California High-Speed Rail Loses in Court — Again

Signing high-speed rail track (Gary Kazanjian / Associated Press)
Gary Kazanjian / Associated Press

The California High-Speed Rail Authority will have to obey the state’s environmental laws despite a federal board’s ruling that federal laws supersede them, according to a decision by a panel of Ninth Circuit judges on Wednesday.

The U.S. Surface Transportation Board had ruled in 2014 that federal laws trumped the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). That ruling was a major victory for the financially troubled and delayed high-speed rail project, which hoped to bypass the Golden State’s heavy thicket of environmental regulations and requirements.

“CEQA is a state preclearance requirement that, by its very nature, could be used to deny or significantly delay an entity’s right to construct a line that the Board has specifically authorized, thus impinging upon the Board’s exclusive jurisdiction over rail transportation,” the Surface Transportation Board found in its 2014 ruling.

But the Ninth Circuit declared on Wednesday that the Surface Transportation Board’s ruling was merely an advisory opinion. That meant, ironically, that the court had to dismiss a lawsuit brought by opponents of the high-speed rail project, since it had no jurisdiction in the matter. But it left standing last week’s California Supreme Court decision that rail projects are indeed subject to CEQA, which affects high-speed rail (though it was not involved in the case).

Breitbart News’ Chriss Street reported last week that the California Supreme Court’s decision could cost the project “another four years, and $15 billion,” based on the time it would take to comply with CEQA, and inflation costs.

While high-speed rail stumbles, the hyperloop, the Elon Musk-backed alternative that would use new technology along existing rights of way, achieved a new milestone by running nearly 200 miles per hour in a test Saturday.

Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. He was named one of the “most influential” people in news media in 2016. He is the co-author of How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution, is available from Regnery. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.

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