Photo: Friends of the Eel.



UPDATE, 3:52 p.m.:  Press release from Friends of the Eel:

The Supreme Court of the United States today denied the petition of the North Coast Railroad Authority (NCRA) to review the California Supreme Court’s July 2017 ruling in cases brought by Friends of the Eel River (FOER) and Californians for Alternatives to Toxics (CATS). 

The refusal means that the California Supreme Court’s decision stands, and the NCRA remains subject to the requirements of California environmental law. FOER and CATS will be back in California Superior Court next week seeking to hold the NCRA accountable for its refusal to follow the California Environmental Quality Act, despite its promises to do so as a condition of receiving tens of millions of dollars in state funds. 

Meanwhile, the California legislature is poised to abolish the NCRA altogether. If Sen. Mike McGuire’s SB 1029 is passed and signed into law, the NCRA would be replaced for the northern 157 miles of the failed rail line by a new Great Redwood Trails Agency, with a mandate to seek railbanking for the line from Humboldt Bay to Willits. South of Willits, the NCRA’s freight rail operations would be turned over to SMART, an existing commuter rail agency. 

Friends of the Eel River Conservation Director Scott Greacen said the Supreme Court’s refusal to grant certiorari marks a watershed moment in the long-simmering conflict over the rail line. “We’re not home yet, but now we know we’re going to get there. One way or another, the threat that the NCRA has posed to the Eel and its fisheries for decades will end.”

Many thanks to the outstanding legal teams behind the FOER and CATS lawsuits. 


This morning, the Supreme Court declined to take up a petition from the North Coast Railroad Authority, the public agency that owns the long-dead railroad line to Humboldt Bay. The authority had asked the Supremes to undo a California Supreme Court decision that held it to state environmental law.

The Supreme Court’s rejection of the railroad authority’s request marks the end of the authority’s long-running legal battle with two Humboldt County environmental organizations, Friends of the Eel and Californians for Alternatives to Toxics, over whether or not the California Environmental Quality Act applies to the state-owned agency’s operations. The state Supreme Court’s ruling — that it does — will stand.

In short, the NCRA argued that because it is a railroad, only the Federal Railroad Administration has the right to regulate its activity. (See its full petition for certiorari at this link.) The environmental groups argued that CEQA is not “regulation,” in this instance — it is merely the state applying its own right of self-governance to projects it owns and operates, akin to a private company applying its own rules and standards to its private activities. The latter argument won. (See the environmental groups’ reply brief at this link.)

Meanwhile, a bill written by state Sen. Mike McGuire to dismantle the rogue authority is making progress through the state legislature. It has passed through two Senate committees with unanimous votes, and will be next be heard by the Senate Appropriations Committee at a date yet to be determined.