Green Group Sues DHS To Stop Prototype Phase Of Border Wall

Will Racke | Immigration and Foreign Policy Reporter

An Arizona-based environmental group plans to sue the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in order to block the Trump administration from moving forward on the testing of prototypes for its proposed border wall.

The Center For Biological Diversity, a nonprofit dedicated to the protection of native species, sent a formal notice of intent Thursday to DHS Secretary John Kelly and Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke. The group claims the border wall will destroy sensitive natural habitats and that proceeding with construction without an environmental impact review is a violation of the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

Center spokesman Brian Segee says the Trump administration hasn’t even paid “lip service” to protecting the environment, which would suffer “widespread damage” as a result of the wall’s construction.

“The administration’s failure to consider the impacts of these border-wall prototypes shows a striking disregard for our nation’s irreplaceable natural heritage and doesn’t bode well for how the administration will approach construction of the wall itself, which would be a disaster for people and wildlife alike,” he said in a statement.

The lawsuit would be the second time the Center has sued the Trump administration over the border wall specifically, and its 16th federal lawsuit targeting the White House’s environmental agenda in general. In April, the group filed a lawsuit to force DHS to prepare a “programmatic environmental impact statement” on the effects of border enforcement operations. (RELATED: Dem Lawmaker, Green Activists Sue Trump Over Border Wall)

The Center’s latest lawsuit comes as Customs and Border Protection (CBP), the main border security agency under the DHS umbrella, is preparing to test 20 prototypes selected from hundreds of companies that submitted bids in April. CBP announced in May that it has selected finalists, who will construct mock-ups of their wall designs for testing and evaluation on a stretch of federally-owned land near the Otay Mesa border crossing in San Diego.

Border security officials chose San Diego as the testing location because the prototypes can be evaluated against existing border barriers in the area and because it is one of the most heavily-trafficked stretches of the U.S.-Mexico border. The testing area is also home to several vernal pools, temporary wetlands that provide a habitat endangered species, according to the Center’s notice.

The Center claims that CBP’s plan for prototype construction is a violation of the ESA, which requires federal agencies to first consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service about how construction projects could effect sensitive environments. If an endangered species or critical habitat is present, agencies must prepare a biological assessment to determine whether their proposed action “may affect” or “is not likely to adversely affect” any species listed under the ESA.

A separate federal law may preempt the ESA’s requirements when it comes to border security related projects. The 2005 federal REAL ID Act gives the DHS secretary authority to waive any laws “necessary to ensure expeditious construction” of barriers and roads along the border.

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