Before Chertoff waived 36 federal laws to build the border wall, the Department of Homeland Security went through the motions of preparing Draft Environmental Impact Statements for the Rio Grande Valley of Texas and for a portion of the border wall south of San Diego. Their contractor, E2m, also prepared Draft Environmental Assessments for many of the other Border Patrol sectors which are scheduled to see border wall construction in 2008. DHS claimed that these were in compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act, which requires that when the government goes forward with major projects it first must study the impacts that will be felt by the human and natural environments, so that stakeholders and decisionmakers can decide whether the project justifies the damage that it will do, and if that damage can be lessened in any way. When Secretary Chertoff issued the Real ID Act waiver in April, the National Environmental Policy Act topped the list of suspended laws. Chertoff quickly announced that Final Environmental Impact Statements and Environmetal Assessments would not be issued.
The Environmental Protection Agency is tasked with evaluating Environmental Impact Statements and Environmental Assessments, and determining whether the have been properly prepared. In the case of the documents prepared by the Department of Homeland Security's contractor, they found in every case that the reports were inadequate.
Today the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club issued the following press release about the EPA's findings:
(Austin) -- The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) expressed serious concerns about the impacts of the border wall that were ignored, according to newly disclosed public comments from late 2007.
The EPA's environmental and economic concerns echoed those raised by hundreds of residents, environmental organizations, and local institutions and public officials, all of which were negated by the Bush Administration's April 1 waiver of 36 federal laws to expedite construction of the border wall.
The ignored comments were submitted by EPA to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) as part of the draft Environmental Impact Study (DEIS) on the planned border fences in the Lower Rio Grande Valley, as well as similar plans in the Presidio and El Paso areas of the Texas-Mexico border.
"These comments show that the EPA felt that the border wall represents a major threat to the habitat and endangered species found along the Texas-Mexico border," said Cyrus Reed, Conservation Director of the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club. "Rather than trying to rewrite or reconsider the hastily drawn plans of a massive border wall, the Bush Administration felt it was above the law and chose to waive dozens of environmental and other federal laws."
The EPA comments characterized the proposed border walls and fences to be environmentally and economically disruptive due to their size and location, often slated for construction in natural wildlife areas or cutting through agriculturally productive land. For example, in its comments submitted on the proposed fences in the Lower Rio Grande Valley, John Blevins, Director of Compliance Assurance and Enforcement Definitions rates the project as "EC-2, Environmental Concerns-Insufficient Information," and explains: "The DEIS contains insufficient information for an adequate review. Of particular concern to EPA is the potential for long-term adverse environmental and ecological habitat impacts in the study area."
Among the chief concerns and insufficiencies highlighted by the agency are:
There is no text, studies, etc. that provide support for the purpose and need.
It does not appear that the alternatives are equally analyzed. There is also text that implies that the "No Action Alternative" is not a viable alternative.
There is no mention of how the wall would impact water quality.
The majority of this section uses relative terms like "minor, major, perceptible, short-term, and long-term." There are qualitative descriptions of these terms, but there is no quantitative description or attempt to quantify these impacts.
There is also no mention of US-Mexico treaties and whether they will be impacted.
There is no discussion of the fence's potential impact on migratory species or impact to their home range, in particular, large mammal species (e.g., deer or carnivores) or birds.
There is no discussion of the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) initiative to purchase land to connect units of the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge (LRGVNWR) (p. 3-30 line 4-10) or the potential impacts of the fence to this large scale effort to increase connectivity and reduce habitat fragmentation.
Related to the location of the fence and property of individuals, the maps created by DHS show that the fence could run straight through houses and backyards. Many families have lived at these locations for decades, some even centuries, and have strong emotional ties to the family land and homes.
The fence could also cut off farmers from prime farmland close to the water.
"These comments show the DHS never conducted a proper assessment of the sites, and also show that they would have a hard time convincing EPA to give a thumbs up to the proposed border wall," Reed stated. "Rather than getting a black eye from their fellow agency, they chose to waive environmental laws and ignore the comments of EPA and the public."
Several civil lawsuits that could impact the construction of the border wall are ongoing.
Find more information on the Lone Star Chapter Sierra Club's website at http://www.texas.sierraclub.org/press/newsreleases/20080702.asp.
Contact: Donna Hoffman, Lone Star Chapter, Sierra Club, 512-477-1729 or 512-299-5776