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High-speed rail foes argue state environmental law applies

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POSTED February 10, 2015 6:28 p.m.

SACRAMENTO  (AP) — Opponents of California’s high-speed rail project have filed a lawsuit seeking to overturn a federal agency’s ruling that says U.S. environmental law trumps the state’s environmental law, which opponents have previously used to try to stall construction.

Attorneys for Kings and Kern counties were joined by five community groups from the Central Valley and San Francisco Bay Area in filing a petition Monday in the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal in San Francisco, the Fresno Bee reports.

Opponents of the $68 billion project, led by Republican Rep. Jeff Denham of Turlock, previously asked the three-member federal Surface Transportation Board to take oversight of the project. The federal board did, and then ruled in December that federal law supersedes the more stringent California Environmental Quality Act.

The transportation board ruling bars state judges from issuing injunctions to halt work, saying the judges could “deny or significantly delay an entity’s right to construct a line that the (Surface Transportation) Board has specifically authorized, thus impinging upon the board’s exclusive jurisdiction over rail transportation.”

Opponents now say it is wrong for the federal agency to intervene in a California project.

“This is about whether California gets to protect its own environment for its own rail system,” David Schonbrunn, of the group Transportation Solutions Defense and Education Fund, said in a news release.

The board’s ruling applied to the 114-mile segment from Fresno to Bakersfield, which has received environmental approval. But opponents worry it could set a precedent for the entire project.

“The irony is that the same parties who sought to have the Surface Transportation Board take over our program in 2013 are now objecting and complaining about what the outcomes are,” said Lisa Marie Alley, a spokeswoman for the California High-Speed Rail Authority.

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