Friday, June 19, 2015

Caltrain wants to avoid environmental review

San Jose Mercury News

Caltrain Tries To Escape Environmental Laws 

This message is bringing you some news that Caltrain hasn't publicized. It's news that Caltrain doesn't want you to know about. 

Caltrain wants to undertake a major new project on the San Francisco Peninsula, and to avoid ALL the environmental review requirements contained in California State law. 

On May 19, 2015, the Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board, the official agency that operates Caltrain, filed a Petition for a Declaratory Order from the federal government's Surface Transportation Board (STB), claiming that the California Environmental Quality Act is "fully preempted" and does not apply to Caltrain's proposed electrification project. Caltrain also claims that it has already complied with NEPA, the National Environmental Policy Act, so that no additional federal environmental reviews should be required, either.

Caltrain's proposed modernization project would bring electrification to the Caltrain corridor. Many have applauded this effort, and Caltrain has claimed that this project would have lots of "positive" benefits, including positive environmental benefits. 

While CC-HSR admits that electrification can have some positive benefits, we don't believe that Caltrain has actually disclosed all the "negative" impacts of its proposed project. Caltrain has refused to acknowledge that electrification of the Caltrain corridor is inextricably linked to the state's proposal to drive high-speed rail development. It refuses to see as proof that it is accepting $600 million dollars from the Prop 1A money exclusively reserved for high-speed rail.

The High-Speed Rail project is planned to come right through the middle of virtually every community on the Peninsula. We believe that both projects need a full environmental review so we will know the true impacts of the entire project. Obviously, Caltrain disagrees.

Normally, when there is a difference of opinion about whether or not a project will have negative environmental impacts, the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) is in place to settle the question. CEQA insures that the questionable aspects of any proposed project will be fully tested through the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) process. 

CC-HSR, the City of Atherton, and others have raised questions about exempting the project from CEQA review, which is seen by most as more stringent than the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

Caltrain is trying to escape from the environmental reporting laws that allow members of the public to insist that governmental agencies respond to issues that the public thinks need environmental review. 

As you might expect, CC-HSR is fighting back. On June 8, 2015, CC-HSR, with Atherton and others, filed a joint opposition to Caltrain's petition for CEQA preemption. We will keep you posted! 

In the meantime, we think everyone needs to be considering this question: If the proposed Caltrain project is as environmentally positive as Caltrain claims, then what is Caltrain afraid of? Why is Caltrain trying so hard to PREEMPT our state environmental laws? Could it be that Caltrain doesn't want us really to understand that the Caltrain project is actually just step one to a full-blown high-speed rail development right down the Peninsula? 

See also Coalition backing CA bullet train is fraying at

Kathy Hamilton reports more trouble in DC for the project.

Later: The Surface Transportation Board ruled against Caltrain on July 2. Kathy Hamilton's account.

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