Trump Administration Plans to Skip Border Wall Environmental Review

On the long list of terrible ideas for nature preserves, a giant wall running through the middle of a vulnerable area ranks pretty high. The plants and animals of the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge face just that, though, as the Trump administration aims to construct its ambitious border wall on these lands — and sidestep the environmental review that could put the brakes on the project.

The border wall project has been plagued with a host of problems, starting with the fact that it’s racist and xenophobic — as well as too expensive and logistically complex to realistically build. The government has struggled to access private land along the border, with numerous condemnation suits lingering in court.

So the Trump administration came up with a bright idea: Why not start the wall with a segment on land it already owns?

That land happens to lie within the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, a diverse, beautiful and unique 2,088 acres in Texas initially set aside for migratory birds in the 1940s. It’s still a popular site for birders — and butterfly fans too. Now, the refuge hosts endangered ocelots and a variety of other vulnerable animals and plants. It’s an ecological treasure, and one worthy of protection.

Fortunately, there’s a framework in place to provide that protection. Under federal law, it’s necessary to conduct an environmental impact study before building on government lands to assess whether a proposed development is a sound idea. Such a study would almost certainly make a strong case against construction in the park, not least because animals need to cross the border freely to maintain their range.

Unfortunately, there’s a workaround for this problem in the form of the REAL ID Act. Passed in 2005, this legislation came in response to pressure to develop more counterterrorism tools. Under the terms of the act, the Secretary of Homeland Security can allow the agency to flout the law when it constructs walls or roads along US borders.

This blank check lets the agency skip not just environmental impact studies, but also other requirements — including those set out in laws like the Endangered Species Act, Clean Water Act, Antiquities Act, Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, American Indian Religious Freedom Act, Eagle Protection Act and Archaeological Resources Protection Act.

These laws are designed to protect our collective national environmental, ecological and cultural heritage, yet construction of the border wall can override all of them.

An anonymous source told the Texas Observer that moving ahead with construction would “destroy” the refuge, and that government employees were already engaged in preparatory work. The source suggested that much of the work was taking place behind the scenes, using a stealthy approach.

The Trump administration’s 2017-18 budget request includes allocations for activities along the border, including construction of wall segments like this one.

Environmental groups are already suing over the need for environmental impact studies, arguing that an amendment to the REAL ID Law restricted the scope of the legislation — thus requiring consultation with stakeholders. Meanwhile, Texan legislators in Congress are pushing Customs and Border Patrol for a meeting about the situation.

Take Action!

Urge the Trump administration to protect the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge by signing this Care2 petition. Texans may wish to contact their legislators to encourage them to take action — or thank them for playing a proactive role in conserving the state’s national resources.