LOS ANGELES – BNSF Railway has decided to appeal a lower court’s recent ruling that its environmental analysis for the Southern California International Gateway (SCIG) was insufficient under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).

“The court ruled that the Port of Los Angeles and BNSF should have analyzed impacts at BNSF’s Hobart Yard in Commerce, more than 20 miles away from SCIG,” Lena Kent, director of public affairs at BNSF, told the Northern California Record.

BNSF considers the expansion of the environmental review to include facilities deemed “distant and distinct” from the SCIG project to be “an incorrect and unprecedented expansion” of CEQA’s scope that could negatively affect the future development of similar projects and infrastructure in the region, according to Kent.

The environmental review for the SCIG project site, an existing industrial site, was exhaustive, according to Kent. It took eight years and included a draft Environmental Impact Report (EIR), a recirculated draft EIR and a final EIR totaling more than 5,000 pages. The administrative record totaled more than 200,000 pages.

The project would reduce the distance traveled by trucks carrying cargo from ships at the Los Angeles-Long Beach harbor to trains located inland. Currently, the trucks must drive 24 miles away to deliver their cargo; SCIG would reduce that distance to just 4 miles. This would have removed approximately 1.3 million truck trips from the 710 Freeway annually, according to Kent.

“Perhaps most importantly, SCIG would reduce diesel particulate matter and improve health risk compared to the heavy industrial operations currently at the site, which include trucking, cargo handling, fumigation and warehousing, providing a great health benefit to neighboring communities,” said Kent.

BNSF’s intention with the SCIG project was to make it “the greenest intermodal facility in the U.S.,” according to a BNSF statement. Among the green technologies planned for SCIG were all-electric cranes, ultra-low emissions switching locomotives, solar panels and the use of trucks that would exceed Clean Air Action Plan requirements.

BNSF first expressed interest in the proposed project in 2005, and the Port of Los Angeles began the environment process the same year. The project was approved by the Los Angeles Board of Harbor Commissioners and the Los Angeles City Council in 2013. This approval was immediately challenged, resulting in the lower court’s ruling.

The effect of the ruling on the goods movement sector in California could be chilling, according to Kent.

“This decision sent a clear signal, not just to BNSF, but to any major company thinking of investing in California that their business isn’t welcome, regardless of how green it will be or how it will support the regional and state economy,” said Kent.

The company has invested $500 million in SCIG to date, and the future of the project remains uncertain.

“Unless this ruling is promptly and entirely reversed, building SCIG is less likely due to the costs and delay brought on by the CEQA lawsuits,” said Roger Nober, BNSF executive vice president law and corporate affairs and chief legal officer, said in a press release.

“While BNSF hasn’t yet made a final decision on SCIG, the company feels very strongly that the ruling set a dangerous precedent and had to be appealed,” said Kent.


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