This July we confidently predicted that California Gov. Jerry Brown’s decision not to exempt President Obama’s high-speed rail plan from the California Environmental Quality Act marked the beginning of the project’s slow demise. Specifically, we reasoned:
President Obama’s stimulus allocated $8 billion for high-speed rail projects, including, eventually, up to $3.5 billion for California’s project. However, according to the stimulus law, California must begin construction on the project before December 31, 2012 or they will not be eligible for any more high speed rail stimulus dollars. Obama’s Transportation Department reaffirmed this time limit last year when they admitted they had “no administrative authority to change this deadline.”
Fast forward to this June when the city of Chowchilla filed suit to stop construction of the project alleging that the High Speed Rail Authority failed to conduct a proper Environmental Impact Statement pursuant to the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA).
Studies show that the average time to complete the NEPA process is 6.1 years. And NEPA is designed to be a preventative statute. Federal courts routinely issue injunctions to stop projects before they ever begin. That is why oil companies preemptively sued environmental groups earlier this year over leases in Alaska. They wanted to get the litigation out of the way so they could begin oil exploration as fast as possible.
Since then the Madera and Merced County Farm Bureaus, the county of Madera, Preserve Our Heritage, and the Fagundes Brothers have all joined in as plaintiffs on Chowchilla’s suit. And last Friday, Sacramento County Superior Court scheduled a hearing on November 16th for the granting of a preliminary injunction against the project.
“That the judge is going to allow our preliminary injunction hearing to occur is huge. If an injunction is issued, they will not be able to release federal money in time to complete by the December 2017 deadline, which stops our segment of the project,” Madera County Farm Bureau executive director Anja Raudabaugh told AgAlert. “California condemnation code is very strict about CEQA lawsuits, and pending litigation has to be done before official offers can be placed on the table,” Raudabaugh continued.
For decades the environmental movement has used NEPA, and its CEQA-like state equivalents, to block key energy development and infrastructure projects. Seeing Obama’s signature transportation initiative killed by this same tactic is some sweet poetic justice.