The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that a 2014 decision by the federal Surface Transportation Board, which exempted the $64 billion California bullet train from complying with state environmental laws, was only advisory, according to the Los Angeles Times.
The ruling falls in line with a California Supreme Court ruling last week that said the project must comply with the strict California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).
The decision is expected to open the door to environmental lawsuits that could delay or even kill the project.
CEQA provides opponents of all types of projects with a robust vehicle to fight them in court.
For example, despite initial approval for a $17.1 billion tunnel under the Sacramento–San Joaquin Delta, critics have vowed to fight the project via CEQA lawsuits. This is how the advocacy group Mission Bay Alliance stalled construction on the $1 billion Golden State Warriors arena for more than a year. The group eventually lost its court battle against the team, but owners had to push back the opening home game in the new venue until the 2019–2020 NBA season.
The California High Speed Authority has faced one battle after another in its efforts to make substantial headway on a high-speed rail line that will connect southern and northern California. A series of Los Angeles Times pieces cast doubt on the project's financial soundness, as well as the logistics of boring through the mountain ranges north of Los Angeles. Those articles spurred legislative hearings, which presented new challenges for the project from a public-relations perspective.
The rail has also had to pay out delay-related change orders to general contractor Tutor Perini and change the initial proposed starting point of the line to northern California in effort to open at least one segment as soon as possible. Additionally, California's congressional Republicans have also stood in fierce opposition to the project and related work.
GOP members, for a time, were able to hold up a $647 million Federal Transit Administration grant to electrify an existing rail line between San Francisco and San Jose, CA, because the bullet train would eventually share the tracks. The FTA finally released the funds to Caltrain after a three-month delay.