LOS ANGELES (AP) — A federal appeals court ruled the Trump administration did not exceed its powers by waiving environmental rules to speed up construction of prototypes and replacement of the U.S.-Mexico border wall.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Monday rejected arguments by the state of California and environmental groups who tried to block work that has mostly been completed near San Diego and Calexico.
The 2-1 opinion upheld a lower court decision that found the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 allows the Department of Homeland Security to avoid lengthy environmental reviews to speed construction of border barriers.
The appeals court case argued in August revolved around whether the Homeland Security secretary had authority to waive laws including the National Environmental Policy Act. Reviews required by those laws can often delay or derail projects.
The administration has issued several waivers to build sections of border wall in California, New Mexico and Texas. Lawsuits opposed to some of those projects are pending, but legal challenges to such barriers have failed over the years amid national security concerns.
At issue in court were waivers the secretary issued in 2017 to cover fencing in two California cities.
The waivers were for eight prototypes built in San Diego and two miles of replacement fencing completed in downtown Calexico. Attorney General Xavier Becerra and environmentalists argued that the secretary’s authority to waive laws had expired and that the federal government must comply with environmental laws.
The state was joined in the appeal by the Center for Biological Diversity, the Sierra Club, Defenders of Wildlife and Animal Legal Defense Fund.
“We’re disappointed the court is allowing the Trump administration’s abuse of power to continue,” said attorney Brian Segee of the Center for Biological Diversity. “Congress has ceded its authority to Trump, who has swept aside public safety and environmental laws to build walls that won’t work.”