EDITORIAL: Environmental waiver concerns need to be decided by judiciary

As the Trump Administration continues to push for a border wall, which would bisect the Rio Grande Valley, several environmental concerns have been raised about how such a structure could, and would, affect wildlife and our local terrain.

Whether the wall would uproot animals, like the endangered species ocelot, from its natural habitat, or prevent animals from locating a water source (like the Rio Grande), or even hinder drainage issues in our very flat region, which is prone to flooding, are all valid concerns that should thoroughly be vetted.

Of course without any permanent plans to review, all of this worry is speculative. But it is necessary. Because if a border wall is built here, it will forever change our landscape. And while President Donald Trump has repeatedly said the intent of a border wall is to keep out those who do not have legal papers to be in the United States, there will be many more souls also prevented from entering if such a structure is erected — namely those with fur, multiple legs, tails and even feathers.

Therefore we praise several environmental groups that have begun challenging in court whether the Department of Homeland Security has the sweeping power to waive environmental laws in order to build a border wall.

A lawsuit has been filed in California by the Defenders of Wildlife, the Sierra Club and the Animal Legal Defense Fund questioning whether the Endangered Species Act and Clean Air Act can be waived for border security. Another similar lawsuit was filed this month by the Center for Biological Diversity. And while no environmental waiver has been recently granted to put up a wall in the Rio Grande Valley, it is a very real possibility.

The Department of Homeland Security earlier this year announced it was waiving environmental laws in Otay Mesa, California, to build border wall prototypes commissioned by the federal government and to build 15 miles of replacement fencing in the area. Last week, federal officials announced they were invoking environmental waivers to build three miles of replacement fencing in Calexico, California.

Environmental groups contend the REAL ID Act of 2005, which granted the Secretary of Homeland Security the power to waive federal laws for border security, was supposed to be a temporary tool used at that time to build a border fence — it was never supposed to be permanent.

“Over a decade ago, Congress granted waiver authority under the REAL ID Act to expedite the construction of border fence, which has already been completed. Congress did not grant DHS perpetual unchecked authority to cast aside dozens of laws,” Paulo Lopes, public lands policy specialist with the Center for Biological Diversity,” told Monitor Reporter Lorenzo Zazueta-Castro.

With Republicans having legally challenged executive overreach by the Obama Administration — specifically with regards to programs that would delay deportation of parents of legal citizens, known as Deferred Action for Parents of Americans, and most recently by threatening legal action against DACA (Deferred Action of Childhood Arrivals) — it seems the right time to ask our judiciary whether environmental waivers overstep the intent of this 2005 law.

As our nation and our political leaders seem so bitterly divided on immigration issues, we are heartened that our nation’s court system can take on this challenge. We look to our esteemed judges for guidance and to help us resolve our issues until Congress steps in for a more permanent solution. And we hope the judiciary will deliver concise and quick rulings that we can all live by.

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