DHS failed to take 'hard look' at enviro impacts of Trump's border wall - judge

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Donald Trump visits the U.S.-Mexico border wall, in Alamo, Texas, U.S., January 12, 2021. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

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  • DHS, CPB should have provided reasoning for forgoing comprehensive environmental review
  • While Biden has ended border wall construction, plaintiffs say environmental issues remain

(Reuters) - A federal judge in Tucson, Arizona has ruled that the Department of Homeland Security arbitrarily failed to take a "hard look" at the environmental impacts involved in the construction of former President Donald Trump's signature wall on a 50-mile wide corridor at the border with Mexico.

Senior U.S. District Judge Cindy Jorgenson ruled on Monday that DHS and its agency Customs and Border Protection violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) in a partial victory for the Center for Biological Diversity and U.S. Representative Raul Grijalva, an Arizona Democrat, who had sued. The judge, however, declined the plaintiffs' request for an order to produce a more comprehensive environmental analysis now, reasoning that the activities had not produced "demonstrated adverse environmental impacts."

The ruling of the lawsuit that was filed under President Donald Trump comes after his successor put an end to his signature border wall project.

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CBP referred a request for comment to DHS which did not immediately respond.

"We hope this decision will prompt the Biden administration to take a long overdue look at the broader environmental impacts of border enforcement all along the southern border," said Brian Segee, a Center for Biological Diversity lawyer.

The plaintiffs sued in 2017, months after Trump issued Executive Order 13767, which called for the construction of a border wall and more border agents along the U.S.-Mexico border. The lawsuit claims that Trump's proposed border wall as well as his, and prior intensification of, border security had not properly been scrutinized with the up-to-date, program-wide environmental analysis mandated by NEPA.

Rather, the administration produced site-specific analyses without explaining the reasoning, the ruling says.

The ruling cites as examples of border enforcement intensification increased border agents, the construction of infrastructure to accommodate them and of hundreds of miles of fences.

The "defendants should have contemporaneously considered and evaluated the need for supplemental environmental analysis," Jorgenson wrote.

She also denied in her ruling the plaintiffs' claims of Endangered Species Act violations.

The case is Center for Biological Diversity v. Kelly, U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona, No. 4:17-cv-00163.

For Center for Biological Diversity et al: Brian Segee of the Center for Biological Diversity.

For Kelly et al: Tyler Alexander with the U.S. Department of Justice.

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New York-based correspondent covering environmental, climate and energy litigation.