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Homeland Security Waives Environmental Impact Studies for Border Wall

Customs and Border Protection wants to start work on a 14-mile segment of primary border fence in San Diego. That was part of what the president requested in the budget approved in the House last week.

But to start, the planned area needs a geotechnical study. Under a normal process, that would require an environmental impact study but that would push the scheduled project back. 

So the Trump administration announced it is implementing an exemption, specifically to the National Environmental Policy Act. It’s the first time DHS under Trump has used the exemption. President Barack Obama never implemented it; George Bush did so several times.

CBP spokesman Carlos Diaz said in an email  that the waiver is intended to cover three projects: the 14-mile segment of primary fence, a secondary fence replacement, and a prototype.

"The current start of the prototype construction based on protest resolution is December 2017. In addition, while the protest affects the prototype project schedule it does not impact the schedule for the primary fence replacement. Current construction start for the primary fence replacement is March 13, 2018. In addition, geotechnical studies for the primary fence are scheduled for the first week in August in order to meet the design and contract award schedule. Traditional NEPA planning including necessary biological protocol surveys which are required to be completed between March and as late as June would not be able to be completed and still meet the geotechnical and construction schedule.  Finally, the waiver eliminates the possibility of delays associated with NEPA litigation, or other environmental challenges," he said in an email.

Dan Millis is with the Sierra Club in Tucson.

"This is the largest waiver of laws in the U.S. history, this border waiver. We’ve got more than three dozen laws, off the books. These laws have been off the books for 10- years. There’s no sunset for when these waivers expire," Millis said.

The agency is already being sued by the Center for Biological Diversity and Tucson Democrat Rep. Raúl Grijálva for not determining the environmental impact of its wall project.

Fronteras Desk senior editor Michel Marizco is an award-winning investigative reporter based in Flagstaff.