In Part 1, I explained how the border wall is an important cleantech issue. We have a range of options to choose from, and a smaller range of options that are politically feasible. We need to work within that range to find the option that uses technology to generate the least bad outcome.
But that’s not what is happening. Unless we do something, the wall will proceed to completion within weeks or months in 2023, 2025, or 2029, cutting off wildlife migration and the movement of water.
The Wall Is Complete, But In Pieces
The first piece of bad news: the wall didn’t get destroyed. Yes, Biden cut off the funding for construction, but he didn’t cut off money to secure the completed panels. During the last days of the Trump administration, contractors building fence panels and installing them worked around the clock to maximize the amount of money they could make on the project before they got told to stop. The end result? There wasn’t enough time to finish complex sections in mountainous terrain, but flatter areas mostly got finished and nearly all of the panels were produced and delivered.
Now, there are huge piles of steel and concrete rusting in the desert near the incomplete sections of border wall. There’s no federal money to put them up, but there is money to guard and secure the remaining fence panels. They can’t really be sold to recyclers, because they’re made from a mixture of concrete and steel, which complicates efforts to melt them down and make something else out of them. So, the Department of Defense (the legal owner of most of the bollards) can’t really do anything with them.
Theoretically, the materials are worth around $350 million, per government estimates. Other independent estimates put the value of the materials much higher, especially the other things like electrical poles, wiring, and lighting equipment that hasn’t been installed but could easily be resold for productive projects elsewhere. So, the panels and other parts for the wall are in storage, at a cost of millions of dollars per day.
The “Shake & Bake” Wall Kit
The bollards and most other materials on site won’t go bad from sitting in the weather. After all, they were made to stand up in the same conditions for at least decades, if not centuries, so nothing bad really happens from sitting there right next to where they’d go up.
The obvious problem, from the perspectives of wall opponents, is that this basically gives the next Republican president or a congress that’s Republican enough to override vetoes a “shake and bake” wall. Sure, they’d need to come up with money to put the remaining portions of the wall up, but they won’t have to come up with money for designing the wall or for materials. If the Department of Defense is allowed to keep the pieces out there in the deserts of New Mexico, Arizona, and California, it will be a tempting thing for Republicans to do in the future.
Even worse, that’s already happening on a small scale. Some of these “surplus” materials were given to the State of Texas for its state-funded wall-building efforts. The panels were free, but the state had to pay a contractor $2 million to move them from California to Texas. They’ve only received enough material for about 1.3 miles of border wall, but they could receive more if they applied for them.
“The Biden administration is saying, ‘We won’t build these border walls, but if Abbott wants to build them, we will give him free bollards,’” Scott Nicol, a McAllen-based environmental activist, told the Texas Tribune. “The problem with border walls isn’t who is building them, it is the devastation that comes when they are built.”
Even if President Biden stepped in and stopped the donation of materials to entities wishing to build border wall with them, the fact that they’re basically sitting there ready to go means that we’re under risk of future environmental problems that we had better just avoid.
Preventing This From Happening
There are several things we need to do in 2022 to get rid of Trump’s “Shake and Bake” wall.
The obvious first step is to get rid of the wall materials. For common materials like wiring, rebar, and electrical poles, it should be pretty easy to auction them off and put them to productive use. For the bollards themselves, destruction is going to be necessary, and will cost something. Getting congressional approval for spending to destroy the wall materials is unlikely, so the Biden Administration is going to need to get creative.
One possible way to destroy the panels without extra government spending would be to order the military to use the wall panels for live-fire targets. They wouldn’t be useful (and probably wouldn’t be safe) for rifle practice, but for helicopters, artillery, and aircraft, the bollards would make fine targets. BRRRRRT!
Another option would be to invite volunteers to come destroy the bollards in place. A few key cuts would make them useless for border fence, and there are plenty of activists who would love to come destroy what’s left of Trump’s border wall. The materials would need to be removed at some point, but weakening them sufficiently would prevent them from being used in the future.
If Biden has the guts to redirect funding the way Trump did (but at much smaller scales), the pieces could be destroyed by military personnel or contractors in place. Ground that has been wholly or partially prepared for panels could be remediated and restored to prevent panels from being installed later.
Another thing that the Biden Administration should do is reduce the height of sections that have been installed, or “cut it off at the knee.” This would be a lot cheaper than complete removal, but would make it possible for most wildlife to pass unimpeded while still blocking vehicle traffic through areas other than ports of entry. With that level of security, and with the old cut-off wall in the way, it would be a lot harder to justify going through all the hassle of building another wall for Democrats to cut down again later.
This Needs To Happen Fast
Whatever is going to be done to keep the wall from completion and maybe even scale it back, we need to keep in mind that we don’t have years to do it.
In the worst case scenario, Republicans will get enough control of congress in this year’s elections to force completion of the wall themselves. They’ve have to have a veto-proof majority in both the House and Senate and force through funding to get the wall built, so that’s not extremely likely. But if they secure simple majorities in both, they can block funding to destroy the wall pieces or shorten the wall, leaving the pieces ready to go for the next Republican president in 2025 or 2029.
So, whatever is going to be done to keep the wall from reassembling itself, it needs to happen sometime in 2022 to make sure it actually happens.
Featured image by US Department of Homeland Security (Public Domain)
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