A California high court ruling has opened up the state’s $64-billion high-speed project to a flood of legal challenges from environmentalist opponents, the Los Angles Times reported Monday.
The court found federal railway law did not trump California’s extremely strict environmental regulations for rail lines. This decision will make it easier for high-speed rail opponents to slow or stop its construction.
Opponents have filed six lawsuits challenging environmental impact reports for the rail line. Three of those suits are still pending. Construction on the project has begun, but even more lawsuits are expected to come as it gets closer to urban areas next year. Passenger service isn’t expected to start on the rail line until 2025.
“There are likely to be a lot of people bent out of shape in those areas,” Stuart Flashman, a lawyer who has represented several groups fighting the high-speed rail line, told The Times. “There are already threats of lawsuits involving the Angeles National Forest. It means the High-Speed Rail Authority is nowhere near out of the woods.”
The case is unusual because typically conflict between federal and state law, the federal law is applied due to the supremacy clause of the U.S. Constitution. California’s Supreme Court created a new legal theory to get around federal rules that states may not impose regulations that interrupt rail service.
A federal court could still overturn the judgement, ruling that U.S. law trumps state regulation. However, lawyers in the field told The Times that they expect a similar case pending in the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals to be dismissed and expressed doubt that the U.S. Supreme Court would alter the ruling.
In 2014, the state of California asked the railroad regulators at the federal Surface Transportation Board to preemptively halt any legal injunctions that could stop the project. The board ruled that the proposed railway was exempt from state law environmental law.
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