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Arizona AG sues feds, claiming environmental laws block ending border wall construction

Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich sued the federal government Monday over the decision to end border wall construction, claiming it was made in violation of the National Environmental Policy Act.

Brnovich, a Republican, is asking the U.S. District Court in Arizona to void the decisions to stop border wall construction and the “Remain in Mexico” policy until the federal government complies with the review process laid out in NEPA.

 The law protects the environment by requiring federal agencies to carefully weigh environmental considerations before taking any major federal action, and according to a press release from the AG's office, "DHS and other federal officials did not provide environmental impact statements or environmental assessments when DHS abruptly halted ongoing border wall construction and also began permitting entry of additional migrants by ending the “Remain in Mexico” policy."

As one of his first executive action after taking office, President Joe Biden signed a proclamation declaring an "immediate termination" of the emergency declaration put in place in February 2019 by President Donald Trump "as a pretext to justify some of the funding diversions for the wall." The proclamation directed an immediate pause in wall construction projects to allow a close review of the legality of the funding and contracting methods used, and to determine the best way to redirect funds that were diverted by the prior administration to fund wall construction.

To fast-track construction of the border wall, the Trump administration waived more than 40 laws that protect clean air, clean water, public lands and endangered wildlife, including the National Environmental Protection Act, Endangered Species Act, Safe Drinking Water Act, Clean Air Act, Antiquities Act and Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act.

Wall construction under Trump cut off wildlife migratory routes, damaged protected ecosystems and destroyed Native American sacred sites. A 2017 study by the Center for Biological Diversity identified more than 90 endangered or threatened species that would be harmed by wall construction along the 2,000-mile U.S.-Mexico border.

The Tucson-based environmental group sued to challenge the Trump administration's waiver of these laws in New Mexico, Arizona, Texas and California.

Environmentalists disagreed with the attorney general's claims.

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"This lawsuit is absurd political grandstanding and an insult to border communities, wildlife and wild lands," said Brian Segee, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. "If Arizona's attorney general truly cared about the environment he would've sued the Trump administration for ignoring environmental laws and tried to stop these destructive walls from being built. Instead he watched as dozens of bedrock laws protecting our air, water and public lands were waived and some of Arizona's most spectacular, sacred, protected places were decimated."

The Biden administration announced a 100-day moratorium on deportations Jan. 20, and also also announced that it would suspend enrollments to the Migration Protection Protocols, or MPP. The Trump program, originally termed "Remain in Mexico," required asylum-seekers to stay in Mexico while they await their asylum cases in the United States, leaving thousands waiting for months, even more than a year, for their cases to come up.

That policy has been on hold since a Texas court issued a temporary restraining order on Jan. 26. A federal judge in Arizona said Thursday she will deny a request from Brnovich to issue a preliminary injunction prohibiting the federal government from enforcing the 100-day moratorium pause on deportations due to the Texas injunction.

Brnovich also sued the Treasury Department over provisions in the American Rescue Plan that limits the states ability to use federal pandemic relief funds to finance tax cuts.

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Attorney General Mark Brnovich speaking at the 2016 Leadership Series with the Arizona Cardinals hosted by the Arizona Chamber of Commerce & Industry in August 2016.