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"Wall of shame" for the cap-and-trade vote for HSR: Editorial

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In broad daylight a robbery occurred and there were 40 state senators witnessing and some actually participating in the crime. The Senate approved SB 862, giving $250 million dollars immediately to High-Speed Rail and giving them a 25% portion of future yearly proceeds of cap-and-trade revenues without requiring a revote by the Legislature. In the robbery stolen were the positive effects that would have come from the air we breathe. Worthy projects, not being given cap-and-trade revenue because the rail project got the money.

Quite frankly the rail project does not meet the requirements of AB-32. The law requires reduction of Green House Gases (GHG) and those projects awarded auction revenues are supposed to help bring GHG levels down to 1990 levels by 2020. There are quick hits such as assistance with purchase of energy efficient vehicles, housing improvements to make them more energy efficient and a variety of other worthy projects that would have made an immediate difference.

The first 300-mile segment of the High-Speed Rail segment is not one of them. The premise behind these transportation projects is the more people you get out of cars, the more environmental benefits you achieve. While this sounds like a worthy cause, the first segment will not be even completed until after the 2020 deadline. How much past that deadline depends on the ability of the Authority to get the capital to build it. No one is sure what the actual ridership will be since this is not “mass transit” or “commuter rail” because it’s expensive and not meant for the day to day work commute. It’s more in line with a plane ride. Even if the HSR program gets future revenues of half a billion, or even a billion a year from cap-and-trade revenue in coming years, it won’t put a dent in the $4 billion they need per year to build the first segment by 2021.

The kicker is the construction process of the High-Speed Rail project will negatively impact the Central Valley, add to the sky high asthma rates, promote the spread of Valley fever and the GHG emissions for the area that are sure to sky rocket and their effects will last for more than 20 or 30 years. The Rail Authority left the construction that out of their analysis, which is a major gap and is the culprit that would delay GHG benefits for decades.

Why didn’t the author of AB-32, Senator Fran Pavley, have the courage to stand up and vote no when it was clear she didn’t like what they were about to do. During her comments before the vote of SB 862, she mentioned twice that this bill gives the current High-Speed Rail program 25% of the cap-and-trade revenue for a 1% reduction of GHG gases. She neither encouraged or dissuaded her collogues to vote for or against the bill. After very carefully choosing her words, she sat down and when voting time came, she abstained.

See her speech on this clip- the first 3 minutes. Newly elected Senate Pro Temp, Kevin De Leon, who takes over Steinberg’s post in the fall, comments in the remaining 3 minutes how clean up legislation will clarify the Senate’s intentions of the Senate with the passage of this bill. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zA0oWVFVOVM - 6 minutes

Pavley hopes that the Rail Authority and her colleagues in the senate will change strategies and build first in communities that are more populous. The Authority wrote Senator Pavley before the vote and in part here are some of the promises CEO Jeff Morales made to her:

“At the same time, with cap and trade funds we would accelerate work on the segment from Burbank to Palmdale, so that we would be building the initial operating segment from two directions, north to south, and south to north. The Burbank-Palmdale segment, which potentially could become an operating segment on its own, would accelerate benefits to the Los Angeles region. It would also allow for the earlier connection of our system with the proposed XpressWest line from Las Vegas.”

“We would use cap and trade funds to simultaneously work with our regional transportation partners to advance key local improvements that would improve commutes and reduce GHG emissions. As you may know, in 2012 the Authority and the Southern California Association of Governments negotiated an agreement among the region’s transportation agencies to identify priority investments that could align with our goals and requirements and also address near-term regional needs. The availability of cap and trade funds would make it possible to move immediately on the highest priority regional projects, such as the Southern California Regional Interconnector Project, which would dramatically improve the efficiency and capacity of existing Metrolink and Amtrak service throughout Southern California; and, key grade separation projects on the Los Angeles-Anaheim corridor. These and other projects will make rail more efficient, reduce GHG emissions, and improve safety.”

Really, Mr. Morales?

All this possible with Cap-and-trade revenues? Wow. The letter is about local projects and an out of sequence new segment being built to hook up to the Xpress West project that does not appear in operation. It was formerly was known as the DesertX-press line from Victorville to Las Vegas. No one responds to inquiries on their site, nothing has been noted on the site as far as key milestones since the fall of 2012. Here’s the link that shows that the loan application for federal loan support was pulled in June of 2013 and Wikipedia's account of the project.
So at the time of the vote, Senator Pavley herself did not vote the courage of her convictions when she abstained from voting. Unlike when co-authors of the AB 3034 in July 2012, when they voted no for the first appropriation bill for the Rail Project which including Senator DeSaulnier who voted no then and who voted no this time around as well.

Back in July 2012, the Senators who knew the most gave insightful speeches as to why they couldn’t vote for the project such as Senator Simitian, who offered this sentiment before his no vote, “ This is the wrong plan in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

Except for the fact that the Authority has filled some leadership positions and the Senate acted and voted for a cap-and-trade revenue allocation for the rail program, all the arguments against moving forward with this plan are good today, though 2 years have passed. Simitian made, what I believe to be one of the best speeches I ever heard, before the appropriation vote in July 2012 vote. He also talks about the 68 billion reasons not to just “go along with the program,” and vote yes. http://youtu.be/NajQSD_Pscs

In conclusion: A shout out to all those who made this possible

Stock market celebrity Jim Cramer has a financial, “wall of shame” on which he distinguishes CEOs on Wall Street for bad or despicable performance that can wreck high-quality enterprises. In California we certainly have candidates with less than stellar performance in Sacramento and deserve to be put on a political “Wall of Shame.” Here are the current Hall of Shame candidates because of the passage of SB 862 but anyone who voted yes deserves to be on the wall as well.

Shame on Mary Nichols, Director of the Air Resource Board (ARB), by the way a Brown appointee. She should be embarrassed that she caved into the administration's wishes and included this HSR project as a GHG reducing project when it is well known this project will be a polluter for years and doesn't have a chance at reducing GHG gas for decades. See TRANSDEF'S report:

http://transdef.org/Blog/Whats_hot_assets/Analysis%20of%20the%20CHSRA's%..., which provides an analysis of the Rail Authority’s report and the inadequacy of the high-speed rail project’s ability to reduce green house gases. They intend to file a lawsuit against ARB about their recommendation to list HSR as a worthy recipient of cap-and-trade funds.

Shame on Senator Fran Pavley for her inaction on June 15, 2014. Regardless of the good she has done in the past, shame on her for taking not taking a stand, encouraging others to follow suit and for her gutless action by abstaining on such an important vote. Why is the question?

Shame on the High-Speed Rail Authority for lobbying for the use cap-and-trade funds on their project even though it’s crystal clear they are not in compliance with the law and can’t possibly be in time to make a difference for the state’s GHG reduction goals.

Shame on Governor Jerry Brown putting his legacy first and the health of the state second by his relentlessly pursuit and support of the high-speed rail project. Despite the fact it’s not in accordance with a voter approved bond measure and AB-32. The voters, Mr. Brown, do matter.

And most of all, shame on the Legislature for passing this bill. They will be awarding a polluter money from other polluters’ contributions instead of projects that are worthy and would have immediate benefit for the state. The bill states, “All investments made pursuant to this act are consistent with AB 32.” That is simply not true.

The California Legislature is charged with the responsibility to make laws and protect the fiscal well being of the state. The voters will remember these actions at election time. The Legislature must believe they are immune from following the laws of the state but frankly nobody should be immune from following the laws, not even the people who make the laws.

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