Following in the footsteps of his colleagues, on January 6, 2012, Assemblyman Mike Feuer introduced legislation that would give rail projects the same type of relief from California Environmental Quality Act (“CEQA”) requirements that were received in the last session by the proposed NFL stadium in Los Angeles, and some renewable energy projects. Notably, the CEQA amendments enacted for the NFL stadium include a very short time frame of 175 days for resolution of CEQA issues. While current CEQA litigation may extend to two years or more, depending on the complexity of the project and workload of the court, it stands to reason that issues surrounding local projects such as the stadium, with local traffic, noise and air quality impacts, may potentially be resolved within the 175 day timeframe. Rail projects are of far different scope, geographic extent, and are subject to a different set of laws.
Indeed, the geographic size of rail projects implicates the greater scope of legal applicability. Rail projects, even if, like the current “high speed rail,” limited to within the borders of California, will, of necessity, be recipients of Federal funding. Consequently, Federal environmental statutes, including the National Environmental Policy Act, 42 U.S.C. § 4321, et seq., and the Federal Clean Air Act, 42 U.S.C. § 7501, et seq., apply. Thus, while the California legislature may attenuate the CEQA process, the rail projects will still remain hostage to NEPA.
Finally, even if rail projects could proceed without Federal funding, which they most likely cannot, where they cross state lines, the Interstate Commerce Clause of the United States Constitution is implicated, and Federal law will apply. In short, to attenuate the environmental review process for major transportation projects will require a different legislative template, at a different legislative forum, the United States Congress.