TRANSDEF Files STB Challenge


02/09/15 Filed in:

In the second of two
lawsuits filed today, TRANSDEF joined a coalition of
non-profits and Central Valley county governments
challenge the decision of the federal
Surface Transportation Board (STB) preempting the
application of CEQA to California’s HSR project.
In what we consider to be a shocking use of state
power, the California Attorney General has
previously sought to eliminate the application of
CEQA to the state’s HSR project.

On October 9, 2014 the CHSRA petitioned the STB to block California
courts from issuing injunctions that could stop
construction of the HSR project. In an ugly turn
of events, the STB issued a
ruling on December 12, 2014 that
blocked not only injunctions but all application
of CEQA to the HSR project.

Our press release:

Challenges Federal Ruling: CA Environmental Law

Doesn’t Apply to CA High-Speed Rail

Oakland, California – Two county
governments and five non-profits jointly filed a
lawsuit today challenging a federal agency’s ruling
eliminating California’s ability to environmentally
review its own High-Speed Rail project. These Bay
Area and Central Valley organizations had previously
filed California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA)
lawsuits challenging the adequacy of CEQA review of
California High-Speed Rail Authority projects in
their respective regions.

Two Central Valley counties–Kings and Kern; two Bay
Area non-profits–the Transportation Solutions
Defense and Education Fund (TRANSDEF) and the
Community Coalition on High-Speed Rail (CC-HSR); two
Central Valley non-profits–the Kings County Farm
Bureau and the Citizens for California High Speed
Rail Accountability (CCHSRA); and the California Rail
Foundation filed suit in the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court
of Appeal.

They seek to overturn a recent decision of the
federal Surface Transportation Board (STB) that
prevents California from applying CEQA, the state’s
premier environmental law, to the California
High-Speed Rail Authority. On December 12, 2014 the
STB ruled 2 to 1 that federal law took precedence
over state law in approving the Fresno to Bakersfield
segment of the proposed state-run high-speed rail

Jim Janz, President of CC-HSR, objected to the
decision exempting HSR from having to do CEQA
environmental review. “That’s pretty outrageous,”
Janz said. “If there is one thing we know, it’s that
fully and properly studying impacts and alternatives
will produce better results.”

Aaron Fukuda said “CCHSRA is outraged at the
assertion of federal authority over a state project,
removing local protections.”

David Schonbrunn of TRANSDEF added “This is about
whether California gets to protect its own
environment for its own rail system.”

The petitioners believe that California’s Legislature
fully intended CEQA to apply to its own high-speed
rail project, as evidenced in Proposition 1A, the
High-Speed Rail bond measure, which assured the
public that CEQA review and compliance were integral
parts of the project.

The Authority requested the STB ruling to prevent the
state court currently handling CEQA lawsuits from
issuing orders that might delay construction. The
Authority’s ploy to sidestep CEQA represents yet
another attempt to evade the requirements set by the
Legislature and the voters.

CEQA, California’s premier environmental protection
law, is a powerful tool forcing California public
agencies to study and disclose to the public the
environmental effects of proposed projects. It gives
California citizens the opportunity to learn about
projects that impact the quality of their lives and
communities, provide comments and get formal
responses before they are approved.

The petitioners have invested substantial time and
effort in ensuring that the Authority performs
appropriate CEQA analysis and adopts mitigation
measures or alternatives to reduce potential
detrimental impacts of the high-speed rail project.
Ignoring CEQA risks allowing the Authority and their
contractors to inflict significant harm to lands and
communities along its rail lines.

This was recently highlighted when Tutor-Perini,
contractor for the first HSR construction package,
graded approximately 9 acres that were not within the
environmentally cleared project footprint and
destroyed a den for San Joaquin Kit Fox, a protected
species under both state and federal law. This
violated the requirements of the Merced to Fresno
Final Environmental Impact Report and federal
environmental measures designed to protect endangered
species and their habitat.

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