Friday, November 30, 2007

Border wall plans ignore environmental justice rules


By No Border Wall

RIO GRANDE, Texas -- In the recently released Rio Grande Valley Tactical Infrastructure Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), the Department of Homeland Security attempts to brush aside issues of environmental justice in its plans for the border wall. Although the Rio Grande Valley’s population is over 85% minority, and its border communities are some of the poorest in the nation, the EIS states that the impacts of the proposed border wall “would not fall disproportionately on minority or low-income populations.” The EIS is not only of interest to environmentalists. By law, environmental impact statements are required to cover issues of the human environment as well. Unfortunately, the Rio Grande Valley Border Fence EIS (copy available at does not adequately address these issues, and the most vulnerable residents of the Rio Grande Valley are being left unprotected from the damage a border wall is certain to cause. Environmental justice is defined by the Environmental Protection Agency to mean that “no group of people, including racial, ethnic, or socioeconomic groups, should bear a disproportionate share of the negative environmental consequences resulting from industrial, municipal, and commercial operations or the execution of federal, state, local, and tribal environmental programs and policies” (EPA Fact Sheet). This sentiment was codified by President Clinton in executive order 12898 (Federal Action to Address Environmental Justice [EJ] in Minority Populations and Low-Income Populations), which provides that “each Federal agency must identify and address, as appropriate, disproportionately high and adverse human health or environmental effects of its programs, policies, and activities on minority populations and low-income populations in the U.S.” In 2004, the Operation Rio Grande Environmental Impact Statement found that environmental justice was indeed an issue for projects in the Rio Grande Valley: Approximately 85% of the population in the area can be classified as minority (well above the state average of 39.4%).. The median annual household incomes for the counties in the project area (Starr, $10,182; Hidalgo, $16,703; and Cameron, $17,336) are well below the state average of $27,016 and, in the case of Starr County, below the $15,000 established by the EPA for defining the economic status risk group. Therefore, many of the households in the project area doubtless have a high potential EJ index. (Operation Rio Grande EIS, Section 3.12.6, emphasis added) However, in the 2007 Draft Rio Grande Valley Border Fence EIS, it is claimed that the protections of environmental justice do not apply. This questionable judgment is achieved by sleight of hand and is revealed in the following quote: Of the 21 fence sections, 11 are within census bureau tracts in which a portion of the tracts have a higher proportion of minority or low-income residents. Of the proposed 70 miles of tactical infrastructure, substantially less than half is within census bureau tracts that have a higher proportion of minority or low-income residents—therefore the overall impacts of the proposed tactical infrastructure would not fall disproportionately on minority or low-income populations. (Section 5. 5.11) Rather than stating that the majority of people who will be negatively impacted by the border wall are poor and/or minorities, which is what environmental justice is all about, the EIS counts miles. Miles that fall within US Fish and Wildlife refuge tracts, where no people live, are counted along with the miles that pass through poor communities, allowing them to dilute, at least on paper, the wall’s impact on minority and low-income populations. Mileage is irrelevant to the question of environmental justice. The question is whether a disproportionately high number of the people who will be negatively affected are members of minority and/or low income populations. The grassroots coalition No Border Wall is concerned that the Department of Homeland Security is papering over the real human hardships that a border wall tearing through Rio Grande Valley communities will cause and that minorities and the poor will bear the brunt of the damage of a misguided and politically-motivated project. “Hard-working people who may not have the money to hire lawyers are going to have their homes bulldozed or family farms sliced in two for a wall that won’t stop anyone. DHS is prepared to perpetrate a terrible injustice against the very U.S. citizens that they are supposed to protect,” said No Border Wall member Scott Nicol. DHS and Customs and Border Protection will hold two public meetings regarding the RGV Tactical Infrastructure EIS at which the public can submit comments. The first is in McAllen on December 11 from 4:30 pm to 8:00 pm at the McAllen Convention Center.. The second is in Brownsville on December 12 from 4:30 pm to 8:00 pm at the Brownsville Events Center. # # # No Border Wall is a grassroots coalition of groups and individuals united in the belief that a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border will do irreparable harm to the borderlands and to the country as a whole. No Border Wall is opposed to the construction of a border wall because of the devastating consequences such a wall would have on border economies, on the environment, on human rights, and on the U.S. relationship with Mexico and the rest of the world.
For more information or for an interview, contact Scott Nicol at 956-532-5983 or email
PO Box 8124 Weslaco, Texas 78599 956-532-5983 Fax 956-968-1388

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Censored News is published by censored journalist Brenda Norrell. A journalist for 27 years, Brenda lived on the Navajo Nation for 18 years, writing for Navajo Times, AP, USA Today, Lakota Times and other American Indian publications. After being censored and then terminated by Indian Country Today in 2006, she began the Censored Blog to document the most censored issues. She currently serves as human rights editor for the U.N. OBSERVER & International Report at the Hague and contributor to Sri Lanka Guardian, Narco News and CounterPunch. She was cohost of the 5-month Longest Walk Talk Radio across America, with Earthcycles Producer Govinda Dalton in 2008:
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