California Governor Jerry Brown has courted controversy for protecting the state’s bullet train project from environmental regulations, but it seems he’s now done a U-turn saying he plans to withdraw his proposal to do so. The 360 seems odd considering that in the past, he even went so far as to propose modifications to the California Environmental Quality Act in order to start construction of the high-speed rail project. The entire plan has drawn criticism over mounting costs, which are rumoured to total nearly $100 billion and some officials have even said that the rail system, which would run between several major metro areas and through the Central Valley, would struggle to make its costs back. However the project is still going ahead and construction is set to start this December.
Governor Brown has been overseeing the transportation project and has drawn criticism from the likes of The Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council for trying to protect it at the expense of one the most important pieces of environmental law in history. His proposal to amend the act would have required opponents suing under the California Environmental Quality Act to prove the project would cause major harm to the environment, like wiping out an endangered species, for a judge to issue an injunction halting construction. Typically, minor impacts can be enough to delay construction.
Brown’s actions had turned environmental supporters who were previously all for a faster, cleaner high-speed rail system, against him. Speaking to the LA Times, Kathryn Phillips, director of Sierra Club California, said the rail project was exactly the type of major construction that the environmental laws were intended to address.
“All along we thought it was a stupid idea,” Phillips said. “Trying to reduce environmental review for one of the largest public works projects in the state’s history really makes no sense.”
Other environmental obstacles that Governor Brown had been attempting to circumvent included proving that the rail system could mitigate the effect on air quality during construction in the Central Valley. There were also questions raised about the use of diesel-powered construction equipment and whether or not it would add to the already poor air quality in the eight counties.
Images: California High-Speed Rail Authority, dominicanuniversityofcalifornia