The Trump administration was within its rights to waive dozens of environmental laws to fast-track some border construction projects in Southern California, a federal appeals court has ruled.
The Department of Homeland Security said in 2017 it would bypass various environmental regulations — including the National Environmental Policy Act, Clean Air Act, and Endangered Species Act — to quickly construct barriers and roads near the U.S.-Mexico border, NPR reported. By granting itself the waiver, the government avoided the requirement to complete environmental impact studies. Environmental advocacy groups and the state of California quickly challenged the waiver in court, arguing the agency overstepped its authority.
The court ruled Monday that the agency has "a broad grant of authority" to waive environmental statutes if the director finds it necessary to quickly complete security projects. The Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 explicitly gave the government that power, the court said.
A Justice Department spokesman told The Hill that the court's ruling was "a victory for the Trump administration, for the rule of law, and above all, for our border security."
The waiver let the government replace 14 miles of fencing on land stretching east from the Pacific Ocean, and also build prototypes of Trump's border wall in San Diego. Another project replaces an existing 14-foot section of fencing with a taller barrier that is supposed to be more effective.
The Sierra Club, one of the challengers in the case, said the advocacy group was contemplating next steps.