Gov. Jerry Brown has backed away from a fight with environmentalists, abandoning a plan to exempt the $68 billion California bullet train project from environmental laws.
Brown had hoped to fast-track construction of the project by sidestepping key provisions of the California Environmental Quality Act, but the idea had put him at odds with most of the state's green groups.
The Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Planning and Conservation League were among the organizations that in recent days had strongly criticized Brown's plan.
Most of the state's environmental groups backed Brown in his 2010 campaign for governor. Several green groups have been firm supporters of the rail project, which would link San Francisco and Los Angeles via the San Joaquin Valley.
Environmentalists said they were informed that Brown was abandoning the plan by Ken Alex, director of the governor's Office of Planning and Research.
Brown's press office referred questions to the state High-Speed Rail Authority, which declined to comment.
Brown's decision removed potential roadblocks to environmental lawsuits aimed at stopping the bullet train.
But the move might shore up legislative support for the project. For construction to begin, lawmakers soon must approve the sale of billions of dollars in state rail construction bonds.
The governor's office floated the exemption idea this month. According to environmentalists, the governor's aides had portrayed the idea as limited and technical in nature: They mainly wanted to block judges in environmental lawsuits from issuing stop-work orders on the bullet train project. Delays of that sort might cost California billions in federal aid, the administration says.
California Watch is a project of the nonprofit Center for Investigative Reporting.