Biden Suspends 26 Environmental Laws to Build Border Wall

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President Joe Biden is suspending 26 environmental laws to build a border wall in south Texas, a move announced by the Department of Homeland Security on Wednesday. The laws include the Clean Air Act, Safe Drinking Water Act, Endangered Species Act, and National Environmental Policy Act—all waived in favor of constructing a border wall to stop migrants fleeing into the U.S. through Mexico.
DHS plans to build the border wall in Starr County, an area of south Texas spanning the Rio Grande Valley. According to DHS, Border Patrol has recorded more than 245,000 people attempting to enter the U.S. in 2023 in this area.
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Environmental activists are speaking out against Biden’s move, saying that the suspension of these environmental laws threatens the habitats of wildlife, including spotted wild cats called ocelots. The administration claims it will reinstate the environmental laws in the area once the border wall’s construction is complete, but some environmentalists say it will be too late.
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“A plan to build a wall will bulldoze an impermeable barrier straight through the heart of that habitat,” Laiken Jordahl, a southwest conservation advocate for the Center for Biological Diversity, told The Guardian. “It will stop wildlife migrations dead in their tracks. It will destroy a huge amount of wildlife refuge land. And it’s a horrific step backward for the borderlands.”
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Biden’s support for a border wall marks a turnaround from his previous stance that border walls do not work and are a waste of taxpayer money; he discontinued similar efforts passed by former President Donald Trump in January 2021. However, the president told reporters on Thursday that he has no choice but to build the wall using the money that was allocated in 2019. “There’s nothing under the law other than they have to use the money for what it was appropriated for. I can’t stop that,” Biden told reporters at a White House press briefing on Thursday. But when he was asked if he now believes a border wall works, Biden said: “No.”
Construction will move forward using the Secure Fence Act, passed by Congress in 2006, which allows the government to waive the majority of federal laws that could stand in the way of constructing barriers. Biden is now the first Democratic president to put the law into effect after political officials in major cities including Gov. Kathy Hochul (D-New York) and Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D-Illinois) asked Biden to do something to combat migrants bussed to their states.
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“Unfortunately, the welcome and aid Illinois has been providing to these asylum seekers has not been matched with support by the federal government,” Pritzker wrote in a letter to Biden on Monday. “Most critically, the federal government’s lack of intervention and coordination at the border has created an untenable situation for Illinois.”
DHS did not state in its announcement when construction will begin, nor did it address the impact of suspending the environmental laws. It merely stated that it “has determined … that it is necessary to waive certain laws, regulations, and other legal requirements in order to ensure the expeditious construction of barriers and roads in the vicinity of the international land border in Starr County, Texas.”
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A CBP spokesperson told CNN that the agency “remains committed to protecting the nation’s cultural and natural resources” while implementing “sound environmental practices” to build the barriers at the border.
But Congressman Henry Cuellar (D-Texas) told The Guardian that building the wall will be a waste. “A border wall is a 14th-century solution to a 21st-century problem,” he said, adding: “It will not bolster border security in Starr County. I continue to stand against the wasteful spending of taxpayer dollars on an ineffective border wall.”

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