Court to Hold Two-Day Hearing on the Challenged BNSF Rail Yard Project

The Southern California International Gateway will make air pollution worse, especially for the low-income, communities of color that live, work, and go to school right next to the SCIG site.

On November 16 and 17, the courtroom of the California Superior Court Judge the Honorable Barry Goode will be packed with environmental organizations, community members, air regulators, and lots and lots of lawyers. Our multi-year lawsuit against the Port of Los Angeles and Burlington Northern Santa Fe over their railyard project—that will increase toxic air pollution for nearby, already overburdened communities--will finally come to a head.

The Port of Los Angeles first announced its plan to put a new railyard (called the Southern California International Gateway, or "SCIG") directly adjacent to the community of West Long Beach back in 2005. Over the past 10 years, the Port and the railroad company to operate the facility—BNSF—have made a lot of promises of what the railyard would do. Chief among them are promises that the SCIG would simultaneously allow the Port to handle more cargo and reduce air pollution. But the truth is that the SCIG will make air pollution worse, especially for the low-income, communities of color that live, work, and go to school right next to the SCIG site.

The number of entities that sued the Port when it officially approved the SCIG project in 2013 is impressive and a testament to the seriousness of the air pollution problems that the railyard would cause. NRDC filed one lawsuit, representing NRDC's members, East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice, the Coalition for Clean Air, the amazing homeless services center directly adjacent to the SCIG and the route where the trucks would enter the SCIG--called the Century Villages at Cabrillo, and two local residents, Evelyn Knight and Elena Rodriguez. Another group of environmental and community organizations, including Communities for a Safe Environment, filed their own lawsuit.

And the list doesn't stop there.

The City of Long Beach, the Long Beach School District, the South Coast Air Quality Management District, and some of the businesses currently located on the property where the SCIG would be built, all also filed their own lawsuits. The California Attorney General also joined the case. These lawsuits were then consolidated, and since then all the plaintiffs have been working closely together to litigate this case.

This coming Monday and Tuesday, we will have the opportunity to argue before the Court that the Port and BNSF violated the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) in its environmental analysis of the SCIG project. We will also argue that the City Council hearing on the Port's environmental analysis violated our right to a fair hearing.

The communities adjacent to the SCIG site deserve an honest and accurate disclosure of the increased air pollution and health risks the thousands of trucks going to and from the SCIG, as well as the trains and other cargo handling equipment, will cause for their families. That is what the California Environmental Quality Act requires.

I want to thank our clients who are trusting us to represent them in this important fight; they have been constant sources of inspiration and each of them are brilliant advocates and community leaders. I also want to thank the extremely talented legal team representing each of our co-petitioners, as well as my colleagues in NRDC's Air and Environmental Justice team. It has taken an immense amount of work, over several years, to litigate this case, and we are all looking forward to finally getting our day in court.


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