Behind the Center for Biological Diversity’s Lawsuit Against the Trump Administration

On Wednesday, the Center for Biological Diversity announced it had filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration seeking injunctive relief after the government failed to complete an environmental analysis of the southern border — violating the National Environmental Policy Act — before moving forward with plans to build a wall along the United States-Mexico border.

Without a survey of America’s southern border and an understanding of how new infrastructure will affect wildlife populations there, the CBD argues, the government can’t legally build its long-promised wall.

The suit, which names the entire Department of Homeland Security alongside its chief, John Kelly, as well as U.S. Customs and Border Patrol, is reportedly the first to directly challenge the administration’s plans to build a border wall.

The burden to complete a survey of the land wasn’t President Donald Trump’s alone — Randy Serraglio, an advocate with the CBD, points out that the last comprehensive analysis of the U.S.-Mexico border was completed in 2001; it was “intended to be effective for five years,” but was never updated.

Below, Serraglio talks to Pacific Standard about the implications of the Trump administration’s negligence to complete the survey.

Is there a long history of the DHS or any other federal agency neglecting to do these programmatic analyses, and are there any instances in recent history where the government has violated the act?

Yeah, actually, lawsuits filed under the NEPA are fairly common in terms of environmental litigation, generally. There are many times when proponents of a project want to avoid that sort of environmental review, either because they don’t like the delay or they don’t like the fact that someone’s going to actually analyze what they want to do. This could range from federal agencies to mining companies or anyone else that wants to do things on public land. It’s quite often necessary to sue the federal government and compel them to follow the law.

In the case of the Border Patrol, and the border security issue, the last comprehensive environmental review of environmental security policy was done in 2001. And the rules of the NEPA are very clear, that analysis becomes stale after a while when conditions change and a certain number of years have passed. The agency is required to update that analysis. It’s been 16 years since they did an analysis; things are dramatically different now than they were in 2001.

What exactly do you anticipate the survey would show? Do you think the results would be damaging enough to the credibility of the project that DHS would abandon it altogether?

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Chris Alexakisgovernment