California Attorney General Xavier Becerra is accusing the Trump administration of “trying to exact political retribution” by pulling funds from the bullet train project.
With a lawsuit filed May 21 against the Federal Railroad Administration and the U.S. Department of Transportation, Becerra hopes to prevent the withdrawal of nearly $1 billion from the high-speed rail project.
The lawsuit follows the Federal Railroad Administration’s accusation last month that California’s rail authority “failed to make reasonable progress on the project.”
In its complaint, the state seeks declaratory and injunctive relief, and charges that the federal government’s decision to pull the grant agreement “was precipitated by President [Donald] Trump’s overt hostility to California, its challenge to his border wall initiatives, and what he called the ‘green disaster’ high-speed rail project.”
Gov. Gavin Newsom threatened the legal action after the May 16 threat to pull federal funds. “Just as we have seen from the Trump administration’s attacks on our clean air standards, our immigrant communities and in countless other areas, the Trump administration is trying to exact political retribution on our state,” Newsom said. “This is California’s money, appropriated by Congress, and we will vigorously defend it in court.”
In the lawsuit, Becerra cited Trump’s history of animosity toward the state as the reason he ordered the end of federal support for the $79 billion project.
The complaint mentioned that the state rail authority’s long relationship with the Federal Railroad Administration took a turn for the worse with Trump administration.
“In the last year … the FRA has stopped cooperating on the project, including refusing to process important environmental clearances, and to count hundreds of millions of dollars in state-funded expenditures toward California’s obligation to provide matching funds under the grant,” Becerra wrote in the claim.
The complaint continued: “On Feb. 19, 2019—one day after California and 15 other states filed suit to invalidate President Trump’s declaration of emergency at the southern border—President Trump tweeted that the suit was led by California, ‘the state that has wasted billions of dollars on their out of control Fast Train, with no hope of completion.’ One minute later, he tweeted that the “failed Fast Train project in California … is hundreds of times more expensive than the desperately needed Wall.” Later that same day, in a curt, three-page letter, the FRA abruptly notified the authority of its intent to terminate the grant agreement.”
The two plaintiffs identified in the case are the state of California and the High-Speed Rail Authority. There are four defendants named in the complaint: the US Department of Transportation, DOT Secretary Elaine Chao, the Federal Railroad Administration and FRA Administrator Ronald Batory.
The complaint warns the loss of federal money could cripple the project and portions of California’s economy. “FRA’s sudden decision to terminate the grant in violation of its own procedures and policies was arbitrary and capricious, an abuse of discretion, and contrary to law, and threatens to wreak significant economic damage on the Central Valley and the state,” Becerra wrote.
If the state were to obtain an injunction, the existing agreement between the Federal Railroad Administration and the High-speed Rail Authority would remain in effect until the lawsuit is resolved.
The High-Speed Rail project has been in the works since 1993, with California voters passing Proposition 1A in 2008 to authorize $9.95 billion in general obligation bonds for the project. The high-speed rail has never been fully funded.
In February, Newsom said in his State of the State address that he would be directing the authority to shift focus to the Central Valley line. This was addressed in the authority’s 2019 project update, along with the possibility that federal funds would be pulled.
In addition to the $929 million the railroad administration has withdrawn, it also threatened to take back the $2.5 billion already given to the project.