A recent environmental ruling overturned by the California Supreme Court and a last-minute deal made by Gov. Jerry Brown to extend his signature “cap-and-trade” climate program another 10 years ensures further complications for the planned $64-billion bullet train.
In overturning the lower court’s ruling, the Supreme Court said federal law does not allow the state-owned rail project to avoid California’s environmental regulations and review policies. The ruling has given some hope to those who seek to use the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) to challenge the bullet train project.
The rail authority argued that federal law supersedes the state’s law, allowing them to bypass any state environmental regulatory and procedural requirements that might delay the completion of the project. However, the state Supreme Court agreed with Central Valley farmers; the lower court interpreted federal law too broadly when it said federal law preempts the state environmental review.
In a separate blow to the high-speed rail project, the deal that extended California’s cap-and-trade system through 2030 could put the only reliable stream of funding for the high-speed rail project into question. The plan comes with a constitutional amendment that will be put before voters, and if approved, will give the minority party more say over how the program’s money is allocated. Currently, of course, the minority party in California’s legislature is the Republicans. And the Republicans in the the state legislature largely oppose the high-speed rail project. More than $1 billion so far has gone to the high-speed rail project. This could come to a screeching halt under the recent cap-and-trade deal.
“This absolutely calls into question the viability of the high-speed rail going forward,” said Assemblyman MArc Steinorth, R-Rancho Cucamonga as quoted in the San Francisco Chronicle. “If the bullet train can’t prove its worth, (this amendment) provides a pathway to ending the funding boondoggle once and for all.”
However, the proposed constitutional amendment, which calls for a one-time increase in the number of votes that the Legislature needs to approve how cap-and-trade money is spent, must win voter approval. The Legislature’s vote won’t happen until 2024, giving the high speed rail at least another seven years of funding.
Opponents of the rail project believe that even though funding won’t be cut for another seven years, the uncertainty might be enough to prevent the rail authority from securing other loans and private investments.
Proponents of the rail project see the extension and amendment as a win — believing that by 2024 they’ll be deep enough into construction that private firms will start investing, and it will be too late at that point to undo the project. Dan Richards, Chair of the California High Speed Rail Authority said that there is enough money — either on hand or in the pipeline — to finish the first segment of construction.
Where is the rail headed? Will it end up a train to nowhere? Or will it be completed and end up shuttling thousands of California residents quickly between Northern, Central and Southern California. We shall see. We will continue to follow the high-speed rail project as it rolls along, and will continue to represent property and business owners affected by the project in order to protect their rights and ensure that they obtain all of the compensation to which they are legally entitled.
If you think your property or business may be facing eminent domain, you can learn more about your options by giving us a call at (866) EM-DOMAIN.