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APCD approves agreement with California High Speed Rail to mitigate emissions

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The Governing Board of the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District (APCD) today approved agreements that would mitigate all construction emissions from California's High-Speed Rail (HSR) project that occur in the Valley. Upon the recommendation of APCD staff, the Board approved a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the California High-Speed Rail Authority (CaHSRA) that would ensure that construction emissions from building each segment of the HSR project will be offset by emission reductions paid for by the CaHSRA.

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As explained by APCD staff at the Board hearing today, before construction of any segment may begin, the CaHSRA must sign a Voluntary Emission Reduction Agreement (VERA) with the APCD and commit funds to pay for mitigation measures that will be implemented by the APCD. The MOU commits $35 million for all of the VERAs, with an additional 25 percent mitigation safeguard if that is not enough. In addition, the CaHSRA has approved an additonal 25 percent if the agreed upon measures are not enough. As a final safeguard, the MOU obligates the CaHSRA to provide even more funding if the previous mitigations are not sufficient.

None of the mitigation measures identified will be initiated until funding for those measures is provided to the APCD by the CaHSRA.

APCD staff took pains to assure the Board that entering into these agreements does not in any way signify support (or opposition) to the HSR project. However, it does provide protections for residents of the Valley impacted by the project's emissions should it proceed.

Such agreements are necessary requirements for projects, such as this one, that are not required to obtain permits from the APCD. In fact, the APCD has previously entered into VERA agreements totaling $69 million with those proposing other projects. To date, these agreements have resulted in reductions of 1,375 tons of nitrogen oxides and 108 tons of particulate matter after spending only $14 million of the total.

During testimony to support the proposals, Manuel Cunha, President of the Nisei Farmers League, said that he "...doesn't support HSR, but, supports frisking them for every dollar we can get!"

In addition to approving the MOU, the Board approved the first VERA, which will cover the Madera to Fresno segment of the project. CaHSR will commit $1.75 million (which includes the 25 percent cushion) for this first agreement. Initial construction of the project's so-called "backbone" will roughly occur between this location and Bakersfield to the south.

The Board also authorized the Air Pollution Control Officer to approve subsequent VERAs without first seeking the approval of the Board.

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