Brown Seeks Exemption from Environmental Suits Against Train That’s Supposed to Help the Environment (But Won’t)

Anybody who has ever tried to build anything in California larger than a storage shed knows that part of the development process is getting sued. The California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) identifies the lengthy, burdensome protocols that must be followed to determine and mitigate any potential impacts of any proposed development on the state’s environment. The complicated morass of regulations (here it is [pdf] in 397 glorious pages for those who’d like to curl up with it) opens up any development in California to be targeted by anybody looking to stop it. Opponents of a project for whatever reason – environmentalists, NIMBYs, union interests – can look for any step a developer missed along the way, no matter how minor, and file suit to try to block the project. The suits can take months or even longer to resolve.

Given what small developments in California have to deal with, imagine what, say, the construction of a high-speed train line passing through much of the state could potentially face. That would explain why Gov. Jerry Brown wants to exempt his pet boondoggle from potential CEQA-related lawsuits, given the tight deadlines he's under to get the project started. Via the San Jose Mercury News:

Under Brown's proposal, train foes would have to prove in court that the project causes major environmental problems, such as wiping out an endangered species or damaging extremely valuable land. In the past, opponents on the Peninsula have delayed planning for the project by convincing a judge of minor problems -- for instance, that the state did not adequately study track vibrations. And Central Valley farmers Friday filed a lawsuit with a similar strategy in mind.

Second, the proposal adds to a growing number of large-scale projects that Brown and former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger have tried to exempt from the most intense environmental legal scrutiny by arguing that California needs to create jobs quickly. In this case, court delays would void key federal high-speed rail grants needed to begin construction, which would prevent job creation and the development of a greener way to travel.

"We believe that high-speed rail has tremendous environmental benefits for the state, and we want to do it in the right way," said Dan Richard, who was appointed by Brown to chair the California High-Speed Rail Authority. "We believe these are some technical issues, and we're not trying to seek any broad-scale exemptions with CEQA."

So, destroying farms in order to create an expensive legacy of dubious value to Californians (who don’t even want it anymore) is okay. Just make sure it doesn’t kill off any of those endangered Fresno kangaroo rats.

And let’s not forget, the claims that the train will be "a greener way to travel" are nebulous at best.

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  • Hugh Akston||

    Moonbeam doesn't need any lengthy studies to know what's best for the environment. It says so right there in his party affiliation.

  • ||

    Are we sure that isn't an image of a gerbil?

  • sloopyinca||

    Noted biologist Richard Gere will be along any minute now to clear this up.

  • fish||

    He's bringing along visual aids although you probably wouldn't want to pet one.

  • ||

    Are they cylindrical?

  • Tulpa the White||

    It looks more like Jerry Brown than a gerbil.

  • Tulpa the White||

    Stuart Flashman, an environmental attorney based in Oakland who has sued the project for Palo Alto, Menlo Park and Atherton, added: "Why not just get rid of CEQA altogether?"

    Finally someone who gets it.

  • ||

    Such morbid heresy has no place in the Grand Duchy of California. Flashman the Disbeliever must be skewered, for only the blood of the faithless can effectuate the designs of utopia.

  • ||

    "Flashman the Disbeliever must be skewered"

    Actually, Sir Harry lived to a ripe old age.

  • Tulpa the White||

    My sarcasm meter is on the fritz, but the stated occupation of Flashman (aaahh aaaah!) makes me suspect his modest proposal is Swiftian in nature.

  • fish||

    "Why not just get rid of CEQA altogether?"

    BLASPHEMER!!!!!!!!!

  • Keith3D||

    "Under Brown's proposal, train foes would have to prove in court that the project causes major environmental problems, such as wiping out an endangered species or damaging extremely valuable land."

    yes this relatively-reasonable-sounding standard for environmental harm is what we call an "exemption" in the people's republic.

  • ||

    "In this case, court delays would void key federal high-speed rail grants needed to begin construction, which would prevent job creation and the development of a greener way to travel."

    It's a tragedy when regulations meant to control the evil excess of private industry stand in the way of a benevolent government trying to create new jobs.

  • ||

    Every time I encounter a statement as retarded as the one you quoted I die a little inside, and God violently murders an African baby.

  • Brutus||

    Kony/Mubarak 2012!!

  • Tulpa the White||

    So if my private construction project is dependent on private funding that will be cancelled if it takes a year to break ground, do I get a similar exemption?

  • ||

    Uhm, private, la la la, I can't hear your, la la la.

  • Sevo||

    Ha and ha.
    Does that answer your question?

  • Ken Shultz||

    Just for the record, somebody should note that it was Brown, when he was Attorney General, who sued San Bernardino County, and by extension all the other counties in the state, to start making new developments account for their impact on global warming during the CEQA process.

    Yes, people can and do throw monkey wrenches into relatively small developments--on the basis that it would have a negative impact on global warming.

    http://www.martenlaw.com/newsl.....ment#_ftn1

    Thank you, Jerry Brown, for stifling economic growth in the state--years before you even became Governor again!

  • sloopyinca||

    Now, now. He is retarded, so give him credit for climbing as high as he has.

  • James Anderson Merritt||

    Wasn't he educated by Jesuits, at least early on? They don't suffer morons gladly. Perhaps the retardation kicked in during his years at Cal (Go Bears!) or Yale.

  • James Anderson Merritt||

    I was also going to say that it seems odd that Brown and Pat Buchanan both had Jesuit education in their respective pasts.

  • ||

    Stunning hypocrisy even for a politician.

    Does hypocrisy and politician even make sense in the same sentence?

  • Invisible Finger||

    Depends if one thinks "hypocrisy and politician" is a double-negative.

  • Ken Shultz||

    In a lot of ways, the CEQA process just ends up acting like a barrier to entry. Rent seeking bastards!

    It takes deep pockets to be able to ride out the CEQA process; it certainly isn't something a typical mom and pop operation understands well or can afford.

    For smaller developers, it can be really painful, too. You have to pay interest on your land loan the whole time you're going through the process, and the process can take 18 months--if everything goes right.

    And most development deals are tied to time constraints--like IRR, which is incredibly sensitive to time. You push the return time on a deal tied to IRR out an extra six months, and you're killing the developer's return.

    God forbid something goes wrong during the process and that 18 monts stretches out another year or more.

    A small developer could go out of business just writing checks for due diligence, trying to figure out if the project might survive to approval. Mom and pops can no longer, really, get plans through the approval process on their own and sell the map.

  • Sevo||

    Sort of surprising that Google doesn't have an image.
    When moonbeam was guv the first time, he ran on 'lowered expectations'. There was a freeway interchange in San Jose where the overpasses were pretty much complete, and the ramps were completed only at one end to construct the overpasses. Moonbeam cut the funds, and the thing sat there for years; two huge arches over a maxed-out freeway, pretty much connected to nothing.
    The image would make a wonderful visual to express exactly what moonbeam is about; wild ideas and abysmal waste.

  • James Anderson Merritt||

    I remember that overpass to nowhere. It was the joke of the South Bay throughout the 1980s.

  • juris imprudent||

    I propose that the bear be stripped from the state flag and replaced by the noble Fresno Kangaroo Rat.

  • Ken Shultz||

    Kangaroo rats would be good on the flag; burrowing owls might be even better.

    I propose we put a fairy shrimp on the flag. They're microscopic; can't be seen with the naked eye, and if they're gonna hold up or cancel so many development projects, Californians should at least get a chance to see what they look like.

    So let's put 'em on the flag!

  • Ken Shultz||

    That's the one that I'll never get over.

    Some endangered species? To feel that sense of loss and know that they're just no there anymore. You'd have to look at them under a microscope to miss them--since they can't be missed with the naked eye!

    Did I mention that again? That some endangered species can't be seen?!

    And the testing to see if they're there? Takes at least six months, sometimes a year. You have to do two tests--one in the dry season and one in the wet season--at least six months apart. And the thing is? There's all kinds of the not endangered fairy shrimp about, so you have to hatch the cysts in the dry season to observe them under a microscope to tell whether they're the endangered kind.

    Oh! And the puddles we're required to test for this? We've had to test puddles that were a few inches across and half an inch deep.

    One guy I know? Had a project where a truck had blown a tire, and they let it sit on the construction site for a while. It rained, and when they picked up the tire? Someone from Fish and Wildlife dropped by and flagged the indentation--they had to sit on their project for months waiting for the fairy shrimp test to come back!

    It's like in Brazil.

  • Brutus||

    You know, a state that determined to kill its economy ought to be allowed to do so with all alacrity.

  • Ken Shultz||

    I had to look up alacrity, but you're absolutely right.

    And how can we be ready if we can't really see what we're forgoing progress for?

    Why isn't everyone in arms about this?!

    *taps mike* Is this thing on?

    Some of the species they're protecting? Can't be told apart from the species that aren't endangered--becasue they're fucking microscopic!

    I said it was like in Brazil? Terry Gilliam wouldn't have put something like that in Brazil--he'd have thought it was too over the top. We're talking about costing people hundreds of millions of dollars and acres and acres of land--to protect species that can't be differentiated except under a friggin' microscope.

    There are hundreds of people who spent the day today getting way overpaid to take samples from dried up mud puddles to see if they had a species in it--that no one...

    You guys feelin' me here?

  • VG Zaytsev||

    The only way to parody the situation at this point would involve an lawsuit to protect the environmental reservoir of an infectious agent. The last source of polio virus in the wild, for example.

    Then again, even that will probably be reality in the next couple of decades.

  • VG Zaytsev||

    You know, the worst part is that none of this would have come to pass if only libertarians in the 80s hadn't used the C word so much.

  • Ken Shultz||

    You need a new schtick.

  • VG Zaytsev||

    Ok, I'll give it up.

  • ||

  • juris imprudent||

    I didn't ask for a [semi-]stripped bear!

  • Almanian's Evil Twin||

    That snail darter looks an awful lot like a mouse.

  • James Anderson Merritt||

    Interesting. To go along with "too big to fail," perhaps we should now add, "too big (or important) to regulate (or audit)." Of course, any project that starts out that way will, once established, transform naturally into "too big to fail."

  • Jim176||

    OK now let me get this strait; If the government wants to build something then the regulations are way too onerous but if a private developer wants to build something then he has to jump thru ALL the hoops, in proper sequence, while singing the national anthem, in falsetto. Is that about it?

  • Pinky||

    Kangaroo rats are the cutest thing on the face of the earth. They bounce around like spring loaded fury hockey pucks. But they are rats, and as rats they likely will outlive us all. Nevertheless, if the Fresno Kangaroo Rat can derail California's Fantasland Express, then more power to it.

  • Robert||

    Soooo cute, top-heavy ratty-rat. Big eyes, must be nocturnal, big ears, upright stance...think it was model for Mickey Mouse? Needs a shave, though. And wedge-shaped irises, gotta have a set of those. And a pet dog. Just don't get Bluto instead of Pluto, frequent mistake.

  • 35N4P2BYY||

    There are probably members of the state assembly that are curled up in a corner twitching, frantically repeating, "trains, environment... environment, trains." hi-fucking-larious.

  • 35N4P2BYY||

    There are probably members of the state assembly that are curled up in a corner twitching, frantically repeating, "trains, environment... environment, trains." hi-fucking-larious.

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