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Friends of Eel River v. North Coast Ry. Auth.

Filed 7/27/17 IN THE SUPREME COURT OF CALIFORNIA FRIENDS OF THE EEL RIVER, ) ) Plaintiff and Appellant, ) S222472 v. ) ) Ct.App. 1/5 A139222 NORTH COAST RAILROAD ) AUTHORITY et al., ) ) Marin County Defendants and Respondents; ) Super. Ct. No. CV1103605 ) NORTHWESTERN PACIFIC ) RAILROAD COMPANY, ) ) Real Party in Interest ) and Respondent. ) _______________________________________) ) CALIFORNIANS FOR ) ALTERNATIVES TO TOXICS, ) ) Plaintiff and Appellant, ) ) v. ) ) Ct.App. 1/5 A139235 NORTH COAST RAILROAD ) AUTHORITY et al., ) Marin County ) Super. Ct. No. CV1103591 Defendants and Respondents; ) ) NORTHWESTERN PACIFIC ) RAILROAD COMPANY, ) ) Real Party in Interest ) and Respondent. ) In this case we decide whether federal law, the ICC [Interstate Commerce Commission] Termination Act of 1995 (Pub.L. No. 104-88 (Dec. 29, 1995) 109 Stat. SEE CONCURRING AND DISSENTING OPINIONS 803) (ICCTA; see 49 U.S.C. § 10101 et seq.), preempts application of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA; Pub. Resources Code, § 21000 et seq.), to a railroad project that has been undertaken by a state public entity, defendant North Coast Railroad Authority (NCRA), along with lessee real party in interest, Northwestern Pacific Railroad Company (NWPCo), a private entity. The Court of Appeal determined that ―CEQA is preempted by federal law when the project to be approved involves railroad operations.‖ We conclude that the ICCTA is not so broadly preemptive. True, the ICCTA contemplates a unified national system of railroad lines subject to federal, and not state, regulation. Indeed, it appears settled that the ICCTA would preempt state regulation in the form of the state‘s imposition of environmental preclearance requirements on a privately owned railroad that prevented the railroad from operating. But in this case we must explore the application of the ICCTA preemption clause to the state‘s decisions with respect to its own subsidiary governmental entity in connection with a railroad project owned by the state. When the project is owned by the state, the question arises whether an act of self- governance on the part of the state actually constitutes regulation at all within the terms of the ICCTA. Even though the ICCTA applies to state-owned rail lines, in the sense that states as owners cannot violate provisions of the ICCTA or invade the regulatory province of the federal regulatory agency, this is not the end of the question. In our view, the application of state law to govern the functioning of subdivisions of the state does not necessarily constitute regulation. To determine the reach of the federal law preempting state regulation of a state-owned railroad we must consider a presumption that, in the absence of unmistakably clear language, Congress does not intend to deprive the state of sovereignty over its own subdivisions to the point of upsetting the usual constitutional balance of state and federal powers. 2 There is another aspect of the state‘s status as the owner of the railroad that is significant. The ICCTA, although it contemplates a …
Original document
Source: California Supreme Court