Trump administration waives environmental safeguards to fast track 69 miles of border fence construction

A culvert runs perpendicular to the Rio Grande in Webb County. (Miguel Gutierrez Jr./The Texas Tribune)
A culvert runs perpendicular to the Rio Grande in Webb County. (Miguel Gutierrez Jr./The Texas Tribune)

The Trump administration on Friday announced it is waiving several regulations in order to fast-track construction of nearly 70 miles of border barriers and roads in Webb and Zapata counties.

The move marks a significant step in fulfilling Trump's election-year goal to have hundreds of miles of fencing or wall in place by the end of the year. The waiver allows the Department of Homeland Security to circumvent regulations mandated in the National Environmental Policy Act, the Federal Water Pollution Control Act and the National Historic Preservation Act, among others, according to text of the notice posted in the federal register Friday.

The White House said in February its goal was to build 450 additional miles of barrier by the end of 2020. The 69 miles would be in addition to a 52-mile project also underway in Webb County, according to a Customs and Border Protection wall tracker.

U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, said in a statement the administration should concentrate its efforts on fighting the COVID-19 pandemic instead of on building an “expensive, ineffective border wall.”

“By issuing an environmental waiver to expedite the process on construction, this administration is merely attempting to fulfill campaign promises — all while wasting taxpayer money, removing environmental safeguards, and risking wildlife habitats,” he said.

The 69-mile area of the proposed project begins in Webb County at the Columbia Solidarity Bridge and extends southeast to San Ygnacio in Zapata County.