President Trump’s declaration of a national emergency to circumvent Congress and begin building an extended barrier along the U.S.-Mexico border has energized Democrats around the country. House Democrats have promised to bring Trump administration officials before Congress to explain what they see as a rogue decision. Already a coalition of 16 states led by mostly Democratic governors have challenged Trump in court.
Count animal lovers among the opponents, too.
Three environmental groups were among the organizations to sue the Trump administration almost immediately after the border wall declaration on Friday.
Like other legal challenges in response to Trump’s announcement, the lawsuit from the Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife and Animal Legal Defense Fund challenges his maneuver around Congress on constitutional grounds. The suit argues the president is overstepping his authority by trying to spend money not appropriated by legislators for border wall construction.
But the green groups are also seeking to highlight an underplayed consequence of constructing a wall meant to restrict the migration of Central Americans to the United States. Trump’s wall would prevent animals from crossing the border, too.
“If he gets his way,” said Brian Segee, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological `Diversity, “it’ll be a disaster for communities and wildlife along the border, including some of our country’s most endangered species.”
Terrestrial animals and low-flying birds in the ecologically diverse region along the 2,000-mile southern border already have to navigate around about 650 miles of existing fencing and other barriers. Biologists foresee an extended barrier disrupting their movements even more.
Those endangered animals include rare cats like the ocelot and jaguarundi that roam wildlife refuges in southern Texas. Extra border wall slicing in half their and other species’ habitats would increase the risks the animals die during floods when trapped against the wall or become inbred when their choice of mates slims.
Wildlife biologists at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service tried to convey those concerns to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the agency leading wall construction already approved by Congress. But officials in Trump’s Interior Department stripped those red flags from a key interagency letter in 2017.
The potential constitutional issues about spending aside, Congress gave the executive branch broad leeway to waive environmental protections in order to build border walls following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
This is not the first time the Center for Biological Diversity has challenged past efforts by the Trump administration to build more border wall. For example, it sued over the administration’s use of that waiver authority in a case that is still pending.
By the end of September, the Trump administration expects to have construction underway or completed for more than 120 miles of border wall. Those wall sections — unlike the 230 miles of barriers Trump is seeking to build through his emergency order — have been approved by Congress.
But congressional sign-off doesn’t mean those sections are without controversy.
The Trump administration, with the approval of Congress in 2018, plans to build barriers through the National Butterfly Center in Mission, Tex. Already the use of heavy machinery in the100-acre refuge has prompted the nonprofit organization that runs it to separately sue the federal government.
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— Indiana has its first national park: The spending deal Trump signed Friday gave a win to a state Trump won in 2016. The bill turns Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore into the Indiana Dunes National Park, making it the nation’s 61st and the state’s first national park.
“The name change doesn't necessarily come with extra funding or protection for the area, but it will help raise the Dunes' profile," the Indianapolis Star reports. Indiana politicians on both sides of the aisle — including Sen. Todd Young (R) and Rep. Pete Visclosky (D) — cheered the new national park's creation.
— He's running: Bernie Sanders, the independent senator from Vermont, has announced he plans to run for president again in 2020. In his announcement, Sanders hammered home a policy agenda that would include drastic climate action, The Post’s Jeff Stein reports. In the next few months, he is set to launch a Green New Deal proposal, which is “moving on a parallel track to that unveiled earlier this month by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and a number of 2016 presidential candidates in the Senate.”
Stein writes Sanders's plan is set to include more details on how the Green New Deal will get to zero carbon emissions.
What he told his followers in an email announcement: According to the Burlington Free Press, Sanders wrote: “We need a president who understands that climate change is real, is an existential threat to our country and the entire planet, and that we can generate massive job creation by transforming our energy system away from fossil fuels to energy efficiency and sustainable energy." He added that during his last presidential campaign, his progressive ideas, including “aggressively combating climate change,” were deemed “radical” and “extreme.”
— Judge revives lawsuit against Zinke's casino decision: A federal judge has ruled the Mashantucket Pequot tribe can revive a lawsuit that claimed former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke blocked a casino deal because of improper political pressure, Politico reports.
An initial suit was dismissed last year, but the new ruling from Judge Rudolph Contreras, of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia would push the agency to “produce an administrative record explaining its decision,” per the report.
The judge wrote that a 2017 letter the agency sent the tribe with “vague, cursory reasoning,” “provides the Court with no basis, at this stage, to conclude that the decision … was based on appropriate considerations.”
He added: “The administrative record or other evidence may ultimately demonstrate that the alleged political pressure did not occur or affect the Secretary’s decision…But at this stage, Plaintiffs have plausibly alleged that significant political pressure was brought to bear on the issue and the Secretary may have improperly succumbed to such pressure.”
— Trump taps former Alabama official to lead FEMA: The president announced plans to nominate Jeffrey Byard to lead the Federal Emergency Management Agency, following the resignation of William “Brock” Long, who stepped down last week after serving in the post for less than two years.
Byard is currently the agency’s associate administrator for response and recovery, and prior to joining FEMA in September 2017 “served in multiple positions in the Alabama Emergency Management Agency, including as executive operations officer,” Politico reports.
“Byard led Alabama's large-scale state evacuation during Hurricane Gustav in 2008 and handled the state's response and recovery operations for the Deep Water Horizon Oil Spill. In 2011, he dealt with one of the country's largest and costliest tornado outbreaks when the so-called Super Outbreak hit Alabama and also pummeled neighboring Tennessee, Georgia and Mississippi.”
— White House science adviser talks private sector investment: In his first major address since being sworn-in as the director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, Kelvin Droegemeier emphasized the role of private companies over government investment in science, The Post’s Carolyn Y. Johnson reports.
He noted the private sector funded more basic research than the government in 2015, saying it was not “because the federal government stopped funding basic research, but it happened because American companies have the freedom to be creative and to invest and to explore new ideas.”
Why does it matter? “Droegemeier stopped short of specific recommendations on what should happen to the government’s investment in science, but the emphasis on other sources of funding and innovation was noticeable in an address to an auditorium full of scientists who often depend on federal funding to run their laboratories,” Johnson writes.
— A 7th-grader’s strike against climate change: Every week since December, 13-year-old Alexandria Villasenor has gone to the United Nations Headquarters to call for action on climate change as a member of the School Strikes 4 Climate movement, which The Post’s Sarah Kaplan writes is a movement of “young, fierce and mostly female activists.” The activists are planning to skip school in protest on March 15 with the support of some of the world’s biggest environmental groups.
The movement is growing: The 7th grader is working with a 12 year-old from Colorado, Haven Coleman; and Isra Hirsi, the 15-year-old daughter of Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.). “Offers of support began streaming in almost faster than the girls could respond,” Kaplan writes.
“The executive director of Greenpeace agreed to hand the group’s social media accounts over to students for the day of the strike. The New York chapter of the Sunrise Movement, the grass-roots group advocating for the Green New Deal, offered to handle outreach for March 15. Prominent climate researchers including Michael Mann, Kathrine Hayhoe and Peter Kalmus followed the girls on Twitter and began to organize an open letter of support from scientists.”
— How Annapolis wants to combat coastal flooding: The tide in Annapolis, Md. has rolled in or out again 540,000 times. But as rising sea levels is helping lead to more frequent flooding, the tide is now a cause for concern. “Fifty years ago, the downtown area was underwater for fewer than 10 days a year. Now, it’s flooded 40 times a year,” The Post’s Ashley Halsey III reports. “The city has begun an ambitious plan to combat the flooding, and the adjacent U.S. Naval Academy announced in December that it would raise its defenses against the tidal battering.”
— Michigan's water woes: More than a dozen water systems in Michigan failed a federal test for lead levels in drinking water in the latter half of last year, MLive.com reports. And seven of those 13 systems had levels of lead at least two times as high as what the state limit will be starting in 2025.
“A total of 27 water providers registered 90th percentile lead levels of at least 13 parts per billion, beyond the 12 ppb future threshold established last year by the state,” per the report. “A water system with a 90th percentile for lead of 15 ppb for example would mean that 10 percent of high-risk homes tested had lead readings of 15 ppb or more -- the level at which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says action should be taken.”
—Why environmental groups want to block a solar farm project: Environmentalists are pushing back against a solar panel project from Georgetown University that would involve razing about 210 acres of trees in Charles County, Md. The solar company insists the panels will lead to emission reductions “equivalent to planting hundreds of thousands of trees,” The Post’s Rachel Chason reports.
It’s part of the university’s goal to cut emissions in half by 2020. But environmental groups warn about the impact on area birds and tributaries to the Chesapeake Bay affected by runoff. And they intend to urge the Maryland Department of the Environment not to grant a necessary permit at a public hearing later this month.
- Georgetown University's Energy and Climate Policy Seminar holds a discussion on the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative on Wednesday.
- The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission holds an open meeting on Thursday.
- The Center for Strategic and International Studies holds a discussion on the outlook for global oil markets on Thursday.
— "We need wall": In its cold open, “Saturday Night Live" took on the president's news conference declaring a national emergency: