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Friends of the Eel River v. North Coast Railroad Authority

ELR Citation: 47 ELR 20093
Nos. CV1103605 and CV1103591, (Cal., 07/27/2017)

The California Supreme Court held that the state Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) was not preempted by federal law. The North Coast Railroad Authority (NCRA) undertook a project to update and repair railroad tracks that run across the Eel and Russian Rivers and restore freight operation in the areas. After researching the project, the state acknowledged that it would have significant impacts on the environment, but that the benefits outweighed the unavoidable adverse environmental effects. Environmental groups sought to enjoin the project and have the findings set aside, claiming the state violated the CEQA as there were inadequate responses to public comment and a failure to evaluate the environmental impact of various levels of freight service and of track repair and rehabilitation on water, soil, air, and other resources. The state contended that the Interstate Commerce Commission Termination Act (ICCTA) preempted the CEQA. The California Supreme Court held that the ICCTA is not so broadly preemptive, and that when the legislature created the NCRA it did not give it a CEQA exemption. Even though the ICCTA is deregulatory, the CEQA is in this case self-governance and as such applies to this project. The case was remanded for further proceedings.