Groups Sue Over Texas Border Wall Plans

A number of species call the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge home, but groups worry that border wall construction would threaten their habitat. Photo: U.S. Fish and Wildlife/Flickr

by Katherine Davis-Young

BROWNSVILLE, Texas – A coalition is suing the Trump administration over this month’s decision to waive environmental and other laws to move ahead with construction of a wall along the Texas-Mexico border.

The Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife and the Animal Legal Defense Fund claim the government doesn’t have the authority to waive the 28 conservation laws it proposes setting aside to build a border wall in south Texas.

Bryan Bird, program director for Defenders of Wildlife, says the Endangered Species Act, Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, and dozens of others are important to the well-being of people and wildlife in the region.

“There’s a whole host of these federal laws that they think are too burdensome for them to comply with,” Bird says. “But I think the insult is, why do the people of Texas – along the border – not deserve the full protection of the law, like anybody else does anywhere else in the country?”

The lawsuit, filed Thursday, focuses on just over 24 miles of proposed construction area through Hidalgo and Cameron counties.

The Trump administration has cited a 2006 act which allowed the George W. Bush administration to waive some environmental protections for border fencing. The groups suing the Department of Homeland Security argue that law is no longer valid.

According to Bird, wildlife areas along the lower Rio Grande are important to the cultural heritage and economy of the region. He warns that speedy border-wall construction without proper environmental review could do irreversible damage to delicate ecosystems.

“The lower Rio Grande Valley is incredibly rich in biological diversity,” he explains. “It lies right in the middle of the central flyway for migratory birds moving between Central America and North America. It’s also right in the migratory pathway of the monarch butterfly.”

In addition to environmental protections, the Trump administration has waived laws aimed at protecting archaeological sites, farmland and Native American religious freedoms.

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