Governor Rolls Back Rail Dodge of Pollution Laws at High Speed

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Less than a month after proposing fast-tracking high-speed rail construction around California environmental legislation, the Brown administration is hitting the brakes. The governor’s staff emailed key environmental groups that it would no longer pursue efforts to bypass elements of the state’s 1970 landmark California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).

The proposal would have made it harder for foes high-speed rail to block the project in court by compelling them to prove it causes major environmental problems, such as wiping out an endangered species, before obtaining an injunction against it. Environmentalists were appalled, with Sierra Club California Director Kathryn Phillips arguing that the legislation Brown sought to evade was created to deal with just this kind of mega-project.  

“If there is ever a public contemporary project that needs to go through full environmental review, it's this one,” Phillips said.

The $100 million rail project, which would run between Los Angeles and the Bay Area, has been touted as a way to get people and their polluting gas guzzlers off the roads to the benefit of the environment.

CEQA requires developers to identify all serious environmental problems with their projects and find a way to mitigate the impacts. Last year, Brown signed legislation that facilitated the construction of a stadium in downtown Los Angeles, skirting environmental safeguards by bypassing the trial courts and sending all legal objections directly to appellate courts.

Environmentalists are concerned that an attempt will be made to avoid some CEQA requirements when Brown and his allies in the Legislature formally propose construction of a “conveyance system” around the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and San Francisco Bay to facilitate shipping water to central and southern California. Voters rejected a similar proposal in 1982 when they turned thumbs down on the Peripheral Canal after a tumultuous debate. Opponents warn that valuable fisheries would be devastated, water supplies threatened, threatened species would be eviscerated and conservation efforts would be abandoned.

-Ken Broder


To Learn More:

Rolling Back CEQA for High-Speed Rail Sets a Terrible Precedent (by Glen Martin, Huffington Post)

Gov. Jerry Brown Plans to Fast-Track High-Speed Rail Through Courts (by Mike Rosenberg, Mercury News)

Jerry Brown Abandons Bid to Protect High-Speed Rail from CEQA (by David Siders, Sacramento Bee)

Gov. Jerry Brown to Scrap Environmental Exception for Bullet Train (by Ralph Vartabedian and Chris Megerian, Los Angeles Times)

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