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Groups Challenge Trump Waivers to Build Border Wall

The U.S. Supreme Court will decide whether to review lower court rulings that allow the Trump administration to waive environmental laws for border-wall construction, including a 180-mile stretch in New Mexico. (ArtueoM/Adobe Stock)
The U.S. Supreme Court will decide whether to review lower court rulings that allow the Trump administration to waive environmental laws for border-wall construction, including a 180-mile stretch in New Mexico. (ArtueoM/Adobe Stock)
February 3, 2020

SANTA FE -- Conservation groups have petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to review lower court rulings that waive environmental laws to build the border wall, in New Mexico and elsewhere. The groups contend it's unconstitutional for the Trump administration to abandon environmental, health and safety laws to speed Mexican border-wall construction, including along the 180-mile New Mexico frontier.

Santa Fe-based Bryan Bird, Southwest director for the group Defenders of Wildlife, said the steel walls would threaten protected landscapes and the habitats of hundreds of animals, many on the Endangered Species List.

"It's going to run from the Pacific Ocean all the way to the Gulf of Mexico, and it's going to cut in half a continent that has been used by wildlife as well as people," Bird said. "And so, there's many species that we're concerned with that this could be sort of a fatal strike that ends their ability to recover."

President Donald Trump used an executive order to declare a national emergency and divert funds from the military and other federal agencies to build the border wall - actions that are currently facing several legal challenges.

Regardless of the outcome of any court cases, Bird said the Trump administration appears to be pushing ahead with construction.

"He's got the waiver authority," he said. "In other words, he's waived all federal laws that apply to the border, so he can construct the border wall. And they have the money now, so we expect them to be under new construction any day now."

Bird said his group and others are deeply concerned that a 30-foot-high barrier would affect rivers and wetlands, and also prevent the migration of a number of endangered species between the U.S. and Mexico.

"We had, in 2018, a Mexican gray wolf that crossed over the border from Mexico and wandered into the United States for a bit, and then it wandered back," Bird said. "These imperiled wildlife, like Mexican gray wolves, are crossing the border in search of new habitat and in search of mates."

The group's recent petition follows 2018 and 2019 lawsuits, also challenging the administration's waiver of regulations. Along with Defenders of Wildlife, the coalition includes the Center for Biological Diversity, the Animal Legal Defense Fund and the Southwest Environmental Center.

Disclosure: Defenders of Wildlife contributes to our fund for reporting on Climate Change/Air Quality, Endangered Species & Wildlife, Energy Policy, Environment, Public Lands/Wilderness. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
Mark Richardson, Public News Service - NM