Posts tagged with "Donald Trump":

Why are architecture’s major professional organizations silent on the immigrant detention debate?

A preliminary Department of Homeland Security (DHS) plan to house nearly 100,000 detained migrants across California has been shelved.

 According to a draft Navy memo reported by Time late last week, the military base at Camp Pendleton north of San Diego and the Concord Naval Weapons Station (CNWS) east of San Francisco were being eyed as potential sites for “temporary and austere” detention facilities that would hold up to 47,000 detained migrants each over coming months. The plans encountered swift and fierce local opposition from residents and City of Concord officials alike, prompting DHS to unofficially reconsider the plan. Aside from local political opposition to the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” immigration policies—especially with regard to the policy of separating migrant families and detaining separated children under inhumane conditions—locals pointed to the CNWS site’s environmental toxicity and the presence of unexploded munitions on the grounds as additional reasons against its use as a detention facility. The dust-up in California comes as the United States government works to expand the number of migrant detention facilities across the country in order to deal with the rapidly growing number of detainees resulting from its hardline stance against incoming migrants and refugees. The memo uncovered by Time estimates the government is projecting to warehouse up to 25,000 detained migrants over the coming months in abandoned airfields across southern Alabama and in the Florida panhandle in addition to the nearly 94,000 detainees planned for California. There is no word regarding where or whether the detention facilities originally slated for California are being relocated to other sites. The new facilities will join what is quickly becoming a sprawling, nation-wide network of private jail facilities, non-profit-operated detention centers, and now, camps and “tent cities” located on military bases aimed at housing detained migrants. Perhaps nothing has brought this more into focus than recent controversy over the Trump administration’s policy of family separation. Although President Trump recently put a temporary halt to the practice through an executive order, nearly 2,500 children have been separated from their families over the past two months and are now being detained in facilities spanning at least 15 states. According to government figures, roughly 12,000 migrant children overall are currently being held in over 100 facilities across the country, many of which are at or exceed their designated capacities, and some of which are facing allegations of abuse and misconduct, not to mention ill-equipped to handle the mental health, welfare, and legal hurdles these children face. As a result, the nation’s sprawling—and expanding—carceral archipelago has now become a major source of  political, ethical, and moral debate. 

As with the vast for-profit prison system, there are many questions about the ethical and moral implications of designing and constructing these facilities. So far, however, the architectural profession is staying mostly out of the fray, with a few exceptions. Last week, The Architecture Lobby (TAL) and Architects / Designers / Planners for Social Responsibility (ADPSR) issued a joint statement rejecting the role of architects in designing such detention facilities, stating, “The Architecture Lobby and ADPSR call on architects, designers, planners and allied professionals to refuse to participate in the design of any immigration enforcement infrastructure, including but not limited to walls, checkpoints, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) offices, detention facilities, processing centers, or juvenile holding centers. We encourage owners, partners and employees who find themselves in practices that engage in this work to organize, and deny their labor to these projects.” The statement came as the American Institute of Architects (AIA) held its annual convention in New York City, an event that was marked with a heavy emphasis on the profession’s attempts to overcome the diversity and inclusion hurdles currently faced by the white- and male-dominated profession. It was not long ago that the association drew the ire of its members following the 2016 national election, when AIA CEO Robert Ivy declared that AIA members “stand ready to work” with Trump toward shared goals like infrastructure investments. During last week’s conference, ADPSR attempted to get AIA leadership to endorse its rejection of detention center projects, an effort that was ultimately unsuccessful, though the group is still working to convince the AIA to adpot its position. Raphael Sperry, president of ADPSR, told The Architect’s Newspaper, “People should recognize that immigrants, including currently undocumented people in the United States, contribute greatly to architecture, and always have. There are immigrant and undocumented architects, builders, carpenters, plumbers, welders. We must recognize and respect the contributions of everyone who shapes the built environment, and ensure that our profession and our broader industry respect human rights for everyone.” When reached for comment on the question of whether architects should take on these commissions, Carl Elefante, AIA president, referred AN to the AIA press team. When contacted, a representative of the AIA simply asked, “Why do you think architects are working on these projects?” without providing further comment. Even a casual observer would note that architects are likely fundamental to the development of not only the increasingly ubiquitous detention centers being built across the country, but also, as ADPSR points out, the myriad supportive facilities necessary for DHS to carry out its ongoing efforts to fight so-called “illegal immigration.” Most notoriously, a 200,000-square-foot former Walmart in Brownsville, Texas came under scrutiny in recent weeks as a detention center with a unique claim to fame—the largest detention center for migrant and refugee children. Operated by the privately-run Southwest Key Programs organization, the big-box detention center was converted from a retail store to its current use in 2016 as a result of corporate downsizing and currently holds roughly 1,500 separated children. The conversion likely required building permits, construction drawings, and the like—services that often require architects. It is safe to assume that local jurisdictions would require basic planning approval and permitting for these projects, so it seems natural that architects would somehow be involved in the propagation of these facilities. The silence from professional organizations on the matter is troubling to say the least; as the government ramps up efforts to build more facilities under increasingly hostile terms, it would benefit practitioners and contractors to understand the ethical implications of their work. Furthermore, other professional architectural organizations, like the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture (ACSA), have pushed to have architects and designers engage with migrant and refugee detention centers through design in the past. Last year, ACSA issued a controversial call for its annual steel construction competition, asking participants to design a “Humanitarian Refugee (Detention) Center.” The proposal drew ire from the architectural community as well, prompting the group to shut down the competition in exchange for a different brief issued earlier this year. In a statement announcing the end of the competition, ACSA remarked that it had received “justified​ criticism” over the prompt and that it regretted its decision to publish the competition. When reached for comment this week regarding the current debate surrounding migrant detention centers, a representative said, “ACSA does not have a comment on that issue. We do not take positions on the work that architects choose to take on.” The reticence that professional groups like the AIA and ACSA have toward speaking out against what many consider to be plainly unethical facilities speaks to the profession’s ongoing struggles with racial and ethnic diversity along with human rights concerns. Because detained migrants are being distributed among a network that runs the gamut of structures, from private prisons to improvised tent cities in remote desert sites, the implications of the expanding detention network extends beyond the realm of individual projects and firm-specific business decisions to encompass profession-wide ethical and human rights concerns. The racialized dimension of the immigration debate alongside the architectural profession’s continued lack of diversity present particular challenges for professional organizations and individual firms as they attempt to respond. At stake is whether—or how—the architectural profession will engage with the American immigration debate, and more broadly, with a global refugee crisis that is only due to keep growing in scope and severity as the effects of climate change and resource-driven conflicts spread globally. If AIA and ACSA will not provide leadership during these trying times, who will?  

Architecture Lobby and ADPSR call on AIA and all architects to reject projects relating to immigrant detention

As recent news shed light on the thousands of families who have been separated at the U.S.-Mexico border in the last month, and as political pressure on the Trump administration to end the practice continues to mount, The Architecture Lobby (T-A-L) and Architects / Designers / Planners for Social Responsibility (ADPSR) issued a statement that rejects the role of architects in designing such detention facilities. In their statement, both groups unanimously call for the federal government to end the militarization of the border and for architects to refuse to take on work that would further human suffering. “The Architecture Lobby and ADPSR call on architects, designers, planners and allied professionals to refuse to participate in the design of any immigration enforcement infrastructure, including but not limited to walls, checkpoints, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) offices, detention facilities, processing centers, or juvenile holding centers. We encourage owners, partners and employees who find themselves in practices that engage in this work to organize, and deny their labor to these projects. “For too long, architects have been complicit in human caging by designing and building these structures. Architects designed the facilities where children call out for their parents at night. Architects also designed the extensive network of facilities where their parents shiver in frigid holding cells. History has taught us that what is strictly legal is not always what is just. It is time for this to end. We call on professionals to join us in this pledge: We will not design cages for people.” T-A-L and ADPSR directly called upon the national AIA to “to prove its commitment to making more diverse, equitable, inclusive, resilient, and healthy places for all people.” As the 2018 AIA Conference on Architecture kicks off today under the “Blueprint for Better Cities” banner, architects from all over the country will be gathering to discuss how to improve cities for their inhabitants. With Walmarts being repurposed as child detention facilities and as the Trump administration floats the idea of building more “tent cities” to house migrants, architects will likely continue to be contracted to design these facilities. In their statement, T-A-L and ADPSR have asked that the AIA directly comment on the practice, and publicly condemn, or excommunicate, its members who would willingly work to design them. For its part, the AIA has issued past statements against immigration and visa restrictions and their impact on the profession, but nothing about the actual practice of taking on such work. AN will update this story with any potential responses from the AIA. On the grassroots level, at the time of writing, a document has been making the rounds on Twitter that lists the architects and contractors who have been identified as working on such facilities, with contact information for many.

Trump’s steel tariffs are already squeezing the construction industry

Less than two weeks after President Trump signed sweeping 25 percent steel tariffs and 10 percent aluminum tariffs into law, the construction industry is already smarting, according to a report by National Real Estate Investor. Although the tariffs exclude steel coming from Canada and Mexico (at the time of writing), interviews with developers and those in the construction industry suggest that some projects are already seeing steel increase in cost by up to 10 percent. The culprit is speculation about price increases six to twelve months down the line, after the full impact of the tariffs make themselves felt. The panic isn’t without precedent. A 21 percent tariff imposed on imported Canadian timber in November of last year, used in 25 percent of wood-framed projects in the U.S., led to a nationwide rise in construction costs for single and mid-family homes. Contractors were forced to raise their prices, cut back on their use of timber, switch to steel, or change the design of their homes to use less materials. Joe Pecoraro, a project executive at Chicago-based general contractor Skender, told National Real Estate Investor that a client developing affordable housing might be forced to delay their project if steel costs rose any further. “Uncertainty drives people to be very conservative, risk-averse. It is affecting our deals,” said Pecoraro. Ironically, domestic steel fabricators may be hit harder than international firms as a result of the tariffs only targeting raw steel. With costs rising for their raw materials, Engineering News Record has reported that some domestic fabricators have already lost jobs to competitors based in Canada and Mexico. 1.2 million tons of fabricated steel was produced in the U.S. with imported materials in 2017, which went towards building bridges, roads and buildings. Two days before President Trump signed the tariff order, the AIA had released a statement warning that rising material costs would lead to decreased project budgets and potentially stifle architectural innovation. It remains to be seen how the tariffs will affect the country’s building boom in the long term, but those in the steel industry are still onboard.

AIA speaks out against Trump’s proposed steel and aluminum tariffs

New tariffs on steel and aluminum proposed by President Donald Trump will have negative effects on the American design and construction industries, American Institute of Architects (AIA) leadership has said in a statement. The Trump administration's plan would impose tariffs of 25 percent on steel and 10 percent on aluminum, something that experts say will have wide ranging effects on both trade and the domestic economy. And while the issue is being hotly debated on the national and international stage, the AIA is weighing in with a striking warning that a rise in material costs could mean major losses for the U.S. economy. "The Administration’s announcement of new tariffs on steel and aluminum imports threatens to drastically increase the prices of many building materials specified by architects. These metal products are some of the largest material inputs in the construction of buildings. Structural metal beams, window frames, mechanical systems and exterior cladding are largely derived from these important metals," AIA President Carl Elefante, FAIA, and EVP/Chief Executive Officer Robert Ivy, FAIA, said in a statement in response to the proposed tariffs. “As creative problem solvers, architects rely on a variety of these materials to achieve functional and performance goals for their clients. Inflating the cost of materials will limit the range of options they can use while adhering to budgetary constraints for a building," they said. "By the same token, the Administration’s proposed infrastructure funding will not achieve the same value if critical materials become more expensive. Furthermore, the potential for a trade war risks other building materials and products. Any move that increases building costs will jeopardize domestic design and the construction industry, which is responsible for billions in U.S. Gross Domestic Product, economic growth, and job creation.”

Trump administration vows to block Gateway tunnel funding over political rivalries

The acrimony between the Trump administration and New York and New Jersey officials has reached new heights, as President Trump is reportedly pushing congressional Republicans to block funding for the Hudson River-spanning Gateway tunnel project. AN had previously reported that the administration had pulled federal funding from the $12.7 billion project, but it seems that the move was made to punish New York State Senator Chuck Schumer and other Democratic leaders in those states. Although Trump’s predecessor had once called the Gateway tunnel, part of a $30 billion revitalization plan for the area, a top priority and promised that the federal government would contribute half, U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao has called Obama’s promises “a throwaway rally line.” Even after the states upped their combined contributions in the tunnel to $5 billion, the Trump administration turned up their nose at financing the rest. Now, as both the New York Times and Washington Post have reported, President Trump has been personally lobbying House Speaker Paul Ryan to shoot down any chance of Gateway funding making its way into the next spending bill. According to sources in the administration, this is in retaliation to Senator Schumer for supposedly corralling Senate Democrats into delaying or blocking the confirmation of President Trump’s nominees to key positions. It’s unlikely that any money from a future infrastructure bill would find its way to the Gateway tunnel either. In the $1.5 trillion version pitched by President Trump, Gateway would simply be too expensive, owing to contribution limits imposed on the federal government, and would be too old to qualify for much money anyways–projects approved after the bill’s passage are weighted to receive more funding by default. The 105-year-old, two-track rail tunnel that currently runs under the Hudson River is owned by Amtrak, and the company has repeatedly warned that saltwater intrusion from Hurricane Sandy means that one of the tracks will need to be repaired sooner rather than later. Closing one half of the tunnel, intentionally or otherwise, without a backup would reduce train traffic, approximately 200,000 riders daily, under the river by up to 75 percent. Of course, it’s possible that Trump could change his mind yet again down the line; the Gateway project was listed as the administration’s number one priority in the 2016 transition plan.

Foundations release joint statement against Trump’s plan to cut the NEA

A joint statement from 11 major foundations condemned the Trump administration’s plan to eliminate the National Endowment for the Arts in the proposed 2019 budget. As they write, shuttering the NEA “has the potential both to end valuable direct investments in our local communities and to dismantle tremendous partnerships with philanthropy that have strengthened our country.” The NEA, which has long been used as a political football by conservatives, made up just .004 percent of the federal budget, according to its 2016 fiscal year report. It has been in Trump’s crosshairs as an example of unnecessary government overspending since he first proposed axing the organization in his 2017 budget proposal. Despite the organization’s relatively miniscule strain on the federal budget and the services it provides for all Americans, the Trump administration “does not consider NEA activities to be core Federal responsibilities.” The foundation directors, representing the Ford Foundation, the Kresge Foundation, and Bloomberg Philanthropies, among others, disagrees. They themselves were brought together by the NEA seven years ago and jointly decided to fund ArtPlace America, a strong public-private collaboration which allowed them to fund communities of all sizes across the United States. The joint statement also responds to Trump’s belief that private funding can fill the void left by the NEA: “Federal agencies are charged with serving all Americans in every community; no private philanthropy has the resources or the infrastructure to do that.” As they unambiguously end their statement, “if we lose federal agencies like the National Endowment for the Arts, we will not only lose significant direct investments in communities across all 50 states, we also lose the infrastructure that brings us together as one United States of America.”

The NRA wants to “harden” schools into windowless bunkers

With the debate around gun control raging after the February 14th shooting in Parkland, Florida, President Trump and the National Rifle Association (NRA) have been banging on alternative solutions to prevent mass shootings in schools, from arming teachers to hardening the schools themselves. But if the NRA had their way, what would the school of the future look like? Judging from the design guidelines that came out of their 2013 National School Shield Task Force report, they’d likely resemble prisons. The 2013 report was commissioned by the NRA in response to the Sandy Hook shooting at the end of 2012, and apart from advocating for school safety plans, the task force’s findings at times come closer to recommendations for bunkers. Ironically, Sandy Hook School reopened in 2016 with a focus on "passive security" and the healing serenity of nature, presenting a diametrically different vision of school design. Playgrounds and the rest of the school would need to be surrounded by a perimeter fence with select entrance points, and to ensure that potential shooters couldn’t cut through it, all vegetation would need to be stripped from the area. Trees and shrubs provide “hiding places for people, weapons, and explosive devices, blocking lighting, inadvertently providing routes of unauthorized access,” though the report notes that trees aren’t useless; they can “provide a level of blast shielding” in the case of an explosive threat. Being able to view the planted landscape from the inside isn’t much of a concern, as the report recommends shrinking, removing, or barring over vulnerable windows to prevent attackers from breaching them. Ideally, schools would retrofit their windows with bulletproof glass and retain the ability to surveil the surrounding area, but with ballistic glass costing around $100 per square foot, it seems more likely that they’d just do away with them altogether. Parking lots would be heavily rejiggered, with a focus on breaking up the large swaths of asphalt into heavily surveilled parking “islands.” While it might be convenient for students and teachers to park near the school, the NRA notes “vehicles can provide potential attackers with a means of concealing and transporting weapons, can be used as a tool in overpowering physical security infrastructure, and can even serve as weapons in and of themselves.” Entrance doors made from bulletproof glass at the reception area for trapping attackers, rigging the building with security cameras and reconfiguring school floor plans to resemble a panopticon are all on the list, and seem more like recommendations for designing a military base than anything else. The NRA suggests funding these upgrades through federal grants, but with schools across the country unable to afford heat in the winter, and teachers striking for higher wages, it seems unlikely that this would happen. In that case, the report recommends students and teachers “hide and hope” if there’s a shooting. It remains to be seen whether the 150 schools that an NRA spokesperson said accepted help from the organization to fortify their schools are any safer. One guess is, probably not.

How architects can engage critically with the idea of the border wall

How should architects respond to the call to design a border wall? Architect and educator Ronald Rael recently released Borderwall as Architecture: A Manifesto for the US-Mexico Boundary as an answer. Borderwall as Architecture is a collection of proposals, counterproposals, speculations, and research findings that encourage a critical engagement with border conditions. The findings were generated through his research studios with students and collected on a blog of the same name. The book couldn’t come at a better time or with a greater sense of urgency thanks to President Donald Trump’s insistence during his presidential campaign to have Mexico pay for a wall and the resulting rapid-fire progression of actual wall-building proposals. For historical context, it was just a month into the Trump presidency when Homeland Security issued a Prequalification Request for Border Wall Prototypes on the Federal Business Opportunities website. This was quickly followed by the Department of Homeland Security’s Procurement Innovation Lab, which issued a new Request for Information (RFI) pertaining to the proposed U.S.-Mexico border wall. The RFI’s stated purpose was to “solicit ideas from industry and other partners for the more comprehensive long-term strategy related to the border wall.” Six months later, these prototypes are being built along the border east of San Diego while the funding battles continue in Congress. Rael’s richly illustrated collection shows the ways in which the borderlands condition the U.S.-Mexico divide, how border fences function and how they are often subverted. Borderwall as Architecture collects stories of jump ramps, catapults, and tunneling machines; methods of getting over, under, and around existing controls. There are environmentally restorative proposals, like a green wall of indigenous cacti, a wall that generates solar power, and one that effectively channels and collects water. There are artistic and culture proposals too: from a “Theatre Wall,” “Climbing Wall,” “Sport Wall,” “Burrito Wall,” and “Birthing Wall” to outright hilarious ideas such as the “human cannonball,” which would shoot a person over a section of border wall, passport in hand. In many ways, Rael’s Borderwall proves to be a guide to outside-the-box thinking spatially as well as politically about the border. The border is a microcosm of political and social issues. From the economic impacts of migration and trade to questions of nationalism and identity, it is a place where fears and aspirations are projected from afar. The reality of life in the borderlands looks very different than its image. Where one stands relative to a wall—i.e., “Which side are you on?”—says a lot about the politically charged moment that Americans, both in Mexico and the U.S., find themselves in. What does it say about our moment when, on the one hand, the federal government is collecting “speculative” design proposals, and on the other President Trump is currently saying things like “We are thinking about building a wall as a solar wall. So it creates energy. And pays for itself”? The bidding process is so fraught that even Engineering News Record reports that large contractors were skittish in putting in their bids, and many of the successful bidders have been revealed to been under criminal investigation. In this context, Borderwall as Architecture becomes a critical toolbox, challenging readers with speculative proposals, informing with realpolitik discussions, and engaging guest writers such as Teddy Cruz and Michael Dear to encourage architects to think expansively about the southern border and imagine better solutions. Borderwall as Architecture: A Manifesto for the US-Mexico Boundary University of California Press $21.91

Trump administration releases full $1.5 trillion infrastructure plan

After the draft version of President Trump’s signature infrastructure plan leaked to Axios last month, the administration has now released the full version of the document following the release of this morning's budget outline. The complete plan skews closely to the outline, laying out $200 billion in federal dollars with the expectation that the private market would generate an additional $1.2 trillion in funding. The depreciation model from the draft has been kept, meaning that older or existing projects will face a severe disadvantage when asking for federal money from the $100 billion “incentives program.” The same restrictions on grant funding have also been carried over, meaning that no project could receive more than 20 percent of its funding from the government, a restriction certain to stymie the New York-New Jersey Gateway Project. Funding for mass transit is disproportionately disadvantaged in the final plan. As with the draft, a shift to funding projects via state and private dollars means that projects with a low return on investment, such as public transportation, are likely to be passed over. While roads and highways are worth investing in because of the potential for tolls, trains rarely provide the same money-making potential. As such, the proposal would also roll back federal toll restrictions and allow tolling across any interstate highway. While the bones of the final plan are the same as the earlier version, there are some new surprises. In an attempt to streamline the construction process, all permitting would take only 21 months, with a final decision three months afterward. This two-year process would be stewarded by a single federal agency, which would see the project along from the application to approval phase. Any project receiving federal funding would have two-year milestones set up, and a failure to meet those goals would lead to a voiding of its grant. Environmental groups have already raised the alarm over truncating the permitting phase to less than two years, claiming it would gut environmental requirements and study periods. Judicial reforms proposed later in the document would seem to back this claim up, as the plan, if passed, would curtail the amount, and lengths, of any lawsuits filed against a project. $20 billion has also been set aside for a so-called “Transformative Projects Program,” which would fund “ambitious, exploratory, and ground-breaking project ideas that have significantly more risk than standard infrastructure projects, but offer a much larger reward profile.” Also of note is the proposed expansion of the EPA’s ability to regulate water infrastructure, including a newfound authority over flood risk management, and likely any climate change mitigation measures. It’s worth mentioning that Trump’s plan would drop cross-state licensure requirements for anyone wishing to work on a project that has received federal funding, something that has been a hot button issue for AN’s readers in the past. While the infrastructure bill and accompanying budget released by the Trump administration would reorganize the American economy and privatize much of the country’s infrastructure, it’s extremely unlikely that Congress would pass it. Federal spending for the next two years has already been set after a recent budget deal was hashed out on February 9th, and this bill probably wouldn’t be able to achieve the necessary broad bipartisan support. Read the full text of the proposed infrastructure plan here.

Artists push back against Christoph Büchel’s border wall project

Swiss-Icelandic artist Christoph Büchel is facing blowback over his nonprofit arts group “MAGA,” which popped up late last year offering tours of the eight border wall prototypes currently on display at the border between San Diego, California and Tijuana, Mexico. Over 25 artists, art workers, and writers have contributed to an open letter calling out MAGA for normalizing the border wall by attempting to label it as an art installation. MAGA, which echoes President Trump’s infamous campaign slogan ("Make America Great Again"), has primarily lobbied for the border wall mock-ups to be classified as a national monument under the 1906 Antiquities Act. Satirically positing Donald Trump as a “conceptual artist,” MAGA also charged fees for tours of the site, leaving from the leaving from The Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego (MCASD), and promised visitors that they would see “historic land art”. Not so fast, said the open letter from activists in the art world, as they blasted Büchel, MCASD, and the gallery Hauser & Wirth (a gallery representing Büchel) for promoting and normalizing white supremacy. The New York Times and other media outlets that reported on the tours and petition without engaging with the appropriateness of the venture were also called out. As the full letter states, “We, the signatories of this letter, want to say it loud and clear that nothing about a xenophobic and white supremacist project, artifact, wall or building should ever be spectacularized and promoted by artists or arts institutions.” In response to the allegations, MCASD has explicitly denied hosting MAGA’s tours via a Facebook post, saying that the museum was only used as an unofficial meeting point and was unaware of the group’s aim. “To me, borders and walls can never just be abstract ideas to be conceptualized from a distance allowed by an exuberance of privilege and mobility,” LA-based artist and writer Gelare Khoshgozaran, who launched the letter, told Hyperallergic. “They are everyday lived experiences that have affected my body, my well-being and mental health, my family, my racialization and mobility, as well as my art and writing careers.” At the time of writing, hundreds of artists, musicians, and activists from across North America have added their names to the letter.

Trump administration waives over 30 laws to jumpstart border wall construction

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has issued a series of waivers for the construction of a border wall section in New Mexico. The department announced that it would be waiving more than 30 laws, most of them environmental, to begin construction on a 20-mile-long stretch of bollard wall near the Santa Teresa port on the U.S.-Mexico border. Citing the area’s flat terrain and high rates of border crossings, DHS Secretary Kirsten Nielsen successfully petitioned for the waiver on January 22; as a result, the existing vehicle barrier will be replaced with an 18-foot-tall stretch of steel bollards atop concrete. While the shorter barriers, often X-shaped, are effective at stopping vehicles, the widely-spaced posts are easy to pass through or climb over on foot. Under the Bush administration's REAL ID Act in 2005, the DHS Secretary is permitted to waive all federal, state, and local laws when building in the border region. According to Vice, some of the regulations waived include the National Environmental Policy Act, which would have required an environmental review of the project, the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, and the Endangered Species Act. That last waiver is especially damaging as the Santa Teresa port sits within the Chihuahuan Desert, one of the most ecologically diverse, and fragile, desert landscapes in the world. Environmentalists immediately slammed the administration for granting the DHS the waiver. "The Trump administration is stopping at nothing to ram through this destructive border wall," said Center for Biological Diversity senior attorney Brian Segee. "Trump’s divisive border wall is a humanitarian and environmental disaster, and it won’t do anything to stop illegal drug or human smuggling." While the Center for Biological Diversity considers a lawsuit to block the issuance of the waiver, the conservation organization is also fighting to prevent a similar waiver from taking effect in San Diego. A hearing on the San Diego case is scheduled for February 9, when the Center for Biological Diversity will attempt to argue that the Trump administration lacks the authority to issue waivers that bypass the Endangered Species Act. The DHS has also opened itself up to lawsuits from cultural activist groups with this move. Secretary Nielsen has also waived the American Indian Religious Freedom Act, Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, and the National Historic Preservation Act. While the department has pledged to "ensure that impacts to the environment, wildlife, and cultural and historic artifacts are analyzed and minimized, to the extent possible," it remains to be seen how the rollback will affect these goals. In an analysis of the border wall expansion across South Texas leaked last November, the Army Corps of Engineers bluntly described the cultural and environmental damage that would result from a similar installation. It’s likely any further expansion of a physical barrier across America’s southern border would exacerbate the damage we’ve already done there, as existing sections of the wall have already limited animal migration patterns for dozens of species.

First look at a leaked draft of Trump administration’s infrastructure plan

Axios has obtained a leaked draft copy of the Trump administration’s much-vaunted infrastructure plan. An initial look at the preliminary plan hints that it would drastically change how public projects are funded. While no concrete figures have been provided, Trump has consistently cited a “$1 trillion” spending figure, with $200 billion coming over 10 years from the plan’s implementation and the remaining $800 billion coming from states and private industry. To meet those goals, the draft plan leans heavily on raising money through user fees, such as tolls, and drastically capping the federal government’s investment in infrastructure projects. While 50 percent of the available funds have been set aside to incentivizing states and cities to invest in infrastructure, the plan favors new projects and diminishes how much funding a project is eligible for based on its age. A requirement that the federal government cap its grant contribution to a project to 20 percent of a project's total cost, no matter how large it is, might spell disaster for the New York-New Jersey Gateway Project if the bridge-and-tunnel plan falls under the bill’s jurisdiction. In general, mass transit projects would find it much harder to win funding from the federal government, as Trump’s plan would give priority to developments that can demonstrate a material return on investment. Other changes proposed in the draft plan include allowing tolls on interstate highways, a practice which is currently heavily restricted, consolidating project approval power across the country to a single federal agency yet to be named, ease environmental restrictions on highway construction, and permitting a greater involvement from private investors. Several changes to the Environmental Protection Agency have also been included in the plan, many of which involve both streamlining the agency as well as potentially expanding its authority to supersede state-level decisions. It’s important to note that this only a draft of the infrastructure plan and the final version may differ significantly. The full draft outline can be read here.