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The Environmental Issues Surrounding the Proposed Border Wall

climate change

Source: USFWS | Flickr

As President Trump attempts to allocate funds for his campaign-promised border wall with Mexico, environmental groups are gearing up with lawsuits to protect the 2,000 miles of precious ecosystems and endangered wildlife that the proposed wall would intersect.

This wall, if constructed, would literally and figuratively intersect with issues of immigration, climate change, and wildlife and environmental conservation.

The administration is making an effort to sidestep the environmental laws of protected areas that interfere with the proposed wall. On August 1, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued a waiver to waive certain laws and regulations, including environmental, natural resource, and land management regulations, to expedite “construction of barriers and roads in the vicinity of the international border near San Diego.”

San Diego County is where the administration intends to build “up to 20 border-wall ‘prototype’ designs,” according to a press release by the Center for Biological Diversity.

On June 1, the Center filed a formal notice of intent to sue both the U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the Department of Homeland Security for violations of the Endangered Species Act and National Environmental Policy Act.

The prototype construction in San Diego 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,” the Center stated.

This case is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the environmental impact and harm to wildlife that will occur if the wall is constructed.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) predicts that the project in full could impact 111 endangered species, as well as over 100 species of migratory birds, four wildlife refuges and fish hatcheries, and many protected wetlands. Ironically, the bald eagle–the United States’ national symbol of strength and freedom–is also under threat.

The USFWS’s predictions coincide with a study by the Center for Biological Diversity, which estimates that “93 threatened, endangered and candidate species would potentially be affected by construction of a wall and related infrastructure spanning the entirety of the border.”

These species include jaguars, Mexican gray wolves–the most endangered subspecies of wolf in the world–and Quino checkerspot butterflies.

The environmental implications of this concrete divide have not resonated with President Trump, who aims to curb to illegal immigration, boost national security, and halt the flow of illegal drugs with the nearly 2,000-mile long wall.

On August 1, the same day the DHS issued their waiver to sidestep environmental regulations, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan released a video demonstrating his support for the wall, which received over 10,000 retweets from a slew of Trump and border wall supporters.

Some supporters of the wall, such as Representative Paul Gosar of Arizona’s fourth Congressional district, acknowledge the effect the wall will have on endangered species. Gosar argues, however, the national security should be America’s priority above the regulations outlined in the Endangered Species Act.

However, nearly two-thirds of Americans oppose the construction of the border wall. On August 13, nearly two weeks after the release of Speaker Ryan’s video, hundreds of protesters in South Texas united to demonstrate their opposition to the wall, which threatens the Santa Ana Wildlife Refuge.

In anticipation of a wall, many climate activists argue that if the administration were truly trying to curb the flow of refugees and immigrants, it would start by addressing climate change.

Shortly after President Trump’s inauguration, Gene Karpinski, the president of the League of Conservation Voters, stated, “If President Trump was as concerned about our nation’s true national security issues, he would be tackling climate change head-on while safeguarding refugees and immigrants from the worst impacts of a warming planet and ongoing turbulence in their homelands.”

According to research at Cornell University, nearly 2 billion people could become climate change refugees by the end of the century due to rising sea levels. The United States’ illegal immigration and refugee issues will only worsen with the progression of climate change, a global issue that even a 2,000-mile concrete wall can’t solve.

By: Ella Koscher

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