Editor’s note: The following section of the article “Cap and Trade + High-Speed Rail = Environmental Disaster,” by Cherylyn Smith (Community Alliance, April 2015) contained some editorial errors. The passage below is presented in accordance with the original article submission.
Environmental Detriment Piece #5: “Release from CEQA”
Jason Holder, an environmental lawyer who represented Madera County against the HSRA, has stated that “CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act) is NEPA (National Environmental Protection Act) with “teeth in it.” In other words, NEPA guidelines are weaker and not rigorously enforced compared to CEQA.
By far, the most comprehensive assault on California’s environmental protection policies today is HSRA’s efforts to exempt the project from CEQA regulations. In one lawsuit (Atherton v. HSRA), HSRA petitioned the court to allow it exemption from CEQA, which was denied. In June 2012, the Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Fund challenged [California Governor Jerry] Brown, who backed down after he tried to do the same thing.
Yet, in December 2014, the Federal Surface Transportation Board, run by three appointees, declared that NEPA would trump CEQA as the overseer of environmental regulations, thereby releasing HSRA from CEQA compliance. Two federal agency appointees (one voted against the other two) have taken it upon themselves to deny the thousands of citizens of California who voted for Proposition IA the stipulation that CEQA regulations be met before HSRA begins construction. Obviously, there is a clash between state law and the decree of two federal appointees. Needless to say, this exemption is being challenged in the courts, as we speak. Meanwhile, the HSR project stands environmentally deregulated.
The cauldron of government and corporate confluence to enable high-speed rail will spew massive amounts of poison into our environment if HSRA is granted exemption from CEQA. Most importantly, it would establish a dangerous precedent for corporations to follow suit with their pet projects, including fracking. In effect, CEQA would be disabled, if not dismantled, as California’s prime legal guardian of the environment.