Groups sue Trump over border wall emergency

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, February 20, 2019

By Mark Richardson

Texas News Service

MISSION, Texas – Conservation groups are already challenging the Trump administration over its declaration of a national emergency to build border walls in Texas and other states. 

The Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife and Animal Legal Defense Fund filed suit Friday over President Donald Trump’s plan to bypass Congress and redirect funds from other federal projects to construct border barriers. Paul Sanchez-Navarro, a senior representative with Defenders of Wildlife in Texas, said the declaration suspends almost all environmental regulations that would normally apply in the construction zone.
“We’ve been working to do any type of border security within the environmental frameworks so that we don’t mess up the environment while we’re trying to achieve these other goals,” Sanchez-Navarro said. “By calling a national emergency, it takes it even further away from any kind of application of environmental laws.”

He noted the border region runs along a 1,200-mile stretch of the Rio Grande, which includes thousands of acres of fragile animal habitat, as well as critical migratory routes. He added most land on the U.S. side of the river is private property and a wall could divide estates that have been in Texas families for more than a century. 
Sanchez-Navarro said the current plans would include wall construction through at least seven Texas wildlife conservation areas.

“Any kind of construction you do, when you’re going to impact habitat for endangered species, you also have to consider what that impact would be, and how to either remediate it, restore the habitat or mitigate it in some kind of way,” he explained. “And that’s not being looked at.”

Sanchez-Navarro added his organization is particularly concerned about possible damage to such sites as the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge and the National Butterfly Center.

“It’s really the only little piece of wildlife we have left in South Texas because if you go north of the river, it’s all agricultural,” Sanchez-Navarro said. “So, this tiny strip of habitat along the river is the only thing, really, our wildlife species have to rely on. It’s like their last bastion of native habitat.”

The same groups have filed other lawsuits over the border wall, aimed at halting the administration’s attempts to avoid environmental impact studies and waive public health and safety laws in the states where construction is proposed. Those suits are still pending.