Environmentalists file 3rd lawsuit over Trump wall plans

Posted at 10:40 AM, Oct 18, 2018

HOUSTON (AP) – Environmental groups filed another lawsuit Thursday challenging the Trump administration’s use of waivers to speed up construction of a border wall, this time in Texas.

Three groups sued the Department of Homeland Security, a week after the agency waived environmental laws along a roughly 25-mile stretch of border in the Rio Grande Valley, which is the southernmost point of Texas.

Lawsuits have been filed to try to stop construction in California and New Mexico. So far, no judges have stopped DHS from moving forward with construction, though a federal appeals court in California heard arguments in that state’s case in August.

In Texas, the government wants to connect existing sections of fencing on river levees in Hidalgo County and to close other gaps in fencing in neighboring Cameron County. It argues that more barriers are necessary to stop the flow of drugs and immigrants. Congress already funded construction in both areas, though it hasn’t yet provided the larger amounts of money President Donald Trump has requested for his signature campaign priority to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Environmental groups say DHS is wrongly using authority that it received in 2005 for specific projects to waive reviews under more than two dozen laws, including the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Water Act, and the National Environmental Policy Act.

Jean Su, a lawyer for the Center for Biological Diversity, argued that when the previous border fence was built, Congress directly gave DHS the authority to issue waivers. But that waiver authority was not meant to carry over automatically for future projects, she said.

“It will be a longer process, but that process is a basic part of our democratic system and the protection of our environment,” Su said.

Defenders of Wildlife and the Animal Legal Defense Fund joined the lawsuit, which was filed in Washington.

Advocates warn that the government’s proposed construction would cut through the nonprofit National Butterfly Center and local heritage sites. Since sections would be built north of the Rio Grande, it would also effectively consign some U.S. land to the so-called “Mexican side.”

Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen, in announcing the waivers last week, said construction was necessary because the Rio Grande Valley “is an area of high illegal entry” and that Congress had required her agency to “achieve and maintain operational control of the international land border.”