On Wednesday (October 17), the federal government will formally suspend dozens of laws—many of which offer environmental protections—to expedite the building of segments of President Donald Trump’s proposed border wall in southern Texas.
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced it would waive 28 laws in connection to wall construction that will run through Cameron County, Texas. This includes 11 locations where gates will be installed, and it’s intended to close some of the gaps in the approximately 700 miles of border wall fencing that now stands at the state’s southwest border. Per ThinkProgress:
The area includes spots adjacent to wildlife refuges, like the Lower Rio Grande National Wildlife Refuge. The waiver allows the administration to suspend laws protecting clean air and water, in addition to public lands and endangered wildlife.
Specific laws to be suspended include the Endangered Species Act, the Federal Water Pollution Control Act (the first major United States law to address water pollution), the Safe Drinking Water Act and the American Indian Religious Freedom Act (which gives legal preference to traditional Indigenous spiritual practices over local and state regulations).
Additionally, per the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), environmental impact studies are required for large-scale projects. Yet in February, a federal judge ruled that the government has the authority to invoke a 2005 anti-terror law, the REAL ID Act, to avoid conducting an environmental review of the wall’s impact.
Scientists, environmental activists and residents of regions along the wall’s proposed route continue to protest against its construction. Conservation organization Center for Biological Diversity released a statement regarding how this action will impact the health of county residents.
“Trump’s latest waiver continues to chip away at crucial protections for people and wildlife in the Rio Grande Valley. They deserve clean air, clean water and the same legal rights as everyone else in the country,” Laiken Jordahl, a borderlands campaigner with the organization, said in the statement.
The nearly 2,000-mile border wall—a key element of Donald Trump’s election campaign—is intended to keep out immigrants from Mexico. Gate installation will begin this month, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection.