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California’s vaunted $68 billion “bullet train” is a big hit with politicians eager as always to spend taxpayers’ money. The bullet train, however, will be slower and more expensive than air travel, and in a high-tech state few if any commuters are panting for an essentially 19th century form of transportation. Sold as a conduit from Los Angeles to the Bay Area, the first stretch aims to connect Bakersfield and Fresno, which makes little sense. The massive project is also drawing environmental lawsuits, but as Tim Sheehan observes in the Fresno Bee, the federal government is doing its part to derail environmental objections.
The U.S. Surface Transportation Board, composed of three Obama appointees, has ruled that California’s High-Speed Rail Authority trumps California’s Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). As it turns out, this is a turf fight.
STB chairman Daniel Elliott III, a former railroad union attorney, and vice chairwoman Deb Miller, former secretary of the Kansas Department of Transportation, ruled that CEQA, “could be used to deny or significantly delay an entity’s right to construct a line that the (federal) board has specifically authorized, thus impinging upon the board’s exclusive jurisdiction over rail transportation.” Therefore, the ability of California judges to issue injunctions halting the work are barred by a federal law that “expressly pre-empts any state law attempts to regulate rail construction projects.”
Dissenter Ann D. Begeman, a former Senate staffer, said the high-speed rail authority has asserted its commitment to CEQA and the federal National Environmental Policy Act. Therefore, “The authority should live up to its commitments and the board should refrain from undermining them.” More obviously, Begeman’s dissent said the ruling removes key decision-making abilities from the very state residents whose interests are at stake.
That matters little to federal bureaucrats out to help politicians degrade the environment and waste billions. So even if you don’t like your state’s bullet train, you have to build it anyway. Taxpayers in all states should recall this ruling every time the federal government claims to support environmental quality and fiscal responsibility.