Energy & Environment

Judge: DHS did not properly analyze environmental impact of border security

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A federal judge ruled this week that U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) did not properly incorporate the environmental impact of border security measures taken by the two agencies over the past two decades.

The ruling stems from a 2017 lawsuit filed by the Center for Biological Diversity and Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), who is now chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee. The plaintiffs sued DHS over a series of Trump-era border security steps, including the former president’s planned border wall, arguing that the agency should be required to prepare a full environmental impact statement for the proposed measures.

The last time an environmental study was conducted in the region for border security purposes was in 2001.

Monday’s ruling from Judge Cindy Jorgenson, a George W. Bush appointee, does not require DHS to conduct such a study now.

Still, Jorgenson wrote that while the government said border enforcement has not changed since 2001, “the Administrative Record is replete with examples of expanding federal action in the form of border-enforcement activity.”

She added that the plaintiffs backed up their arguments that enforcement has changed over the years, with examples such as the nearly 100 percent increase in the number of Border Patrol agents on patrol between 2006 and 2011.

“Plaintiffs’ undisputed facts, especially in light of their cumulative effect, constitute triggering events for which Defendants should have contemporaneously considered and evaluated the need for supplemental environmental analysis,” she wrote.

In ruling against ordering a new environmental impact study, Jorgenson wrote that the plaintiffs’ claims “were best suited for litigation and injunctive relief more than a decade ago.”

“The interests of the public would not be served by updating environmental impact statements which have since been withdrawn and that no longer serve as guideposts for future agency activity,” she added.

Jorgenson also denied a motion for summary judgment on allegations that DHS violated the Endangered Species Act.

Environmentalists nonetheless claimed victory.

“This is a win for wildlife and communities along the border, where the government has behaved as if the laws don’t apply,” Brian Segee, the center’s endangered species legal director, said in a statement.

“We’re disappointed the court stopped short of ordering a new environmental impact statement, but we hope the Biden administration takes a long overdue look at the wanton environmental destruction from border militarization,” Segee added.

DHS did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the court ruling.

Tags Border wall Endangered Species Act environmental impact study Trump border wall

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