The Department of Homeland Security has waived a number of standard environmental regulations so that construction work can begin on the U.S.–Mexico border wall, according to The Hill.
The waiver applies to a 15-mile section of the border in San Diego where contractors are to build wall prototypes and where the DHS wants to do fencing repairs and other work.
The DHS said a 2006 border protection rule allows them to leapfrog environmental laws like the National Environmental Policy Act and Clean Water Act. Still, a history of pushback from environmental groups suggests the Trump administration could face more opposition to the proposed wall.
The Trump administration must still resolve a protest filed by an unsuccessful prototype bidder, Texas-based contractor PennaGroup. Prototype construction was scheduled to begin this summer, but it has since been postponed until November as a result of that legal challenge. If the DHS and Penna can't reach a settlement, the two will have to wait out the formal review process, which is scheduled to wrap up in October.
The Trump administration dealt conservationists another blow last week when it revealed that U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) would start construction on a three-mile section of wall through Texas' Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge along the Rio Grande River, according to The Texas Tribune. The CBP has refused to confirm the report, but it is possible the agency could turn to the same law allowing the DHS to proceed with building wall prototypes in San Diego.
The border wall project has been a contentious issue since President Donald Trump made the issue central to his 2016 presidential campaign. A big draw for the proposal was that Mexico's government would pay for the project, though Mexican officials have outwardly rejected that plan on numerous occasions. The administration faces financial challenges regarding who will ultimately fund the project. To date, the House has approved only $1.6 billion for what could be a $22 billion project, and Senate Democrats have said they will not approve spending taxpayer dollars on the wall's construction.
The administration remains light on details when it comes to the wall's finances and project timelines, but the possibility of its construction has garnered intense pushback from municipalities and construction companies. New York City and San Francisco officials have previously hinted at measures that would preclude their cities from doing business with construction companies that even bid on the wall, while prominent firms like AECOM and Bechtel have taken a hard line stance against bidding on the project.
Pre-construction work has already begun on the border wall, with the Army Corps of Engineers drilling and taking soil samples, though it remains unclear when construction will begin and what company or companies will be completing the job.