Last month, the U.S. Surface Transportation Board held that the California Environmental Quality Act, or CEQA, is pre-empted by federal environmental law relative to the Fresno-Bakersfield route of the proposed high speed rail.
STB stated in their opinion that CEQA could delay or eliminate a rail project even after a federal board, such as the STB, has authorized the project. This decision expressly pre-empts any state law from attempting to regulate the rail construction project. This means that a California state court cannot issue injunctions to stop the high-speed rail projects filed under CEQA.
The decision led to a recent settlement between California High Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA) and the City of Bakersfield. The City of Bakersfield had filed the lawsuit in June challenging CHSRA’s Final Environmental Impact Report/Environmental Impact Statement, stating that the CHSRA violated CEQA. According to CHSRA’s Jeff Morales, the settlement was a representation of the Authority’s continuous effort to “resolve issues in a constructive manner.” The ultimate goal for CHSRA is to “maximize benefits” while “minimizing the impact.”
The settlement included the dismissal of the city’s lawsuit, CHSRA’s commitment to study a new alignment in Bakersfield and a new location for the Bakersfield station. The new alignment is claimed to decrease the number of houses and businesses affected by the high speed rail project.
Six other lawsuits still remain. However, the viability of those lawsuits is in doubt.
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