Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, August 23, 2018

Contacts:  Brian Segee, Center for Biological Diversity, (805) 750-8852,
Rebecca Bullis, Defenders of Wildlife, (202) 772-0295,
Natalia Lima, Animal Legal Defense Fund, (201) 679-7088,   

Petition Asks U.S. Supreme Court to Overturn Border Wall Decision

WASHINGTON― Three conservation groups filed a petition with the U.S. Supreme Court today asking for a review of a federal court ruling that allowed the Trump administration to waive dozens of environmental, health and safety laws to speed construction of border walls near San Diego, Calif.

Today’s petition says that a 2005 law allowing the Trump administration to ignore federal laws to build border walls, roads, lighting and other infrastructure without public input or analysis of environmental harms is unconstitutional. It was filed by Defenders of Wildlife, the Center for Biological Diversity and the Animal Legal Defense Fund.

“By waiving dozens of protections like the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act to build a border wall, the Trump administration is saying the health and wellbeing of humans and wildlife does not matter. The strength of our natural heritage and our environment is in jeopardy for the sake of building a wall. Species like the jaguar and Mexican gray wolf depend on borderland habitat for survival and cutting off access to migration routes would severely impact their chances of recovery. We will not stop fighting to protect wildlife and communities from the devastation this wall would bring,” said Jason Rylander, a senior staff attorney at Defenders of Wildlife.

“These waivers are a blank check for environmental destruction in the borderlands,” said Brian Segee, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Trump’s abuse of power and dangerous fixation with the border wall have to be reined in before it causes even more devastation. Trump can’t wave a wand and ignore bedrock environmental and public-health laws. Hopefully the Supreme Court will take this case so these critical constitutional issues can be addressed.”

“Construction of a wall will have devastating effects on wildlife, such as jaguars, Mexican gray wolves and ocelots, who call the border their home,” said Animal Legal Defense Fund Executive Director Stephen Wells. “In order to thrive, animals need the full range of their habitats. A border wall will separate animal families, disturb natural migration routes, and disrupt breeding patterns. The secretary’s decision to waive crucial environmental laws could push dozens of species to extinction.” 

The conservation groups and the state of California filed separate lawsuits last year in U.S. District Court challenging the Trump administration’s use of the long-expired waiver to build replacement walls and prototypes in Otay Mesa. The lawsuits said a 2005 waiver under the REAL ID Act had expired and the new waivers represented an unconstitutional delegation in violation of the separation of powers. The cases were consolidated, and in March the judge ruled against the groups, saying the 2005 waiver authority was still valid. 

The parties are being represented by the law firm of Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe.

The 2005 REAL ID Act gave the secretary of Homeland Security unprecedented power to waive any federal, state or local law to construct roads and barriers along the border. This waiver has been invoked five times to exempt the department from more than 35 laws that protect clean air, clean water, public lands and endangered wildlife, including the National Environmental Policy Act, Endangered Species Act, Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act, Antiquities Act and National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act.

In addition to the significant harm to border communities, the waiver of environmental regulations could harm threatened and endangered species, including the Quino checkerspot butterfly and California gnatcatcher.

There are signs that animals like the jaguar and Mexican gray wolf are making a comeback, but the construction of an impenetrable border wall would eliminate any possibility of their recovery in the United States. Trump’s border wall would fragment vital ecosystems and landscapes protected by both countries, jeopardizing decades of binational conservation investment.

The border wall puts binational conservation at risk by destroying vegetation and harming wildlife in the construction and maintenance of the wall and related infrastructure, as well as disrupting and altering wildlife behavior as animals avoid borders, lights, noise, patrols and other enforcement-related disturbances.

Nearly 700 miles of the 1,953-mile U.S.-Mexico border are already blocked by walls, fences and other barricades, impeding the movement of wildlife in search of food and mates and cutting off migration routes.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.6 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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