Trump administration waives 28 environmental and health protections to build border wall in Texas

E.A. Crunden

E.A. Crunden Reporter, Think Progress

Effective Wednesday, the Trump administration will suspend nearly 30 laws, most of which focus on environmental protections, in order to proceed with construction on border wall gates and infrastructure in South Texas, despite outcry from environmental groups in the state.

In an announcement Tuesday, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) said it would waive 28 laws in order to accelerate construction in Cameron County, Texas on President Donald Trump’s long-touted wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

The area includes spots adjacent to wildlife refuges, like the Lower Rio Grande National Wildlife Refuge. The waiver allows the administration to suspend laws protecting clean air and water, in addition to public lands and endangered wildlife.

Among those laws waived are the Endangered Species Act, the Federal Water Pollution Control Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Migratory Bird Conservation Act, and the American Indian Religious Freedom Act.

“Border security is critical to the nation’s national security. Recognizing the critical importance of border security, Congress has mandated DHS to achieve and maintain operational control of the international land border,” the waiver reads.

Green groups slammed the announcement and expressed concern over its long-term implications for both people and the environment.

“Waiving environmental laws forgoes the opportunity to fully examine the impacts, mitigation strategies and alternatives,” said Luke Metzger, executive director of Environment Texas, in an email to ThinkProgress. “This is an irresponsible move which puts wildlife and Texas parks at risk.”

In a statement on Tuesday, the Center for Biological Diversity, a national, nonprofit conservation organization, also called attention to the health implications for residents in the area.

CREDIT: Kara Clauser / Center for Biological Diversity

“This adds insult to injury for Cameron County, where the government has already run roughshod over property owners and decimated the environment to build border walls,” said Laiken Jordahl, a borderlands campaigner with the organization. “Trump’s latest waiver continues to chip away at crucial protections for people and wildlife in the Rio Grande Valley. They deserve clean air, clean water and the same legal rights as everyone else in the country.”

Eleven locations are listed in the online waiver posting as being slated for gate installation. Those gates are meant to close-off some of the current gaps in the roughly 700 miles of border wall fencing already in existence in South Texas. DHS has issued similar waivers in past months for related projects as the Trump administration has pushed forward with efforts to construct and fortify the border wall.

Scientists, environmental advocates, and residents have all pushed back on the wall’s construction. In addition to threatening scientific research in general, many say the project will harm biodiversity and fail to account for climate change. Those who live in the area may suffer health risks with so many environmental laws suspended, in addition to seeing their properties divided and their way of life massively shifted.

For Texans, the wall poses a direct threat to the state’s beloved parks and outdoor spaces. In July, state media began reporting that the wall could force the Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park to close, shuttering one of the top bird-watching destinations in the country. The park is the headquarters of the World Birding Center.

And while Congress has worked to protect the neighboring Santa Ana Wildlife Refuge, such efforts have come at the expense of the National Butterfly Center, not far from the Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park.

The barriers put in place to protect the Santa Ana Wildlife Refuge will notably create a “no man’s land” over some 6,500 acres. Wildlife will likely be trapped when the Rio Grande floods, creating serious issues in the region.

“From blocking the path (and food sources) of wildlife to exacerbating flooding for Rio Grande communities, the border wall will clearly have a major impact on the environment and public safety,” said Metzger.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection has previously indicated that gate installation would begin in October. A number of private landowners in Cameron County say they have already had their land seized to accommodate the wall.


Reposted from Think Progress

Posted In: Allied Approaches

Union Matters

Get to Know AFL-CIO's Affiliates: National Association of Letter Carriers

From the AFL-CIO

Next up in our series that takes a deeper look at each of our affiliates is the National Association of Letter Carriers.

Name of Union: National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC)

Mission: To unite fraternally all city letter carriers employed by the U.S. Postal Service for their mutual benefit; to obtain and secure rights as employees of the USPS and to strive at all times to promote the safety and the welfare of every member; to strive for the constant improvement of the Postal Service; and for other purposes. NALC is a single-craft union and is the sole collective-bargaining agent for city letter carriers.

Current Leadership of Union: Fredric V. Rolando serves as president of NALC, after being sworn in as the union's 18th president in 2009. Rolando began his career as a letter carrier in 1978 in South Miami before moving to Sarasota in 1984. He was elected president of Branch 2148 in 1988 and served in that role until 1999. In the ensuing years, he worked in various roles for NALC before winning his election as a national officer in 2002, when he was elected director of city delivery. In 2006, he won election as executive vice president. Rolando was re-elected as NALC president in 2010, 2014 and 2018.

Brian Renfroe serves as executive vice president, Lew Drass as vice president, Nicole Rhine as secretary-treasurer, Paul Barner as assistant secretary-treasurer, Christopher Jackson as director of city delivery, Manuel L. Peralta Jr. as director of safety and health, Dan Toth as director of retired members, Stephanie Stewart as director of the Health Benefit Plan and James W. “Jim” Yates as director of life insurance.

Number of Members: 291,000 active and retired letter carriers.

Members Work As: City letter carriers.

Industries Represented: The United States Postal Service.

History: In 1794, the first letter carriers were appointed by Congress as the implementation of the new U.S. Constitution was being put into effect. By the time of the Civil War, free delivery of city mail was established and letter carriers successfully concluded a campaign for the eight-hour workday in 1888. The next year, letter carriers came together in Milwaukee and the National Association of Letter Carriers was formed.

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There is Dignity in All Work

There is Dignity in All Work