Effective Wednesday, the Trump administration will suspend nearly 30 laws, most of which focus on environmental protections, in order to proceed with construction on border wall gates and infrastructure in South Texas, despite outcry from environmental groups in the state.
In an announcement Tuesday, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) said it would waive 28 laws in order to accelerate construction in Cameron County, Texas on President Donald Trump’s long-touted wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
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.
Among those laws waived are the Endangered Species Act, the Federal Water Pollution Control Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Migratory Bird Conservation Act, and the American Indian Religious Freedom Act.
“Border security is critical to the nation’s national security. Recognizing the critical importance of border security, Congress has mandated DHS to achieve and maintain operational control of the international land border,” the waiver reads.
Green groups slammed the announcement and expressed concern over its long-term implications for both people and the environment.
“Waiving environmental laws forgoes the opportunity to fully examine the impacts, mitigation strategies and alternatives,” said Luke Metzger, executive director of Environment Texas, in an email to ThinkProgress. “This is an irresponsible move which puts wildlife and Texas parks at risk.”
In a statement on Tuesday, the Center for Biological Diversity, a national, nonprofit conservation organization, also called attention to the health implications for residents in the area.
“This adds insult to injury for Cameron County, where the government has already run roughshod over property owners and decimated the environment to build border walls,” said Laiken Jordahl, a borderlands campaigner with the organization. “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.”
Eleven locations are listed in the online waiver posting as being slated for gate installation. Those gates are meant to close-off some of the current gaps in the roughly 700 miles of border wall fencing already in existence in South Texas. DHS has issued similar waivers in past months for related projects as the Trump administration has pushed forward with efforts to construct and fortify the border wall.
Scientists, environmental advocates, and residents have all pushed back on the wall’s construction. In addition to threatening scientific research in general, many say the project will harm biodiversity and fail to account for climate change. Those who live in the area may suffer health risks with so many environmental laws suspended, in addition to seeing their properties divided and their way of life massively shifted.
For Texans, the wall poses a direct threat to the state’s beloved parks and outdoor spaces. In July, state media began reporting that the wall could force the Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park to close, shuttering one of the top bird-watching destinations in the country. The park is the headquarters of the World Birding Center.
And while Congress has worked to protect the neighboring Santa Ana Wildlife Refuge, such efforts have come at the expense of the National Butterfly Center, not far from the Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park.
The barriers put in place to protect the Santa Ana Wildlife Refuge will notably create a “no man’s land” over some 6,500 acres. Wildlife will likely be trapped when the Rio Grande floods, creating serious issues in the region.
“From blocking the path (and food sources) of wildlife to exacerbating flooding for Rio Grande communities, the border wall will clearly have a major impact on the environment and public safety,” said Metzger.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection has previously indicated that gate installation would begin in October. A number of private landowners in Cameron County say they have already had their land seized to accommodate the wall.