DHS waives environmental laws to speed border wall construction

The Trump administration is waiving numerous major environmental laws to build a wall and fencing along the border with Mexico.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced the waiver Tuesday, citing its authority under a 2005 law to set aside any laws and regulations when necessary for border infrastructure.

The decision, signed by then-Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly last week, applies to a 15-mile border segment in the area of San Diego, where DHS plans to upgrade fencing and build border wall prototypes, among other projects.

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Kelly was named White House chief of staff last week after signing the decision, which will appear Wednesday in the Federal Register.

The San Diego border area “remains an area of high illegal entry for which there is an immediate need to improve current infrastructure and construct additional border barriers and roads,” DHS said in a statement.

“While the waiver eliminates DHS’s obligation to comply with various laws with respect to covered projects, the department remains committed to environmental stewardship with respect to these projects,” it said. “DHS has been coordinating and consulting — and intends to continue doing so — with other federal and state resource agencies to ensure impacts to the environment, wildlife, and cultural and historic artifacts are analyzed and minimized, to the extent possible.”

The notice exempts the border infrastructure projects from complying with major laws like the National Environmental Policy Act, the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Water Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act and the Solid Waste Disposal Act, among dozens of others.

The Trump administration had been rumored for months to be planning to use the waiver authority, but Tuesday’s notice is the first formal use of it. The George W. Bush administration used the waiver authority multiple times, but former President Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaGOP rep: North Korea wants Iran-type nuclear deal Dems fear lasting damage from Clinton-Sanders fight Iran's president warns US will pay 'high cost' if Trump ditches nuclear deal MORE never did.

President Trump famously promised throughout his campaign to build a massive wall along the southern border and make Mexico pay for it. Mexico has refused, so the House voted last week to appropriate $1.6 billion in taxpayer money to start construction.

Trump’s border wall proposal has angered numerous groups, including conservationists who object to the environmental impact.

The Center for Biological Diversity and Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) sued DHS earlier this year, saying that it needs to complete an updated environmental review of its southern border infrastructure projects.

“Bulldozing beloved wildlife refuges won’t make us safer, but it will enrage people across the country,” Brian Segee, an attorney with the group, said last week after the House passed its funding measure.

The conservation group in June formally threatened to sue DHS over its plans for border wall prototypes in the San Diego area.

Those prototypes were supposed to start construction in the summer, but have been pushed back to November.