The Environmental Impact of Trump's Border Wall and Dirty Energy Plans
July 26, 2017
Emily Flitter / Reuters & Jessica Corbett / Nation of Change & Natasha Geiling / ThinkProgress
The US Customs and Border Patrol plans to use a 2005 anti-terror law to sidestep an environmental impact study for a section of Donald Trump's border wall that will pass through a Texas national refuge for endangered ocelots. Meanwhile, as Senate Democrats stay silent on an energy bill that environmentalists call "a pro-fracking giveaway to oil and gas interests that would commit America to decades more of dangerous fossil fuel dependence," Sen. Bernie Sanders is being hailed for speaking out against it.
Trump Administration Seeks to
Sidestep Border Wall Environmental Study
Emily Flitter / Reuters
NEW YORK (July 21, 2017) -- The US Customs and Border Patrol plans to use a 2005 anti-terror law to sidestep an environmental impact study for a section of President Donald Trump's border wall that will pass through a Texas national refuge for endangered ocelots, according to two government sources familiar with the matter.
Trump's 2018 budget proposal calls for 32 miles (51 km) of new border wall in the Rio Grande Valley Sector of the US-Mexico border, where the 2,000-acre Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge is located.
The area near the southern tip of Texas is home to 400 species of birds as well as a dwindling population of federally protected ocelots. Only about 50 ocelots remain in the United States, according to the Fish and Wildlife Service.
The sources said CBP officials had informed them CBP would rely on exemptions provided to the US Department of Homeland Security under the Real ID Act, a law created on recommendations from the 9/11 Commission, so they can start building the section of wall without waiting for the years-long environmental study.
Environmental impact studies are generally required under federal law whenever a proposal is made to build on public lands, including national forests, wildlife refuges and land managed by the Bureau of Land Management.
The Real ID Act also allows the secretary of Homeland Security to exempt CBP from adhering to the Endangered Species Act, which the sources said would otherwise make the wall's construction inside the refuge impossible due to the presence of the ocelots. The sources asked not to be named because they are not authorized to speak publicly on the matter.
CBP spokesman Carlos Diaz declined to comment on the sources' assertion directly. He said in emails to Reuters that plans for constructing the wall were still uncertain and that the wall's construction depended upon whether Congress authorizes Trump's proposed 2018 budget.
He added, however, that a government contractor has already begun testing soil samples on land near the refuge and that CBP got an official waiver for permission to do so.
"CBP, like all other federal agencies, may rely on Categorical Exclusions to achieve NEPA compliance for routine agency activities, like the soil sampling, that have minimal to no environmental impact," he said.
Environmental studies are mandates under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The Texas Observer first reported on July 14 that the CBP was testing soil in Santa Ana.
Congress is expected to take up the 2018 budget in September. The sources said CBP hopes to start building the wall before the end of 2017.
The CBP's Acting Border Patrol Chief Carla Provost said in testimony to Congress on June 13 the agency's activities building the wall would include "environmental planning."
Private industry advocates have said National Environmental Policy Act requirements for impact studies take too long. Mining industry executives want the Trump administration to help shorten the process.
Environmentalists Urge Democrats to
Join Sanders in Opposing Dirty Energy Bill
Jessica Corbett / Nation of Change
"As a nation, our job is to move away from fossil fuels toward sustainable energy and energy efficiency. This bill does the opposite."
-- Sen. Bernie Sanders
(July 25, 2017) -- As Senate Democrats stay silent on an energy bill that environmental groups call "a pro-fracking giveaway to oil and gas interests that would commit America to decades more of dangerous fossil fuel dependence," Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) is receiving applause for speaking out against it.
"As a nation, our job is to move away from fossil fuels toward sustainable energy and energy efficiency. This bill does the opposite," Sanders said in a statement.
Sanders' opposition to the bill was praised by environmental advocates who continue to pressure Democrats with thousands of phone calls to their Congressional offices.
"Once again, Bernie Sanders shows that he is a champion of the American people by reminding the Senate that clean renewable energy, not obedience to industry executives, is the future of our country," said Bill Snape, senior counsel at the Center for Biological Diversity.
Food & Water Watch executive director Wenonah Hauter called on others lawmakers to follow Sanders' lead.
"By coming out in opposition to the dirty energy bill currently looming before the Senate, Senator Sanders has once again demonstrated the real progressive leadership that is too often hard to find in Washington," Hauter said. "With our climate and a livable future hanging in the balance, Senate Democrats need to wake up, state their sensible opposition to this foolish energy bill now, and ensure it doesn't see the light of day."
Earlier this month, more than 350 green groups sent a letter to pressure Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) to oppose the bill. However, according to recent reporting by Bloomberg, "no Democrat has publicly voiced opposition" to the legislation, which is nearly 900 pages, even though it "would entrench natural gas into the U.S. energy portfolio for years to come."
The bill, Sanders said, "would make us more reliant on fracking for natural gas for decades to come by expediting the review process for natural gas pipelines and liquefied natural gas. It would also provide millions of taxpayer dollars to research new offshore natural gas extraction techniques."
Supporters of the legislation are quick to point to its power grid updates, as well as cyber security, public lands, and energy efficiency provisions. Some senators also see it as an opportunity to work across the aisle.
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), often considered one of the Senate's major advocates for the environment, told Bloomberg: "There's been no slaking of the thirst for bipartisan work because none's been available, and I think in energy, there are areas where we can work together… We're not going to agree on everything, but it's worth a try."
Environmental advocates and organizations disagree, and said in their letter to Schumer:
No energy legislation is better than bad energy legislation that serves to increase our dependence on dirty fossil fuel production instead of advancing energy efficiency to reduce the amount of energy we utilize and building on successful policies to expand clean energy sources such as solar and wind . . . . In light of the current administration's overt efforts to make it easier for the fossil fuel industry to pollute our air and water, it is more essential than ever that Congress resist efforts to increase fossil fuel production.
"The Senate dirty energy bill would further Trump's extreme agenda by increasing fracking. Resisting Trump means resisting fossil fuels," said Ben Schreiber, a senior political strategist at Friends of the Earth.
"By opposing this bill, Senator Sanders continues to be a real climate leader in Congress," said actor and environmental advocate Mark Ruffalo. "There can be no more trading off a few good conservation provisions in a bill for increased coal projects and fracking. We must transition swiftly to renewable clean energy. Our time is running out."
Texas Wildlife Refuge Will Fall to Trump's Wall
A Texas Wildlife Refuge Will Be Razed to Build the First Section of Trump's Wall
Natasha Geiling / ThinkProgress
(July 18, 2017) -- US Customs and Border Patrol has begun preparations to construct the first leg of the Trump administration's border wall through the Santa Ana Wildlife Refuge in South Texas, according to the Texas Observer.
The Santa Ana Wildlife Refuge comprises 2,088-acres along the US-Mexico border, and was established in 1943 for the protection of migratory birds. The refuge is home to at least 400 species of birds, 450 types of plants, and half of the butterfly species found in North America. It is also home to the highly-endangered ocelot.
Federal officials told the Texas Observer that the wall would consist of an 18-foot levee wall that would stretch for three miles in the wildlife refuge. The construction plan would require building a road south of the wall, as well as clearing land on either side. Such construction would "essentially destroy the refuge," an official told the Texas Observer.
Congress is still debating funding for the billion-dollar wall, but a federal official told the Texas Observer that funds could be transferred from within the Department of Homeland Security to pay for construction at the refuge. Construction within the refuge could begin as early as winter of 2018.
Officials said that the Santa Ana Wildlife Refuge is slated to be the site of the first section of the wall because the government already owns the land, and so won't have to contend with issues of private ownership. Part of the wall's $21.6 billion estimated price tag will almost certainly come from the cost of purchasing land along the route from private landowners.
Environmental and conservation groups have expressed opposition to Trump's proposed wall in the past, arguing that it would block migratory routes and disrupt sensitive ecosystems. A US Fish and Wildlife report from 2016 found that more than 100 animals that are listed as endangered, threatened, or candidates for protection under the Endangered Species Act could be affected by the border wall.
Climate activists have also argued construction of the wall will create greenhouse gas emissions, since concrete -- from which the wall is set to be built -- is incredibly carbon-intensive to manufacture. And, if constructed, the wall is likely to face threats of flooding from the Rio Grande, which are likely to become more pronounced with climate change.
Trump has suggested covering the wall with solar panels, though energy expertsnote that the wall would not be ideally situated for such use, as it is far from both transmission lines and the majority of the American population.
The Center for Biological Diversity, along with Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ), have already sued to stop construction of the wall on the grounds that the administration failed to conduct an environmental impact study. According to the lawsuit, the US government has not conducted a study on how border operations -- from patrols to spotlights -- impact the environment since 2001.
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