The Department of Homeland Security wants to move ahead with U.S.-Mexico border projects, and it’s waiving dozens of laws to get the job done.
The DHS — now headed by an interim secretary since Gen. John Kelly became President Trump’s chief of staff on Monday — announced it would waive some 37 laws and thereby skip an environmental impact analysis for border projects along a 15-mile stretch near San Diego, in an “area of high illegal entry.” The waiver of “certain laws, regulations and other legal requirements” is to “ensure the expeditious construction of barriers and roads in the vicinity.”
DHS spokesman David Lapan in a briefing stressed that the 37 laws relate solely to the San Diego area and that other laws in other states will be taken into account when determining what type of barrier or wall will be constructed in other areas.
The Trump administration is moving forward on border-wall plans without having secured the $1.6 billion in the House-approved spending bill that the Senate is likely to challenge. (In any case, Mexico’s not paying for the wall, as Trump promised it would.) Congress needs to pass a spending bill before October to avoid a government shutdown.
Of the San Diego waiver, critics say it’s not necessary, and potentially harmful.
“The Trump administration didn’t need to waive these laws,” said Dan Millis of the Sierra Club’s Borderlands Project. “According to what they say, they’re planning on replacing existing barriers. That’s something that’s very common, has happened along multiple miles of the border in recent years. Environmental protections have been complied with.”
Instead, he sees the Trump administration “invoking security concerns to address environmental protections they don’t like.”
And the border wall has already wrought environmental damage in the area. Under President George W. Bush, the DHS waived 30 environmental laws to build a wall with a price tag of nearly $60 million through the Otay Mountain Wilderness near San Diego. It’s unclear whether it curbed illegal immigration at all.
The construction of the wall puts an estimated 93 endangered species at risk, according to the Center for Biological Diversity.
“The Trump administration is callously putting construction of an environmentally and culturally destructive 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,” the League of Conservation Voters’ Sara Chieffo said in a statement.
But local ecosystems aren’t the only things that will suffer if the wall’s built. The carbon footprint of the project is hard to fathom — cement is an unlikely and significant contributor to global warming, responsible for between 5 and 8 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions. It’s not clear what a border wall will be made of, but Trump, in one of the few detailed descriptions he provided of the wall while on the campaign trail, envisioned a big concrete wall.
“I’m talking about precast (concrete) going up probably 35 to 40 feet up in the air,” Trump said on MSNBC. “That’s high, that’s a real wall. It’ll look good. It’ll look as good as a wall can actually look and it’s gonna do the trick.”
Border wall construction has been delayed as companies have bickered over details of the contract process. Some of the proposals are allegedly “environmentally friendly” — there’s a proposal on the table for a wall built from solar panels — but each of the proposed designs must be extend the wall across about 1,900 miles, be at least 30 feet tall, extend 6 feet below ground, and be “physically imposing.”
The Center for Biological Diversity, with Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) of the House’s Natural Resources Committee, sued the Trump administration last month for failing to take into account the environmental implications of building a border wall. The center told the Washington Post that they will consider legal options against the DHS for the curtailment of these 37 laws, too, but acknowledged that it’s an “uphill battle.”