Court halts highway project foes

News November 09, 2000
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Highway project foes did not have their day in court on Nov

Highway project foes did not have their day in court on Nov. 6.


The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California ruled that groups that seek to delay or stop approved road construction projects cannot simply assert that implementation of a state or local transportation plan might lead to a future federal air quality standard violation.


A federal judge firmly rejected "citizen suit" jurisdiction, ruling that state and local transportation plan conformity with the federal Clean Air Act (CAA) is not an "emission standard or limitation" as defined in the environmental statute.


The CAA "citizen suit" provision allows for the awarding of attorney's fees to plaintiffs from the government. Anti-growth groups then use these taxpayer-financed awards to fund additional environmental litigation against government agencies.


This and other legal issues were pressed in the California court by the Advocates for Safe and Efficient Transportation (ASET), a construction industry environmental litigation alliance organized in 1999 by the American Road & Transportation Builders Association.


ASET intervened in a case brought by the Sierra Club in January 2000 against government transportation agencies to stop up to $400 million in approved road and bridge projects in the Sacramento, Calif., area.


The court also denied the Sierra Club's request for a preliminary injunction against the projects, accepting ASET's argument that any temporary shortfall in emissions reductions will be corrected in the next round of planning.


The court went on to express "serious doubt" regarding any likelihood of success on the remaining Administrative Procedures Act count brought by the challengers. The ruling immediately allows 59 road and transit projects valued at $98.4 million to proceed.



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