SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - A federal appeals court is staying out of a thorny issue that could complicate California's plans for a $64 billion bullet train between Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Three judges with the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said Wednesday they lacked authority to rule on a federal agency's determination that it has authority to pre-empt California's strict environmental law.

The finding by the U.S. Surface Transportation Board in 2014 was good news for the state's High-Speed Rail Authority but created uncertainty for lawsuits filed against the project under the California Environmental Quality Act.

The California Supreme Court last week contradicted the surface transportation board, ruling that federal law does not allow state-owned rail projects to completely bypass CEQA.