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.