The Department of Homeland Security announced Tuesday it has issued a waiver to get around environmental rules and speed up border construction projects near San Diego, one of the country's busiest border sectors.
"The sector remains an area of high illegal entry for which there is an immediate need to improve current infrastructure and construct additional border barriers and roads," DHS said in a statement Tuesday morning.
"To begin to meet the need for additional border infrastructure in this area, DHS will implement various border infrastructure projects. These projects will focus on an approximately 15-mile segment of the border within the San Diego Sector that starts at the Pacific Ocean and extends eastward, to approximately one mile east of what is known as Border Monument 251," DHS added.
The waiver will allow DHS to bypass "environmental, natural resource, and land management laws" that would otherwise restrain these construction projects.
DHS said the waiver will be published in the Federal Register in the coming days.
President Trump took executive action in January that mandated a wall be constructed along the U.S.-Mexico border. It's not clear if the waiver is in regard to maintenance of the current structure or creates additional border security structures.
DHS said that waiving the need to comply with environmental laws does not mean the agency will disregard the environment in building a border wall or making upgrades.
"While the waiver eliminates DHS's obligation to comply with various laws with respect to covered projects, the department remains committed to environmental stewardship with respect to these projects," the agency said. "DHS has been coordinating and consulting — and intends to continue doing so — with other federal and state resource agencies to ensure impacts to the environment, wildlife and cultural and historic artifacts are analyzed and minimized, to the extent possible."
Environmentalists have threatened to sue the agency if it does not meet its environmental obligations under the law. The Center for Biological Diversity already sued the administration in federal court to ensure it conducts an required environmental impact statement before moving forward with the president's proposed border wall project. The group argues that the wall would cut through a number of protected habitats and cut off species from migrating.
• John Siciliano contributed to this report.