Gov. Brown Relents To Environmentalists: CEQA to Apply to HSR

Under intense political pressure to retain the full application of the CA Environmental Quality Act to CA High Speed Rail project, Gov. Brown withdrew his proposal to allow the project certain exceptions to lawsuits.

With legislators due shortly to vote to authorize $2.7 billion from the $9.95 billion 2008 High Speed Rail bond act, the relief from environmental lawsuits intending to slow the project proved secondary to getting the legislature to authorize the state funding. Ralph Vartabedian and Chris Megerian describe the circumstances surrounding the Governor's change of mind.

"It appeared that the proposal was jeopardizing support for the rail project from the environmental movement, a stalwart supporter of high-speed rail along with labor unions and big engineering firms.

The Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council raised objections to Brown's proposal, saying it was part of a pattern to water down one of the most important pieces of environmental law in history.

Kathryn Phillips, director of Sierra Club California, said the rail project was exactly the type of major construction that the environmental laws were intended to address...Phillips said it would now be appropriate for the Sierra Club to support the appropriations for starting construction, since the group was a backer of the original bond proposal that was passed by voters in 2008."

The legislature had qualms about providing the environmental exceptions.

"Sen. Joe Simitian, (a key Democrat representing three San Francisco Peninsula cities that are suing the High Speed Rail Authority) said there wasn't "a lot of stomach" for Brown's proposal among his colleagues in the Legislature.

"I think that's wise," Simitian said. "It was a bridge too far. The obvious question is, is this a decision for the long term, or will the issue of environmental exceptions be revisited in the near future? That's a question people are going to ask."

Thanks to MTC Library

Full Story: Gov. Jerry Brown to scrap environmental exception for bullet train



Michael Lewyn's picture

are you sure this isn't Friday Funny?

So let me get this straight: California is going to spend a ton of money on high-speed rail, but only on condition that lawsuits can derail it (pun intended!)

The Problem With Changing CEQA

To me, it makes very good sense not to apply CEQA to public transportation projects, which have a positive environmental impact.

The problem is that, once we make one exception, there will be endless demands for more exceptions.

We can all imagine that, some time in the future when gas prices go up, the oil companies would say: "If it was so important to build high-speed rail that we suspended CEQA, then it is also so important to spare Californians the pain of high gasoline prices that we should suspend CEQA for all new refineries and pipelines."

Charles Siegel

Irvin Dawid's picture

CEQA Exemption May Be Back for HSR

Jerry must have read your comments, Charles and Michael. On June 22, David Siders blogged in the Sacramento Bee's Capital Alert that "Jerry Brown is not abandoning a proposal to insulate California's high-speed rail project from environmental lawsuits, suggesting he was only delaying the legislation until sometime after the Legislature considers funding for the project."

I suspect we'll be hearing more from the environmentalists on this matter. CEQA is their bible and they do won't allow exceptions to it without a fight.

Irvin Dawid, Palo Alto, CA

High-speed rail advocates vs. "Environmentalists"

Commenting on the Sierra Club's opposition to exempting California's high-speed rail plans from CEQA review, Irwin Dawid writes: "I suspect we'll be hearing more from the environmentalists on this matter."

Don't high-speed rail advocates consider themselves environmentalist?

Zelda Bronstein, Berkeley, CA

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