great, great wall” on the nearly 2,000-mile southern border.
Despite sidestepping these laws, DHS is “committed to responsible environmental stewardship” and “will continue to assess potential impacts, coordinate with relevant stakeholders, and to the extent possible, offset or mitigate potential impacts,” department spokesman Carlos Diaz said in an email to HuffPost.
Conservation groups were quick to slam the Trump administration’s announcement, saying it puts “xenophobia” before conservation and threatens critical habitats for scores of imperiled species.
“Trump wants to scare people into letting him ignore the law and endanger wildlife and people,” Brian Segee, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement. “Trump’s wall is a divisive symbol of fear and hatred, and it does real harm to the landscape and communities.”
A study by the center in May found that 93 threatened, endangered and candidate species could be negatively affected by the proposed border wall, including jaguars, ocelots, Mexican spotted owls, Mexican gray wolves and Quino checkerspot butterflies.
Sara Chieffo, vice president of government affairs at the League of Conservation Voters, called on Congress to deny funding and prevent the wall’s construction.
“Driven by an anti-immigrant agenda, the Trump administration is callously putting construction of an environmentally and culturally destructive border wall above water resources for communities on both sides of the border, federally protected lands, clean air, and the lives of hundreds of endangered species – all while turning a blind eye to the vital relationships of cross-border communities and our longstanding values as a nation,” she said in a statement.
So far, very little funding has been secured for the wall’s estimated cost of upwards of $70 billion — a tab Trump insists Mexico will eventually pay for.
DHS identified $20 million to help fund several prototypes. And last month, the House of Representatives passed a spending bill that earmarks $1.6 billion to begin construction of the controversial project — enough to pay for roughly 74 miles of wall.