High-speed rail gets a financial boost from California’s heaviest polluters

McClatchy – excerpt

Debate over Assembly Bill 398 draws an emotional response from Republican Assemblyman Devon Mathis of Visalia..

A key source of money for California’s controversial high-speed rail project got a big shot in the arm this month from the auction sale of air pollution credits to industrial and commercial buyers.

The California Air Resources Board stands to receive more than $813 million from the Nov. 14 auction – the 17th quarterly cap-and-trade auction of carbon-emission credits since the fall of 2012. California holds its auctions in collaboration with the Canadian province of Quebec. The auctions are part of California’s greenhouse gas reduction program to reduce carbon emissions to 1990 levels… (more)

Audit Highlights…California High‑Speed Rail Authority

auditor.ca.gov – excerpt

Our audit of the California High‑Speed Rail Authority and its contracting and cost control practices highlighted the following:

  • » Although the Authority has secured and identified funding of over $28 billion that it expects will be sufficient to complete initial segments that funding will not be enough to connect those segments, or finish the rest of the system—estimated to cost over $77 billion.
  • » It has incrementally modified its plans for a fully dedicated high-speed rail system since 2012 and now intends to share—blend—existing transit infrastructure wherever feasible. Although blending is less costly, it subjects high-speed trains to lower speed limits and may require sharing time on the tracks with other rail operators.
  • » The fact that it has now exhausted all feasible options to use existing infrastructure raises concerns about its ability to mitigate future cost increases.
  • » The risk of additional cost increases is high. Costs to date have been significantly greater than originally projected because the Authority moved forward before it completed many critical tasks such as purchasing land, planning how to relocate utility systems, or obtaining agreements with external stakeholders… (more)

Faceoff with Federal Government Possibly Looming Following California Supreme Court CEQA Ruling; Cal High Speed Rail Project Also Vulnerable

By Whitney Hodgesnatlawreview – excerpt

Tuesday, August 22, 2017 : In July 2017, the California Supreme Court determined the federal Interstate Commerce Commission Termination Act of 1995 (49 U.S.C. § 10101 et seq.) (“ICCTA”) does not preempt the application of the California Environmental Quality Act of 1970 (Pub. Res. Code § 21000 et seq.) (“CEQA”), a state statute, to a state public entity railroad project on a rail line owned by that same entity, the North Coast Rail Authority (“NCRA”). Friends of the Eel River resolves a split among the California Courts of Appeal.[1] However, the decision may conflict with federal precedent and could eventually reach the Supreme Court. As the majority opinion and the dissent both emphasize, the decision creates a direct conflict with the federal Surface Transportation Board’s (“STB”) determination that ICCTA preempts any application of CEQA to California’s state-owned, high-speed rail project.[2] Thus, the dispute over CEQA’s application to High-Speed Rail may need to be resolved by the U.S. Supreme Court. Additionally, Friends of the Eel River introduces more legal complications for the planned $64 billion bullet train between Los Angeles and San Francisco, as it appears to require that project to comply with CEQA, which could lead to additional litigation… (more)

Freight Rail Fight Could Impact Calif. High-Speed Rail Project

By

AN FRANCISCO (CN) – An impending decision by the California Supreme Court over whether the state or federal government has jurisdiction in railway decisions could have major implications for the Golden State’s high-speed rail project.

The justices heard oral argument by the North Coast Railway Authority, which argued the federal government’s decision to allow freight service to resume on a 316-mile line that runs through northern counties outweighs the state’s environmental rules under the California Environmental Protection Act.

“Federal courts have universally ruled that open-ended pre-clearance processes like CEQA are preempted by the authority of federal regulators,” said Andrew Sabey, attorney for Northwest Pacific. The railroad operates the freight trains that traverse through Sonoma, Humboldt and Mendocino counties…(more)

High Speed Rail Won’t Impact Climate Change

by Marc Joffe, California Policy Center,  1/24/17

According to the high speed rail authority’s website, the bullet train is expected to reduce CO2 emissions by just over one million metric tons annually by 2040. This reduction is supposed to be achieved by replacing almost 10 million miles of motor vehicle travel each day, and eliminating between 93 and 171 daily flights. But these HSR projections have two fatal flaws: they are based on unrealistically high ridership estimates and they fail to take into account the transition to hybrid and plug-in electric cars. If HSR’s numbers are adjusted to take these factors into account, the project’s emission savings turn out to be much less. Further, they won’t have a meaningful impact on climate change.

HSR’s Environmental Impact Report used EMFAC2007 to estimate emission savings. EMFAC2007 is an emission model published by the California Air Resources Board ten years ago.  It has since been superseded by new versions released in 2011 and 2014. The EMFAC web page specifically states: “Do not use EMFAC 2007 for new studies.”…

Even in the extremely unlike event that HSR’s one million metric ton annual emission savings estimate were to be realized, it wouldn’t have a significant impact on global warming. According to EPA figures, global CO2 emissions total 9449 metric tons in 2011. Assuming this level remains constant and that HSR’s estimates are correct, the project would only reduce global emissions by about 0.01%. And, based on the evidence provided above, it is safe to assume that the real savings will be a small fraction of this figure…

A fair rejoinder is that even though nothing California does by itself will significantly move the dial on global emissions, the example we set for the result of the world is more important. If an affluent economy like ours’ can’t get emissions under control, how can we expect others to do so. But if we want to set an example, shouldn’t we do so in a cost-effective manner? Spending $64 billion to achieve minimal emission savings does not set a good example. Undoubtedly, there are ways to make steeper reductions in emissions at lower cost… (more)

Marc Joffe is the director of policy research for the California Policy Center.

Always looking for scientific analysis and opinions on these matters.

High-Speed Rail Takes Two More Swipes at CEQA

High-Speed Rail Takes Two More Swipes at CEQA

By Kathy Hamilton : pulbicceo – excerpt

This is the second in a series of articles updating the status of the California high-speed rail project in the wake of the California Supreme Court green-lighting bond funding. The first article covered two earlier attempts by the California High-Speed Rail Authority to get around the California Environmental Quality Act. This article covers two more attempts…

In his 2013 State of the State address, Gov. Jerry Brown quoted “The Little Engine That Could”: “I think I can. I think I can.”

One thing the California High-Speed Rail Authority, which runs the project, thinks it can do is get around the California Environmental Quality Act. As noted in the first article in this series, it started with two attempts:

  • Attempt 1: During the California Legislature’s closing days in August 2012, the CHSRA tried to pass more lenient measures to comply with CEQA. The Legislature didn’t cooperate.
  • Attempt 2: In June 2013, the CHSRA filed a request with the 3rd District Court of Appeal in the city of Atherton’s suit against the project. The CHSRA wanted the court to recognize the federal pre-emption of jurisdiction, getting around state laws, such as CEQA. The court refused.

Attempt 3: De-publication…
Attempt 4: the Surface Transportation Board…

Originally posted at CalWatchdog... (more)

 

Bullet train: Calif. enviro law does not apply

Bullet train: Calif. enviro law does not apply

By JULIET WILLIAMS, Associated Press : greenwichtime.com – excerpt

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California’s high-speed rail project is no longer subject to the state’s rigorous environmental laws after a federal transportation board ruled that it has oversight of the project, the state attorney general’s office argues in a brief filed Friday.
The June decision by the federal Surface Transportation Board — which was sought by opponents of the bullet train — pre-empts the authority of the California Environmental Quality Act, the state argued in the filing made on behalf of the California High-Speed Rail Authority.
“The STB’s decision concluding it has jurisdiction over the entire high-speed train system fundamentally affects the regulatory environment for the project going forward,” the state said in the brief submitted to the Third District Court of Appeals, which was obtained by The Associated Press.
Opponents of the project could lose one of their most significant legal tools if a federal judge agrees with the state’s argument. Critics of the rail line have repeatedly sued the state alleging violations of Environmental Quality Act.
The state asked the court to dismiss a five-year-old lawsuit filed by the San Francisco Bay Area cities of Atherton, Menlo Park and Palo Alto seeking to block the bullet train through the Pacheco Pass south of San Francisco. They argued that the route would harm the environment.
A Sacramento County Superior Court judge dismissed their suit in February but they appealed to the federal court, which last month ordered both sides to answer the question “Does federal law pre-empt state environmental law with respect to California’s high-speed rail system?”.
The $68 billion project will have to comply with stringent environmental laws regardless of the court’s decision in the Atherton lawsuit. But if the court sides with the state, it would mean complying only with the National Environmental Policy Act, and any lawsuits would have to be filed in federal court… (more)

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