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Environmental groups oppose Brown's rail lawsuit preemption plan

June 12, 2012 |  1:04 pm

High speed rail

Two national environmental organizations have notified Gov. Jerry Brown that they strongly oppose his proposals to significantly diminish the ability of environmental lawsuits to stop or delay the California high speed rail project.

Since June 5, the Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council have sent letters to the governor, stating that his attempt in the Legislature to water down the California Environmental Quality Act represents a major threat to environmental protection statewide.

“This proposal sets a dangerous precedent, that, if applied here and to other large scale public works projects, will throw the state back to an era when bulldozers and engineers trumped clean air, clean water, wetlands and natural habitat and the public interest with abandon,” the Sierra Club letter stated.

Brown’s proposed legislation would prohibit a court from issuing an injunction or other stop-work orders unless those filing the lawsuit can show their damages substantially outweigh the harm to the state and those employed by the $6-billion initial phase of the project.

The potential loss to the state could include more than $2 billion in federal funds. The proposal would apply to any action filed since January, including a lawsuit brought almost two weeks ago by Merced County and the Madera and Merced farm bureaus.

Brown's effort has put environmentalists in a difficult position. He has asked them to agree to weakening one of the most important pieces of environmental legislation in history for a project they support because of its potential to reduce vehicle emissions and global warming.

Construction is scheduled to start later this year in the Central Valley. It would be the first segment of a 500-mile system that would link the Bay Area and Los Angeles with 200-mph trains.

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-- Dan Weikel

Image: An artist's rendering of a proposed high-speed train traveling along the California Coast. Credit: California High Speed Rail Authority

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