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Federal agencies refuse to provide records on environmental compliance until after wall prototypes are built, environmental group says

East County News Service

June 2, 2017 (San Diego) -- The Center for Biological Diversity has filed a formal notice of intent to sue the Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Customs and Border Protection over impacts to endangered species and critical habitat from building up to 20 border-wall “prototype” designs in San Diego County. 

“The Trump administration is allowing construction of these border-wall prototypes without even paying lip service to protecting the environment,” said Brian Segee of the Center. “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.”

As detailed in the Center’s notice, the Trump administration is proceeding with construction of the prototypes without any environmental review or attempt to avoid harm to endangered species, violating both the National Environmental Policy Act and Endangered Species Act, the group contends.

The President has contended that the wall is needed to increase national security along the international U.S.-Mexico border and building it would fulfill a campaign promise of Trump’s.

The prototypes are the second phase of bidding for contractors hoping to build Trump’s “Great Wall.” Construction would occur on Otay Mesa, which contains critical habitat for several endangered species including the Quino checkerspot butterfly, coastal California gnatcatcher, Riverside fairy shrimp and San Diego fairy shrimp.

“Building just these prototypes for the wall will affect several endangered species, so it’s clear that a wall across the entirety of the border will do widespread damage to endangered species and the critical habitat they depend on to survive,” Segee said.  “Trump’s wall threatens to cut through the heart of the borderlands, among the most biologically and culturally diverse areas in North America. It will be a blight of epic proportions.”

A recent study by the Center identified more than 90 endangered or threatened species that would be threatened by proposed wall construction along the 2,000-mile U.S.-Mexico border. The Center and Congressman Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), the ranking member of the House Committee on Natural Resources, sued the Trump administration last month over the proposed border wall and other border-security measures, calling on Homeland Security to conduct an in-depth investigation of overall border-security environmental impacts.

Homeland Security has claimed that no environmental impacts would arise from the prototype construction but has not released any environmental analysis documents to the public or provided any opportunity for public comment.

On May 2, the Center for Biological Diversity submitted Freedom of Information Act requests to Homeland Security and U.S. Customs and Border Protection for records related to the border-wall prototype project, including for all records related to compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act and Endangered Species Act.

The agencies have acknowledged that request, but stated they will not provide responsive records for three to six months — long after the prototype project is scheduled to be completed.

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