High Speed Rail and Renewables Daily Update

Bibliography Essay Lecture.   Climate Daily

US too big for high speed rail

Ahmad Ghayad, 10-16, 22, Why Does The US Have No High-Speed Trains? Should They?, https://engineerine.com/why-the-us-have-no-high-speed-trains/

With the exception of the Acela line in the Northeast Corridor, the United States does not have any true high-speed trains. Just 34 out of 457 miles may be traveled at 150 mph on the Acela line. Between New York and Boston, it travels at an average speed of roughly 65 mph. This is very slow compared to what speeds trains are traveling now. So why the US, which is considered the leader in development and technological advancement, is still “lagging” behind many countries in the high-speed train networks? Is it an economic problem? Or maybe a cultural mindset? It is actually due to many reasons and opinions that kept the US from building its high-speed rail network Table of Contents America Is Huge! In comparison to other countries with high-speed rail networks, such as Germany and Japan, the US is much bigger. Take a look at Russia to see that they have yet to build a bullet train between Moscow and Vladivostok, 3987 miles (6416 km). The distances between America’s largest cities are huge. For example, most of China’s major cities are situated significantly closer to one another than the most populated city regions in the United States, making high-speed rail a more practical option in China. The distance from Shanghai to Beijing, the largest cities in china by population, is about 819 miles (1318 km) and would take about 4.5 – 6.5 hours to travel by train. Now imagine the following scenario: if we would like to do the same in the US and connect the largest cities by population by rail network, we would be connecting New York with Los Angeles having to build over 2,446 miles (3,936 km) of rail network! Now imagine how long would such a trip take! High-speed rail makes sense when there are several densely populated cities close to one another and no large geological constraints to slow down the trains. However, despite having a total population of almost 330 million, much of America is still empty land. Our most populous cities actually have a lower population density than some provinces in China. While a high-speed rail route between New York and Washington, DC may make sense, it’s hard to see more than a handful of people in Missoula, Montana, needing to visit Phoenix, Arizona, or that high-speed rail would get them there quicker and cheaper than a car or an airliner. If you’re ever flying over the United States on a clear day, you’ll see how very different it is from the overpopulated and similar countries of Asia and Europe below. For example, Dallas, our fourth-largest metro region, has a lower population density than Hebei, a Chinese province that isn’t even particularly populated. This is likely the main element that makes the economics of high-speed trains so problematic. Most Americans value independence and freedom. This means people in the United States care more about events in their own communities than in other areas. They are uncomfortable or opposed to paying the taxes needed to support massive public projects like high-speed rail. The typical American will not be persuaded by your arguments that the country requires high-speed rail and that they should be ready to pay the additional taxes to fund it. No matter how many individuals might profit from it, it goes against our cultural beliefs that we should keep the profits of our work and give them to the government in the form of taxes. Also, the car plays a significant role in American society. Americans of all ages consider their cars to be major elements of their identities; for young people, owning a car is almost a milestone in their lives. Many working-age persons in the United States cannot bear to be without their vehicles. There are hardly any adults who rely only on public transit to move around, with the exception of those living in densely populated coastal cities with limited land areas. However, things might start changing after the gas costs skyrocket. Rail Infrastructure vs. Properties Nowadays, purchasing property along a relatively straight line is one of the most expensive aspects of establishing new rail lines (trains cannot go at high speeds over too sharp a curve). Buying land in the United States is quite expensive because of the country’s strict property laws. When the property was inexpensive, the United States had little trouble laying railroad tracks across the country. The rails on which we rely currently aren’t always as straightforward as they should be. In order to construct more modern, higher-quality, and more directly routed rail lines, the government would have to purchase all land between A and B and remove any obstacles in the way. What was to be farmland between A and B is now very desirable real estate that will cost a lot of money to acquire. Conclusion High-speed rail is an expensive, outmoded technology. Not only is it more costly and inconvenient than flying or driving, but it also takes significantly longer. Given that vehicles and airplanes are getting more energy efficient and less polluting every year, high-speed train advantages to the environment seem to be questionable. These are some of the reasons that we think are stopping the US from having a high-speed train network like Japan, China, and Europe. What do you think are the main reasons? And do you think the rail network is still an important transportation means for the US? Please share your opinion in the below comments section.

HSR billions in over budget in the UK

Gill Plimmer and Jim Pickard, 10-15, 22, https://www.ft.com/content/b804b37c-52c2-41b7-801a-eece63de2bb3,  First phase of HS2 set to bust budget by ‘many billions’ of pounds

The first stage of the UK’s new HS2 high-speed railway is running “many billions” of pounds over its £40.3bn budget and the Treasury has asked for further potential cuts to the project, according to an internal review. Europe’s biggest infrastructure scheme has already more than tripled in price since it was approved a decade ago. Since construction started on the first phase of the line between London and Birmingham in 2020 the cost looks set to increase further, according to a report presented to HS2’s board by Jon Thompson, former head of HM Revenue & Customs, who became deputy chair of the project in April last year. The review said it was “very unlikely” that the £40.3bn price tag for the London to Birmingham section would be met. Although the first phase allowed for a contingency that would stretch the budget to £44.6bn, the report concluded there was only a 50 per cent chance that would be enough. The final cost was likely to be “many billions more than the reported estimate”, the document, dated June 22 2022 and seen by the Financial Times, warned. It also criticised HS2’s decision to continue to record costs in 2019 prices as this meant none of the figures reflected “what has been or is being paid”. It added: “In almost every area reviewed significant developments are planned in 2022/23 which impact on the estimates and risk.” Rising inflation was also proving a “significant and growing challenge”. In a sign that HS2 was struggling to maintain control over costs, the project faced “bids for money from contractors on a continual basis and significant and lengthy commercial discussions around them”. The Treasury has asked management to identify potential cuts or “scope reductions” to the full project, according to the document. But it warned that shrinking HS2 further would hurt its “value for money” case. The original plan to build a Y-shaped line between London, Manchester and Leeds via Birmingham was costed at £33bn a decade ago. Last year, Boris Johnson’s government announced it was axing most of the eastern leg to Leeds in a bid to find cost savings as the total budget for the project looked set to exceed £100bn. Any further cuts would probably include cutting or delaying elements of the second phase of the project, which is meant to run north of Birmingham to Manchester via Crewe. The review also highlighted shortcomings in the way the first phase was being managed. It said two of the four consortiums hired to oversee the engineering work did not have “sufficient capacity and capability to manage all the various obligations placed up on them”. In hindsight, the consortiums were “too large to effectively manage and control”, it added. The first phase of the project is already running at least three years late, with trains not expected to run between the capital and Birmingham until 2031. The threat of further HS2 cost overruns will add to the pressure on prime minister Liz Truss. In July, then cabinet officer minister Kit Malthouse warned that HS2 was a “killer whale” that could “rip the arm” off the next prime minister. More than £4bn of improvements to other parts of the UK’s railway system have already been axed because of a governmental decision to focus spending on the high-speed railway line. The government said it remained “committed to delivering [HS2] on time and to budget”, adding: “As with all projects of this scale, contracts and scope are routinely considered to ensure they continue to deliver the value for money for taxpayers.”

Massive HSR expense means it’s not even practical to build it

Matt Welch, 10-13, 22, Reason, We Told You Why and How California’s High-Speed Rail Wouldn’t Work. You Chose Not To Listen., https://reason.com/2022/10/13/we-told-you-why-and-how-californias-high-speed-rail-wouldnt-work-you-chose-not-to-listen/

The infamous, $113-billion-and-counting California high-speed rail line between San Francisco and Los Angeles, which was supposed to be completed by 2020 for a cost of $33 billion yet has only begun tinkering on a 171-mile stretch in the Central Valley, is not really “an existing project,” says former California High-Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA) Chair Quentin Kopp. “It is a loser.” Added ex-chair Michael Tennenbaum: “I don’t know how they can build it now.” And California State Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon (D–Lakewood): “There is nothing but problems on the project.” All these quotes come from a much-discussed article in Sunday’s New York Times detailing the grossly politicized decision making that has plagued the proposed bullet train ever since California voters foolishly approved an initial $9.95 billion bond measure to jumpstart it in November 2008. “Only now,” asserts author Ralph Vartabedian, “is it becoming apparent how costly the political choices have been. Collectively, they turned a project that might have been built more quickly and cheaply into a behemoth so expensive that, without a major new source of funding, there is little chance it can ever reach its original goal of connecting California’s two biggest metropolitan areas in two hours and 40 minutes.” At the risk of nitpicking an otherwise useful autopsy, there never has been, at any stage of this living monument to political unseriousness and hubris, even a “little chance” that the S.F.-L.A. line would zip passengers between the cities in just 160 minutes, let alone deliver on the whole ragbag of laugh-out-loud promises that the state and federal political establishment delivered with a straight face. “The Rail Authority claims it will hit average speeds that are not being achieved by any other high-speed rail system in the world,” Reason Foundation Vice President of Policy Adrian Moore once observed. “A trip from San Francisco to Los Angeles would allegedly take 2 hours and 40 minutes, averaging 197 mph. France’s TGV-Est train averages 174 mph, the TGV Paris-Avignon averages 159 mph, Japan’s bullet train averages 159 mph, and Taiwan’s high-speed rail averages 152 mph….Those are the fastest ones out there. And they can use light, fast trains, because they run on their own tracks. California will have to use heavier, slower trains because the plan is run on the same tracks as freight trains, and federal safety rules require heavier passenger trains in the event of a collision.” Those words, heavy on incontrovertible fact, were published in September 2008. Reason Foundation, the nonprofit that publishes this website, has for decades operated a public policy shop whose core areas of expertise have always included transportation (including rail), as well as California writ large. In August 2008, the foundation put out a 196-page due diligence report eviscerating the shoddy and shockingly expensive ($58 million already by then) work of the CHSRA, and predicting many of the pitfalls that have been plunged into since. “There are no genuine financial projections that indicate there will be sufficient funds to complete Phase I, much less Phase II or any other phases,” the report concluded. “It is possible that the system will either be built only in part or not at all….[The] system as envisaged in state statute appears highly unlikely to be delivered under the present plan….There is little likelihood that the passenger or revenue projections will be met, that the aggressive travel times will be achieved, that the service levels promised will be achieved, that the capital and operating costs will be contained consistent with present estimates, that sufficient funding will be found, or that the system will be profitable. It is likely that these circumstances will represent an expensive and continuing drain on the state’s tax resources.” Even the crass, project-delaying political horse-trading that the Times focuses on was itself predictable at the outset by those who actually studied how massive infrastructure projects get done in the United States. “[The project] is already turning into a money-grab for local governments and transportation authorities,” the foundation’s Adam Summers wrote in July 2008. “The wildly exaggerated claims of high-speed rail proponents and the attempts by legislators from across the state to put their hands into the high-speed rail money pot should serve as warnings against providing a commercial service with political means. In the private sector, businesses must satisfy consumer demands and put their own investments at risk in order to survive. Politicians, by contrast, do not have to live by economic realities. They can support any idea that sounds good at the time and keep dipping into the taxpayer well to pay for it, regardless of whether or not it makes sense.” Yes, the Reason Foundation is a libertarian think tank, interested in limiting the size of government and using market means to policy ends. But the foundation’s transportation work in particular, spearheaded by the legendary Bob Poole, has long been respected across the political spectrum for its seriousness and attention to detail. And, in the case of the bullet train fiasco, that work was not an outlier. “The Authority’s ridership projections are considerably higher than independent forecasts developed for comparable California systems in studies by the Federal Railroad Administration, the University of California Transportation Center at Berkeley and in the recent Due Diligence Report,” the foundation’s Joseph Vranich testified to the California Senate Transportation and Housing Committee in October 2008. “The current proposal is untenable. The train will be slower than they say it will, will carry fewer people than they claim it will, and will cost much more than they admit it will.” Vranich was actually a bullet train enthusiast, pronouncing it “the first time I am unable to endorse a high-speed rail plan” (emphasis his). He painted a picture of a planning authority that hadn’t even done the most rudimentary of homework: I’d like to see high-speed rail built, but not this boondoggle. High-speed rail holds great promise in certain sections of the country. But the work of the Authority is so deficient that if the current plan is implemented it has the potential of setting back the cause of high-speed rail throughout the United States. The Authority has not learned the lessons: What caused Texas high-speed rail to fail? What caused it to fail in Florida? What caused the prior project to fail between Los Angeles and San Diego? A common element in the failures were high ridership estimates, low cost estimates, disregard for local environmental impacts and the planners losing credibility. The California Authority is repeating all of the mistakes as if they have never read a single page of history. There is a point to rehashing these old arguments beyond saying we told you so. The fact is, these reality-based objections were widely known at the time. It’s just that the people who otherwise fashion themselves as serious thinkers about public policy made the conscious choice to jettison rationality in favor of pie-in-the-sky dreaming. Back in 2008, my former colleagues at the Los Angeles Times editorial board produced one of the most succinct examples of magical policy thinking you’ll ever see: The projections by the measure’s opponents, led by the libertarian Reason Foundation in Los Angeles, are much less sanguine and more persuasive [than those by supporters]. If voters approve Proposition 1a, it seems close to a lead-pipe cinch that the California High-Speed Rail Authority will ask for many billions more in the coming decades, and the Legislature will have to scrape up many millions of dollars in operating subsidies. And yet, we still think voters should give in to the measure’s gleaming promise, because it’s in their long-term interest. Three years later, after the predicted pratfalls, the paper editorialized that, “Yes, the price tag has tripled and its completion date is 13 years later. But it’s still a gamble worth taking.” The New York Times, whose sober reporting this week launched the latest public discussion of this colossal government failure, was right there editorializing in favor of it in 2014. “Despite modest investments, American lawmakers have not given high-speed rail the priority it deserves,” the paper complained, before getting into some undergraduate-level policy sophistry: California’s plan to link Los Angeles to San Francisco by high-speed rail is expected to cost $68 billion. Critics argue that such services cannot survive without public subsidies and that the United States has few of the dense urban areas that have made such train services successful in places like France and Japan. But these arguments fail to acknowledge that most forms of public transportation are subsidized somehow by the government; the federal government puts up most of the money to build the interstate highway system. Skeptics also greatly underestimate the country’s long-term transportation needs. The Census Bureau estimates that the American population will cross 400 million in 2051, and the country is becoming more urban, not less. California’s population is predicted to top 50 million in 2049. That growth will put an incredible strain on the nation’s highways and air-traffic system. Note the tricks: Critics waved off, without hyperlink or citation, for not making a comparative-subsidy analysis that the Times itself fails to meaningfully enumerate. Zero cost-benefit comparisons of different transportation systems. Might as well just grunt “HAVE PROBLEM! THIS SOLUTION!” We will keep repeating this expensive, life-disrupting folly until we meaningfully address the mindset that enables it. Former Washington Post columnist Robert J. Samuelson identified this mental trap way back in 2010: President Obama calls high-speed rail essential “infrastructure” when it’s actually old-fashioned “pork barrel.” The interesting question is why it retains its intellectual respectability. The answer, it seems, is willful ignorance. People prefer fashionable make-believe to distasteful realities. They imagine public benefits that don’t exist and ignore costs that do. We told you so. You chose not to listen. This one’s on you.

HSR reduces fuel consumption

Peter Wong, 9-17, 22, Oregon officials discuss regional airports, high-speed rail, https://pamplinmedia.com/but/239-news/558071-446646-oregon-officials-discuss-regional-airports-high-speed-rail

“We’re not talking about whether we are going to build the (high-speed rail) project,” said Alex Hudson, executive director of Seattle-based Transportation Choices Coalition and a panelist. “We’re talking about when and where.” A 2010 study requested by the governors of the three West Coast states and the premier of British Columbia said: “A high-functioning regional rail corridor significantly reduces fuel consumption and emissions by taking cars and trucks off the road and reducing single-occupancy vehicle miles traveled.”

It’s not possible to increase the use of non-fossil fuel energy because renewables aren’t ready to replace it

Negrea & Buchan, 9-16, 22, Dan Negrea served at the US State Department as a member of the Secretary’s Policy Planning Staff and as the Special Representative for Commercial and Business Affairs; Sam Buchan is the Director of the Center for Energy and Environment at the America First Policy Institute.  He served as the Director for International Economic Policy at the National Economic Council and as a Senior Advisor to the Secretary of Energy, On Energy Policy, All-of-the-Above Is the Only Sensible Choice, https://nationalinterest.org/feature/energy-policy-all-above-only-sensible-choice-204826?page=0%2C1

America’s economy needs plentiful, reliable, varied, and cheap energy to remain strong. It must ensure the security and prosperity of the American people. Renewables just aren’t ready to meaningfully replace fossil fuels in our energy mix, and they won’t be for some time. Fossil fuels account for 78 percent of total U.S. energy consumption, while renewables register only 10 percent (excluding hydroelectricity). Little is expected to change in the next several decades given global energy demand growth and existing policies. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s Annual Energy Outlook 2022, in 2050, fossil fuels are still expected to provide 74 percent of total U.S. energy needs, while renewables will grow to just 16 percent.

Even if HSR reduced climate emissions to zero, 85% of climate emissions would remain

Negrea & Buchan, 9-16, 22, Dan Negrea served at the US State Department as a member of the Secretary’s Policy Planning Staff and as the Special Representative for Commercial and Business Affairs; Sam Buchan is the Director of the Center for Energy and Environment at the America First Policy Institute.  He served as the Director for International Economic Policy at the National Economic Council and as a Senior Advisor to the Secretary of Energy, On Energy Policy, All-of-the-Above Is the Only Sensible Choice, https://nationalinterest.org/feature/energy-policy-all-above-only-sensible-choice-204826?page=0%2C1

There is a national security dimension to climate policy, as well. As Biden noted in a speech on his hundredth day in office: “[T]he climate crisis is not our fight alone; it’s a global fight. The United States accounts, as all of you know, less than 15 percent of carbon emissions. The rest of the world accounts for 85 percent. That’s why I kept my commitment to rejoin the Paris Accord—because if we do everything perfectly, it’s not going to ultimately matter. All countries must bear the burden of fighting climate change, but not all countries have produced a strong record so far. China has been the world’s largest emitter for years and has no short-term plans to change this. According to a Rhodium Group study that ranked countries on their share of global net greenhouse gas emissions, China was first with 27 percent, followed by the United States with 11 percent, India and the European Union (EU) at about 6 percent, and Russia and Brazil producing about 3 percent each. Note that China’s emissions exceeded those of the United States, India, and the EU combined. Some Chinese companies pollute more than entire nations. The United States’ climate-energy-economic growth policies should not weaken the U.S. economy—the basis of national security—while China continues to strengthen its power projection capabilities, all the while ignoring climate considerations.

The oil economy enables autocratic dominance

Timothy Snyder, September-October 2022, TIMOTHY SNYDER is Richard C. Levin Professor of History and Global Affairs at Yale University and the author of Bloodlands and On Tyranny, Foreign Affairs, Ukraine Holds the Future: The War Between Democracy and Nihilism, https://www.foreignaffairs.com/ukraine/ukraine-war-democracy-nihilism-timothy-snyder

Putin’s propaganda machine, like the rest of his regime, is funded by revenue from oil and gas exports. The current Russian order, in other words, depends for its existence on a petulant wars waged by mendacious hydrocarbon oligarchs, racial violence instead of the pursuit of human survival via technology, shortages and famine in much of the world, and catastrophe in parts of the global South.

Costs will grow even higher: California costs are triple expected costs

Nick Augusteijn, Price tag of California’s bullet train project balloons to 105 billion dollars, 9-4, 22, Rail Tech, https://www.railtech.com/infrastructure/2022/02/09/price-tag-of-californias-bullet-train-project-balloons-to-105-billion-dollars/?gdpr=accept

A new draft project blueprint for the California bullet train, set to connect Los Angeles and San Fransisco, has revealed yet another cost increase on Tuesday. Officials now forecast the project will cost at least 105 billion dollars, 5 billion more than the previous estimate. The main reason behind the cost increase is the California High Speed Rail Authority abandoning the single-track option for the 171-mile starter section between Bakersfield and Merced in central California (275 kilometres). Officials have now decided on a two-track system instead. Of the starter section, a 119 mile-section is currently under construction. Another bone of contention is the location of the Merced bullet train station, with state officials demanding it be incorporated in the existing rail hub so as to allow passengers from the conventional lines to transfer to the bullet train. The California High Speed Rail Authority is now working on developing a single station. The additional billions represent the latest cost increase for the troubled project, which has seen its price tag more than triple over the past few years. The authority’s first projections back in 2008 put project costs at 33 billion dollars. Further costs increases are likely, as different sections of the high-speed line remain in various stages of development and planning. First operations are expected to commence in 2031.HSR benefits the economy and reduces oil dependence

Vartan Badalian, Transportation Analyst, GreenBiz Group, 8-23, 22. Can high-speed rail finally become a reality in the U.S.?, https://www.greenbiz.com/article/can-high-speed-rail-finally-become-reality-us

High-speed rail is what allows people to travel from London to Paris, a 300-mile journey, in as little as two hours compared with flying or driving, which takes upward of several hours. High-speed rail has many benefits, including:

Creating jobs — every $1 billion in investment creates about 24,000 jobs.

Increasing economic activity — every $1 invested creates $4 in economic benefits.

Reducing congestion and boosting productivity — congestion in the U.S. costs $140 billion in lost time and productivity.

Reducing dependence on foreign oil, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and providing efficient and high-speed travel choices — high-speed rail is as fast or faster and more efficient than air travel.

One HSR project costs $100 billion

Vartan Badalian, Transportation Analyst, GreenBiz Group, 8-23, 22. Can high-speed rail finally become a reality in the U.S.?, https://www.greenbiz.com/article/can-high-speed-rail-finally-become-reality-us

Even with all the projects and the historic moment in politics with the passing of The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) and The Inflation Reduction Act of 2022, many uphill battles still remain for high-speed rail in the U.S. Take California High-Speed Rail Authority, for example. The project was approved in 2008 and set to open in 2020, but it was hampered by funding cuts. Based on reporting from July, the project’s initial cost was $33 billion, with $12 billion to $16 billion coming from the federal government. However, the federal government only allocated $3 billion. Now, the project is expected to cost $105 billion.

A HSR project will cost trillions

Mark Warren, 8-17, 22, https://www.uiargonaut.com/2022/08/17/opinion-its-time-the-u-s-creates-a-national-high-speed-railway/, OPINION: It’s time the U.S. creates a national high-speed railway

The travel time also wouldn’t increase all too much. While, yes, the actual time that you’re on the train would be higher than the time you are on a plane, airports take a long time to get through. Right now especially, some airports are recommending people get there up to four hours prior to boarding. This adds time to traveling that just wouldn’t exist with a high-speed rail system.  There is a pretty big downside to this system, however — the cost. It would be very expensive to build all the infrastructure for this. The end cost would end up being in the trillions, which is a lot of money to spend on something. Though, it would be worth it. The positives of this system outweigh the costs. A national high-speed rail system would improve domestic travel in this country as well as benefit the environment. This is a system that works in so many other countries around the world, it’s time the U.S. catches up.

HSR will create millions of jobs

Mark Warren, 8-17, 22, https://www.uiargonaut.com/2022/08/17/opinion-its-time-the-u-s-creates-a-national-high-speed-railway/, OPINION: It’s time the U.S. creates a national high-speed railway

Another main benefit to a high-speed railway is how many jobs it would create. Creating a system like this requires new infrastructure to be built. In 2020 a bill in the House of Representatives was introduced to give $205 billion to create a high-speed rail system across the country. While the bill never went anywhere it was predicted to add over 1.6 million jobs. 

160 mph  is HSR

Mark Warren, 8-17, 22, https://www.uiargonaut.com/2022/08/17/opinion-its-time-the-u-s-creates-a-national-high-speed-railway/, OPINION: It’s time the U.S. creates a national high-speed railway

There are a few misconceptions about what a high-speed rail is. As of right now, America has only one “high-speed railway” that runs from Boston to Washington D.C. However, this train isn’t actually a high-speed railway, it is just marketed as that. A high-speed railway must exceed 160 mph to be classified as a high-speed train, which is something this train never does. The train’s max speed is 135 mph; however, the trip actually averages 62 mph.

Can’t solve oil dependence if we consume any oil because markets are intertwined

Lindsay Maizland and Anshu Siripurapu, Council Foreign Relations, August 11, 2022, How the U.S. Oil and Gas Industry Works, https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/how-us-oil-and-gas-industry-works

The debate over U.S. energy independence has shifted in focus over the decades, shaped by changes in geopolitics, technological advances, and growing concerns about climate change. Much of the debate in the last decades of the twentieth century centered on the strategic risks of U.S. dependence on foreign oil. Energy crises, such as the 1973 oil embargo, demonstrated how quickly external price shocks could throw the U.S. economy and political leadership into turmoil. In response, politicians called for the United States to ramp up domestic production to meet its needs and improve its energy security. Proponents of achieving energy independence also argued that relying on energy imports undercut U.S. foreign policy because it forced many administrations to keep commercial relationships with some undemocratic oil-rich countries Today, some U.S. lawmakers point to high gasoline prices amid the war in Ukraine as a reason to boost fossil fuel production and restrict exports. But analysts say that because oil is a globally traded commodity, there is little that the United States can do to control prices. They also question whether trying to achieve self-reliance on fossil fuels is even desirable. “Energy self-sufficiency may seem like a route to security, but it would be highly inefficient and impose unnecessary costs,” Columbia University’s Jason Bordoff and Harvard University’s Meghan L. O’Sullivan write for Foreign Affairs. For example, the United States often relies more on oil imports when major hurricanes hit the Gulf coast, where much of the United States’ energy resources are located. Renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind power, are increasingly part of the debate. Experts say that boosting capacity for renewables would help the United States achieve greater energy security. “We need to accelerate the clean energy transition. That’s what will give us real energy independence,” says the Environmental Defense Fund’s Mark Brownstein.

Oil drives climate change, which causes environmental catastrophe

Lindsay Maizland and Anshu Siripurapu, Council Foreign Relations, August 11, 2022, How the U.S. Oil and Gas Industry Works, https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/how-us-oil-and-gas-industry-works

Producing and burning oil and gas create almost half of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, mainly carbon dioxide and methane. Greenhouse gases trap heat and cause temperatures to rise, which contributes to stronger storms; increasingly extreme heatwaves, droughts, and floods; and other environmental catastrophes. The United States is the world’s largest emitter historically and second-largest emitter today, behind China. Oil and gas account for nearly 80 percent of the country’s total carbon dioxide emissions and more than a quarter of total methane emissions [PDF].   According to a 2018 report by a panel of top climate researchers, global emissions need to decline by 45 percent by 2030 to limit warming to 1.5°C (2.7°F) above preindustrial levels, which is the aim of the Paris Agreement on climate. Surpassing that limit will cause irreparable harm, and every additional tenth of a degree of warming worsens the damage. In 2022, the same panel said that some regions are already seeing irreversible damage and that the 1.5°C goal is almost out of reach. The Biden administration has pledged that the United States will halve its emissions, compared to 2005 levels, by 2030 and achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. But to have a shot at achieving those goals, the oil and gas industry, as well as electricity providers and automotive firms, needs to reduce emissions immediately. Oil and gas consumption has to decline by at least 56 percent by 2050 compared to 2020 levels, according to Princeton University’s Net-Zero America study. Actions that companies can take include increasing energy efficiency; improving methane leak detection; developing carbon capture, utilization, and storage (CCUS) technology; investing in renewables; and, ultimately, leaving hydrocarbons in the ground.

Producing oil and gas causes massive health problems in the US

Lindsay Maizland and Anshu Siripurapu, Council Foreign Relations, August 11, 2022, How the U.S. Oil and Gas Industry Works, https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/how-us-oil-and-gas-industry-works

There are also domestic consequences of finding, producing, and transporting oil and gas. For example, the industry is a large source of the country’s air pollution. Researchers in many states have found that oil and gas workers—and the estimated seventeen million Americans who live within a half mile of production sites—are more likely to suffer health problems such as asthma and cancer. Many of these sites are located near Indigenous or minority communities.

Oil spills cause environmental harm

Lindsay Maizland and Anshu Siripurapu, Council Foreign Relations, August 11, 2022, How the U.S. Oil and Gas Industry Works, https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/how-us-oil-and-gas-industry-works

In addition, hundreds of thousands of gallons of oil are spilled into U.S. waterways and oceans every year, killing plants and animals and damaging ecosystems. Spills happen in a variety of ways, such as collisions, as was the case with the Exxon Valdez tanker in 1989, and explosions, as on the BP Deepwater Horizon drilling platform in 2010. Fracking, in particular, can contaminate water resources [PDF] and contribute to earthquakes.

Traffic related air pollution increases elderly health care costs

Stacey Axeleff, October 2022, Division of Research, Kaiser Permanente Northern California, Atmospheric Environment, Association between traffic related air pollution exposure and direct health care costs in Northern California, https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1352231022003363#!

Abstract Background Traffic related air pollution (TRAP) is associated with a complex and diverse array of health effects. It is unknown whether these effects may be reflected by higher health care costs. Objectives Evaluate the association between TRAP exposure and direct health care costs in an elderly population. Methods This multi-ethnic population-based cohort of 25,684 elderly subjects, served by Kaiser Permanente Northern California (KPNC), were followed between 2013 and 2017. Hyperlocal long-term pollutant concentrations for nitrogen dioxide [NO2], nitric oxide [NO], and black carbon [BC] were measured at a resolution of 30 m using repeated street-level mobile measurements and linked to residential addresses. Health care utilization and costs were derived from KPNC databases and were used to calculate individual annual total health care, inpatient, outpatient, and emergency room (ER) and pharmacy costs. The associations between TRAP exposures and health care costs were evaluated using generalized estimating equation models adjusted for age, sex, race, BMI, smoking, SES and comorbidities. Subgroup analyses and interaction models were used to assess differences among specific susceptible population subgroups. Results An IQR difference (10.1 ppb vs 4.2 ppb) in NO2 concentration was associated with a 3% (95% CI: -1%, 6%), 22% (95% CI:11%, 35%), and 5% (95% CI:1%, 8%) increase in annual total health care, ER and outpatient costs in the baseline model. Associations with black carbon showed similar patterns but were smaller in magnitude. Among those with cardiovascular diseases, an IQR increase in NO2 was associated with a 7% (95% CI: 1%, 13%) increase in total annual health care cost and 23% (95% CI: 17%, 29%) increase in ER costs. Discussion Higher long-term TRAP exposure was associated with higher direct annual health care cost in this elderly cohort. Those with existing cardiovascular disease had particularly strong associations between TRAP exposure and direct annual health care costs.

Oil dependence enriches petro states and undermines US foreign policy

Mark Hannah, 8-7, 22, The West Can’t Afford to Be Dependent on Petrostates, https://nationalinterest.org/feature/west-can%E2%80%99t-afford-be-dependent-petrostates-204052

The United States and Europe should focus foremost on achieving energy independence and disentangling themselves from the values and interests of Riyadh and Moscow. Europe sweats under record-high summer temperatures as it simultaneously braces for the cold months coming. Last week, the Russian gas company Gazprom announced a drastic cut—down to about 20 percent of capacity—in the flow of gas through the pipeline which supplies Germany. This could make for a catastrophic winter. One recent report grimly explored how Germans might revert to heating their homes with wood. In the United States, the situation is less severe, though Americans certainly feel the pinch of high energy prices. Polls show voters worry about the rising cost of living, and especially driving costs. So, President Joe Biden reversed his campaign position to make Saudi Arabia a “pariah” and gave the kingdom’s crown prince a fist-bump and a boost to his status. How did we end up here? In 1938, an American company in Saudi Arabia struck oil. As the world industrialized, the kingdom swiftly became a leading oil producer and remains central to the world energy market today, with extraordinary leverage over its security provider, the United States. But Riyadh is not alone in its ability to bend the will of powerful states. Every “superproducer,” including Russia, is able to exert pressure and resist otherwise strong countries. Most American and European consumers don’t wish to bankroll autocratic regimes, but their leaders often leave them no choice. Policy decisions in Washington and European capitals have led to this moment. But it’s not just the lack of political will and ingenuity to pivot to more renewable sources of energy: though loath to admit it, Washington has a baffling “need to be needed” by oil-rich countries. And by brokering power struggles in the Persian Gulf, where it otherwise has no compelling interest, Washington gains an excuse to play “globocop.” America’s relationship with Saudi Arabia, like Europe’s with Russia, resembles a sad cycle of codependency. In personal relationships, codependency occurs when one prioritizes another’s needs above one’s own, losing a sense of independence in the process. This dynamic also occurs when strong countries with admirable democratic traditions enable bullying petrostates, often subordinating their own interests to those of their badly behaved partners. Washington is complicit in its own exploitation when it sells billions of dollars in military hardware to Saudi Arabia in exchange for dubious promises of reliable access to cheap energy. America’s “allies and client states take the money and use their [American-made] weapons in pursuit of policies inimical to US interests,” the Carnegie Endowment’s Andrew Miller and Richard Sokolsky write, calling Saudi Arabia a “poster child of this phenomenon.” Something similar could be said of Europe and Russia. One solution, easier said than done in a globally interconnected energy market, is to stop enabling capricious petrostates. A bold step would be for the United States and Europe to announce a plan to wean themselves off of the oil from petrostates who defy their vital interests. Washington should lead the plan to replace Russian energy in the winter. Given the looming threat of climate change, every country has an interest in ending its reliance on fossil fuels but, in a classic problem of collective action, every country also experiences this threat differently. Droughts in Syria may not seem connected to fires in Spain; erosion in Japan hardly seems to impact flooding in Kentucky. This is why the United States and Europe should focus foremost on achieving energy independence and disentangle themselves from the values and interests of Riyadh and Moscow. Some argue that “oil-for-security” deals help advance Western interests. Increased Gulf production could bring down prices at the pump (and boost Biden’s party’s prospects in the midterm elections). European imports of Russian oil and gas will create the goodwill of a customer relationship. So, it is argued that we should hold our nose on hypocrisy about liberal values or the wars in Yemen or Ukraine. But the underlying assumptions here are that America’s Middle East policy needs partnership with Saudi Arabia and that Europeans need Russia to cooperate rather than capitulate. Both are flimsy. Some analysts even suggest prices might go up if Saudi Arabia were to pump more, as investors could get jittery about the lack of spare capacity. Asking Gulf states to pump more oil as a supposedly quick fix for high gas prices leads Washington to give up far too much for uncertain and temporary results. Over decades, it has caused the United States to become the suppliant guarantor of Gulf security—a role ill-suited for a professed values-first foreign policy. Doing so commits resources to a region the United States needs to draw down from, and it subsumes our national interests under the agendas of autocrats. Washington could use its leverage as a security guarantor or threaten abandonment instead of pressuring leaders through the Gulf, hat in hand. Berlin can continue to hike its defense spending in response to Russia’s war, but even it admits it has no good alternative to Russian energy. Western political leaders will have to get relentlessly creative to accelerate the transition to renewable—and independent—sources of energy. They are unlikely to curb the demand for energy, but they could work toward a future where the developed democracies are not pushed around by weaker but resource-rich autocrats. The promotion of U.S. interests—which include the viability and longevity of the planet—demands an end to this codependency.

No federal support for high speed rail now

Kea Wilson, August 3, 2022, Advocates: Cutting High Speed Rail Out of ‘Climate Day’ Was a Mistake, https://usa.streetsblog.org/2022/08/03/advocates-cutting-high-speed-rail-out-of-climate-day-was-a-mistake/

The Democrats’ controversial decision to axe funding for high speed rail from their blockbuster climate bill has some advocates wondering what it will take for lawmakers to finally understand the environmentally transformative potential of the mode — both for decarbonizing long distance travel and the larger movement to end car dependence more broadly. Sustainable transportation advocates were outraged last week when news broke that the Senate’s $700-billion Inflation Reduction Act would contain zero guaranteed money for shared transportation while pouring billions into consumer subsidies for electric cars. Transit projects are only eligible for a tiny handful of competitive programs — the $3.4 billion Neighborhood Equity and Access Grant program and a roughly $1-billion grant program to green commercial vehicles like buses, school transportation vehicles and garbage trucks — but agencies will be forced to compete for their share with projects that primarily benefit pedestrians, cyclists, and other sustainable modes. As a result, some are already beginning to question Democrats’ estimates that the package would decrease greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent below 2005 levels. “It is a bitter pill in terms of rail and transit, which is the one clearly established, low-carbon emission transportation systems we have going,” Sean Jeans-Gail, vice president of government affairs and policy at the Rail Passengers Association, told Politico. “It does feel like this is going to lock in highway dominance.” One of the lesser-discussed omissions from the bill, tough was a new program to finally kick-start a high speed rail network in the U.S., which had been slated to receive $10 billion under the earlier Build Back Better Act. (Lower-speed transit was also promised as much as $9.9 billion at various points in the negotiation over Build Back Better, an amount which was widely seen as a corrective for the funds agencies lost during severe cuts to the original bipartisan infrastructure law.) Despite more than half a century of legislative attempts dating back to the High Speed Ground Transportation Act of 1965, the Senate has struggled to deliver federal investment in bullet trains — even as other countries around the world have built nearly 35,000 miles of service. Currently just 33.9 miles of the US passenger rail network is functionally capable of supporting train speeds more than 150 miles per hour; Morocco, by contrast, has just 7 percent of America’s land mass but three times as much high-speed service, and China has nearly 24,000 miles of fast tracks. “Frankly, I don’t think the Senate understands high speed rail yet,” said Rick Harnish, executive director of the High Speed Rail Alliance. “We’ve got a lot more work to do, especially to get local leaders telling their Senators that their communities need high speed rail. We just have too low of expectations of what train service can be in this country.”

HSR $ can be better spent on literally anything else

Thomas Buckley, July 25, 2022, What Else California Could Have Done With the High-Speed Rail Funds, https://californiaglobe.com/articles/what-else-california-could-have-done-with-the-high-speed-rail-funds/

First things first, let’s set some parameters for this article. One – California’s High Speed Rail network is not going to be built. At this point, that’s a given. Two – Even it were to be built and managed to hit its ridership projections it would require that 140 loaded-to-capacity trains would have to move both north and south each day. That means a train carrying 1,000 people would have to leave from both ends of the system every eight minutes. Three – Those numbers, when compared against operating expenses and debt repayment, would have to translate into an average per person fare of about $150 each trip. And remember that not every trip will travel the entire length of the system, meaning the round-trip cost from LA to San Fran will run well over $400 if the system is to break even (depending upon how you buy your ticket, at least double if not triple what a flight on Southwest costs). So, instead of spending $100 billion (a number that will continue to rise) on a system that is a decade beyond schedule (another number that will continue to rise), and even if the waters part and the planets align and a literal Deus ex Machina moment occurs and it does get finished it will still have no hope of matching the speeds and ticket prices DEMANDED of it in the original bond, what else could California have done with the money? Those playing along at home may recall a similar article regarding the looting of the EDD – click here if you care to refresh your memory. And some of the expenditure concepts will be similar to the previous article. In no particular order, one hundred billion dollars would pay for: Cover the entirety of the EDD fraud-generated debt plus leave about $70 billion aside for when, not if, the unemployment agency gets fleeced again…and again…and again. At about $700,000 per 500 square-foot unit (yes, that’s the going price now), every homeless person in the state could be given a free apartment. If, for whatever reason you would wish to, you could pave Death Valley. The Salton Sea could be restored every decade until the year 2300. San Diego could get three – not just one – floating airports. The entire shortfall in the CalSters teacher pension could be funded (or just most of the CalPers shortfall). The state could provide free insulin for four years to every diabetic Californian. Put into a trust, it would be enough money to cover the cost of every organ transplant procedure and the treatment of every Californian with HIV forever. According to the current total assessed property value, California taxpayers could buy Marin County and every building in it. Phil Mickelson could lose $10 million per year (which he reportedly has been doing) gambling for the next 10,000 years. You could build and stock 10 new Getty museums (better than a koi pond in the backyard, wouldn’t you say?). Instead of Stanford students paying $80,000 a year to go to school, each could actually be paid $150,000 per year to attend, year in, year out. Every bald Californian – no matter the age – could get free hair transplants. At the current clip, California could match the federal military aid budget for Ukraine for 14 years. Or the state could simply double Ukraine’s gross domestic product for a year. Every child in the state could go to private school for a year (fun fact: average private school tuition is nearly identical to the amount the public system pays per student – wonder who is getting the better deal?). The state could pay $8 million to every resident of the Pacific Island nation of Tuvalu and simply buy the country. On a transportation note, $100 billion placed in a trust would generate enough money each year to make all Bay Area and Southland public transit free of charge for eternity. Continuing in a mobility frame of mind, NASA is planning to spend about $230 billion on its proposed manned mission to Mars in 2035. The high-speed rail funds would cover nearly half of that, or about one way of the round trip. The rail project would – at its lengthiest – connect San Diego and Sacramento, a journey of about 550 miles. The trip from Earth to Mars is about 110,000,000 miles. Guess who is getting the better deal?

HSR in California is a total bust

Grimes, July 22, 2022, Katy Grimes, the Editor of the California Globe, is a long-time Investigative Journalist covering the California State Capitol, and the co-author of California’s War Against Donald Trump: Who Wins? Who Loses?, https://californiaglobe.com/articles/californias-electric-high-speed-rail-no-power-no-money-no-high-speed/

“If it is built, California’s High-Speed Rail would be the largest public works project in state history. That fact alone appears be intoxicating to state officials, in a perpetual quest to have California be the first state to do anything,” I reported in 2011. That’s how long California’s High Speed Rail has served only as a jobs program and a really bad joke on California voters and taxpayers.

By 2011, it was apparent that the High Speed Rail Authority was violating important mandates in the 2008 initiative, passed by voters. Proposition 1A, $9 billion in bonds for high-speed rail, included numerous mandates, none of which can be legally bypassed on the way to building the massive train system.

Top on the list is that the rail system must be high-speed. “Electric trains that are capable of sustained maximum revenue operating speeds of no less than 200 miles per hour,” the law states. However, much of the first segment between Fresno and Bakersfield is not high-speed; nor will high-speed be attainable in dense cities.

Despite the warnings of a nearly $100 billion ballooning price tag, no track laid, no trains running, decreasing legislative support and even opposition from diehard rail advocates, the High-Speed Rail Authority is steaming ahead full throttle with plans to build the most expensive high-speed rail system in history.” That is also from 2011 – 11 years ago. And nothing has changed except more spending on the train to nowhere.

A 2011 Field poll found that two thirds of Californians want a new referendum on the project. And by a two-to-one margin, they say they’d vote to derail it, only three years after passing Prop. 1A.

California Senate Republicans just issued a “Myths vs. Facts” report on California’s High Speed Rail debacle. They reported, “14 years later, this ‘efficient’ bullet train was supposed to be completed in the early 2020s, but it is nowhere near completion, while the cost has ballooned to $105 billion from $33 billion. In the 2022-2023 state budget, Legislative Democrats earmarked another $4.2 billion for the first phase of the project, which would run from Bakersfield to Merced.”

“Adding insult to California voters, the California High Speed Rail Authority (HSRA) has published a website peddling myths about the bullet train,” Senate Republicans said. “While they suggest they are trying to ‘dispel myths’ and separate ‘fact from fiction,’ their own website is rampant with more opinions than facts.”

Even in 2011, California’s High Speed Rail pushers were agitating for the $3.5 billion in matching federal funding for the rail plan. However, that federal money came with a requirement of use exclusively in the economically depressed Central Valley.

A 2011 report by the Legislative Analyst found that future High-Speed Rail funding sources were “highly speculative,” and the economic impact analysis included in the rail authority’s plan “may be incomplete and imbalanced, and therefore portrays the project more favorably than may be warranted.”

Ya think? It’s 2022 and High Speed Rail from San Francisco to Los Angeles is still just a pipe dream – especially the “high speed” part.

In February 2019, President Trump called for California to return all federal rail funding, following Gov. Gavin Newsom’s state of the state address where the Governor vowed to kill High Speed Rail saying, “there simply isn’t a path to get from Sacramento to San Diego, let alone from San Francisco to LA.”  However, Newsom flipped on his promise within the week, announcing he was allowing one odd segment of the rail project to be built in the Central Valley, nicknamed “the conjugal express,” going from prison to prison, Madera to Bakersfield.  The goal for the strange and unnecessary rail line was so California would not have to return $3.5 billion to the federal government.

California Senate Republicans take a deeper dive and break down the real myths vs facts:

Myth: High-Speed Rail will “establish a clean, efficient 220 MPH transportation system.”

Fact: “There has been nothing efficient about high-speed rail in California. The original cost of the project was projected to be $33 billion and is now expected to be at least $105 billion before it is completed. What is worse, the plan no longer even includes purchasing trains. So, the state doesn’t have a way to test if the system works, or if the trains can even go the promised 220mph.”

I reported in 2011, “Complicating matters, the first segment of the rail system won’t even run high-speed trains until the entire system is built. The initiative required the train to be only high-speed.”

Myth: High-Speed Rail will allow travel “from Los Angeles to San Francisco in about 2 ½ hours for about $50 a person.”

Fact: “Way back in 2015 the Los Angeles Times conducted a study and determined the cost to ride high-speed rail from Los Angeles to San Francisco under the best of circumstances would be between $83 and $105. With the cost rising from $33 billion to at least $105 billon and inflation at a 40-year high, the likely cost will be considerably more, if, (or when) the system is ever completed.”

Myth: High-Speed Rail will be completed as early as 2020.

Fact: That date has come and gone. The first leg of high-speed rail, from Merced to Bakersfield, now has an estimated completion of 2029.

Remember, the initiative was passed by voters in 2008.

According to to Proposition 1A, The California High-Speed Rail Authority must have all of the the funding ahead of time, before any construction starts on a new segment.

Pacific Gas &Electric and Southern California Edison will be providing the electricity for high-speed rail, with estimates of additional demands for electricity already coming in at 1 percent to 5 percent of the state’s total energy usage. “Even Cal ISO doesn’t have any estimates for the cost,” a Capitol staffer told me in 2012. “High-speed rail has got to consume a great deal of power. Where will the power come from?”

That question was never answered. And with California’s deficient electricity grid, electric car owners are told not to charge their cars on hot summer afternoons. It’s clear the state can’t handle the energy requirement for the high speed train, or electric cars. they are trying to convince everyone to purchase.

Here’s what lawmakers and the High Speed Rail Authority knew in 2011:

According to a July 2011 energy usage analysis prepared for the California High-Speed Rail Program Management Team, total electricity usage for the proposed rail system would be “8.32 million kilowatt-hours (kWh) per day,” and more than 3 billion kWh per year.

The average three-person household in California is about 6,000 kWh per year, or a little more than 2,000 KWh per person.

According to the California Public Utilities Commission, electricity customers in the state paid an average rate of about 15.2 cents per kWh.

At 15.2 cents per kWh, the total utility bill for high-speed rail would be nearly $1.26 million per day, and more than $460 million per year. And that’s probably a very conservative estimate.

With California’s climate-change mantra of “no dirty coal,” “no natural gas,” no hydroelectricity” and “no nuclear power,” many wonder if the high-speed trains will be powered by windmills, solar panels, cooking oil and algae.

Try not to seethe when you read California Senate Republicans’ Myth vs. Fact on High Speed Rail. The California Legislature has had 14 years to put a fork in this flagrant debacle, but punts every time because it is a bottomless pit of taxpayer funds, and a plethora of union jobs. It doesn’t matter to the majority party if anything is ever built.

HSR projects filled with waste, fraud, abuse and cost overruns

Ralph Vartaben, July 18, 2022, Will a new oversight position help California’s high-speed rail plans get on track?, https://paloaltoonline.com/news/2022/07/18/will-a-new-oversight-position-help-californias-high-speed-rail-plans-get-on-track

After a decade of cost, schedule, technical, regulatory, personnel and legal problems, the California high speed rail project will be getting an inspector general soon as part of a deal between Gov. Gavin Newsom and the Legislature. The new investigative position is intended to intensify oversight and improve performance of the $105 billion railroad project. Enthusiasm for the change is high, but whether it will fix everything is uncertain, even among state leaders. “There is nothing but problems on the project,” said Speaker Anthony Rendon, a Lakewood Democrat. “The inspector general provides oversight and some sense of what is going on with management. That has been missing for a long time.” But will it work? “We don’t know,” Rendon said. “We need to be vigilant. The IG will provide what we need to carry that out.” Until now, a variety of outside agencies have advised the Legislature and the governor on the project, resulting in recommendations that often were not carried out. In some cases, they required changes that nobody had the power to make and in other cases carried too high a political price with outside interest groups. In 2012, the Legislative Analyst’s Office recommended against an appropriation to start construction, arguing the California High-Speed Rail Authority wasn’t prepared. Gov. Jerry Brown lobbied the Legislature for it and won. Now, many agree the LAO was right. The Peer Review Group has long warned that the state needs a secure financing plan. But the project proceeds without one. Such outside advisors have lacked the resources and the mission to intensively delve into the day to day work of the rail project, its army of consultants and its stable of international contractors. “The IG will bring a level of oversight that we have not had before,” said Helen Kerstein, the lone bullet train expert at the Legislative Analyst’s office. “This is very powerful.” The law creating the inspector general lists a wide range of authorities the new office will have: full access to all the project’s records; authority to review contracts and change orders; and issuing subpoenas for witnesses and records, among much else. “It is not some person sitting in a basement,” said Laura Friedman, chair of the Assembly Transportation Committee who is widely credited with pushing through the inspector general idea. “It is going to be staffed. It is going to be real.” That would include investigating waste, fraud and abuse, as well as working with law enforcement and prosecutors, she said. What the position might look like How big an organization will it require? So far, there is no budget. But the inspector general for the high-speed rail project would be paid the same as the inspector general for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, who makes $192,382 and will have a staff of 212 in the coming fiscal year. Fred Weiderhold, a West Point civil engineer who served for 20 years as Amtrak’s inspector general, said if he were taking the California job, he would want to start with a staff of at least 50 people, half auditors, 30% investigators and 20% inspectors and evaluators. “It is a daunting job,” Weiderhold said about the California project. “You have to follow the money. I guarantee you that on any project this large you will have fraud, product substitution and waste.” ■ Health care costs keep rising. A new California agency aims to fix that ■ Lisa Forssell makes it official. She is running for Palo Alto City Council ■ Around Town: Little League team makes strong showing at regional tournament ■ Man gets 40-year prison sentence for mailing bombs as revenge against law enforcement ■ Will a new oversight position help California’s high-speed rail plans get on track? By the time Weiderhold left as Amtrak inspector general, he had helped put several hundred people in jail and caused 2,000 people to be fired. The high speed rail inspector general will not have authority to control actual spending, a decision that was considered and rejected by Newsom. A more aggressive plan was followed by the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority in 2015, when it faced a breakdown in Boston area service and spiraling capital cost overruns. State lawmakers fired the authority’s existing board and installed a new Fiscal and Management Control Board. Estimated construction costs on a 4.3 mile extension of a light rail line had grown from $1 billion to $2 billio n, said Joe Aiello, the board’s chair. The board stopped work, threw out existing contractors and put in an independent team to evaluate what was going wrong, he said. “There was outrageous scope creep,” Aiello said. By the time the board was dissolved last year, the construction cost had been hammered back down to $1 billion, he said. State still needs actual train Even while increasing oversight, the deal doubles down on the bullet train mission. An appropriation will release $4.2 billion from a 2008 bond fund, but only for completing a 171-mile Central Valley segment from Bakersfield to Merced. “They need to deliver something soon that the public understands is a train,” Friedman said. Newsom met another Assembly demand by adding $3.5 billion for transit projects in the Bay Area and Southern California, as well as $300 million to fix an Orange County Amtrak rail that is ready to fall into the Pacific. “You can’t have enough oversight on a project like this,” Friedman said. “This is not a minor change. It will be a very big change for the project.

Europe proves trains emit less carbon than planes

Hindustan Times, July 17, 2022, https://www.hindustantimes.com/lifestyle/travel/high-speed-rail-to-displace-flights-amid-airport-chaos-101658041327613.html, High speed rail to displace flights amid airport chaos?

A typical rail journey between European cities emits up to 90% less CO2 than an equivalent flight. Meanwhile, the aviation industry has the fastest-growing greenhouse gas emissions in the EU, rising 29% between 2009 and 2019, according to Greenpeace. Despite the airline business’s post-pandemic crisis, flights are expected to burn up over a quarter of the allotted carbon budget for holding global heating to 1.5 degree Celsius (2.7 F) by 2050. With the industry planning to return to pre-COVID capacity by 2024, air traffic is set to double worldwide by 2037.

HSR means a net reduction carbon emissions

Aby Kikenberg, July 17, 2022, https://www.fairplanet.org/editors-pick/europe-dreams-of-high-speed-rail/, EUROPE DREAMS OF HIGH-SPEED RAIL

The EU’s transportation sector accounts for around a quarter of the 3.8 billion tonnes of CO2 emitted by the bloc annually. The acclaimed (and ambitious) European Green Deal “seeks a 90 percent reduction in these emissions by 2050.” In 2019 (pre-pandemic), road transport (71.7 percent) and civil aviation (13.9 percent) accounted for 84.6 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in the transportation sector. High-speed rail has emerged as a more climate-friendly alternative to driving or flying and leaders in the European rail industry believe its future is bright: at the same June event in Lyon, they announced plans to double high-speed rail usage across Europe by 2030 and triple it by 2050. While China is far-and-away the global leader in the domain of high-speed rail with over 40,000 kilometres of active tracks (and another 30,000 on the way), Europe is laying down its own networks with an eye towards reducing emissions. Spain, France, Germany, Italy and Finland round out the top five EU countries in terms of kilometres of active high-speed rail networks. In terms of bolstering these systems, Germany has shown the most initiative: its 3,322 kilometres of track currently under construction surpass the total of the other top five members of the EU combined. However, it is exactly this country-specific nature of European high-speed rail development that presents such a large obstacle to realisation of bloc-wide goals. Thus far, domestic networks have gained the most traction (and received the most funding) given the clear-cut nature of these projects: all costs are borne and all benefits reaped by the country in question. When crossing international borders, these calculations get messy, but a little success goes a long way: the London-Paris route via the Channel Tunnel and the Paris-Brussels-Amsterdam/Cologne route have proven both popular and essential. The opening of longer routes like those of Paris-Milan (6 hours, 49 minutes) and Paris-Barcelona (6 hours, 15 minutes) have also been hailed as victories despite the fact that air travel is a considerably faster alternative. Jean-Pierre Farandou, the CEO of France’s national railway operator SNCF, has indicated that, perhaps in part due to increased climate consciousness, “people are accepting longer and longer journeys. There are really people who are willing to spend five hours, six hours, seven hours on a train.” High-speed rail is seen as the “most sustainable and efficient transport for distances between 300 and 750 kilometres” and, according to EU statistics, 17 of the 20 busiest air routes on the continent fall in this range. The market and, supposedly, the patience for high-speed rail travel is there – it just remains to be seen whether the funding will be. On 29 June, the EU issued €5.4 billion in grants to fund 135 transport projects across the bloc, including a set of cross-border high-speed rail initiatives related to the Trans-European Transport Network (TEN-T). As rail companies and systems continue to struggle in the wake of the pandemic, such grants are even more critical to ensure that Europe does not fall back into dirty, carbon-emitting habits (as is being seen in the domain of energy). Among the more innovative proposals for financing Europe’s high-speed rail network is that of reinvesting money derived from carbon taxes into the continent’s rail infrastructure. Without sustainable alternatives in the transportation sector, Europe will never meet its climate goals. If the EU intends to move towards a green future at all, it will have to do so along tracks laid in the name of high-speed rail.

Green tech mineral needs shift energy dependence to China

Zelikow, July/August 22, PHILIP ZELIKOW is Professor of History at the University of Virginia. A former U.S. diplomat and Executive Director of the 9/11 Commission, he has worked for five presidential administrations., The Hollow Order: Rebuilding an International System That Works, https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/world/2022-06-21/hollow-order-international-system

Even the energy transition will not, by itself, stabilize the planet. It will shift dependence from fossil fuels to an even more pronounced reliance on certain metals used in green technology. In the relevant geology, mining, and mineral processing, China and Russia are in paramount positions. In the absence of any concerted action, the world is therefore trending toward addiction, and financial flows, to those new sources—China above all—in its carbon-free dreams. The architects of this system have done little to prevent such addiction.

No transition to renewable energy now

Matt McGrath, June 15, 2022, Climate change: Green energy ‘stagnates’ as fossil fuels dominate, https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-61802802

A new study says that the world is using more fossil fuels than ever as the transition to green energy stalls. The Renewables 2022 Global Status Report says the share of wind and solar in the global energy mix has risen minimally in the last decade. While renewables boomed in the electricity sector last year, they didn’t meet the overall rise in demand. In transport, which accounts for a third of energy, renewables provided less than 4%. Their 17th annual status report draws on over 600 experts to produce a snapshot of what is really happening in terms of renewable energy. The study says that the transition to renewables, in essence, has stalled. The use of coal, oil and gas continues to dominate total energy consumption. “And since the energy demand is rising, this actually means that we are consuming more fossil fuels than ever.” As the world rebounded from Covid-19 in 2021, there was a significant rise in overall energy use, most of which was met by fossil fuels. This resulted in a major rise in carbon emissions, which increased globally by around 2 billion tonnes. Since then, as supplies have struggled to keep up with demand, the prices of oil, gas and coal have risen sharply. The Russian invasion of Ukraine has added to the uncertainty and seen governments scampering to find alternative sources. As energy prices have risen for consumers, some countries, including the UK, have imposed new taxes on the profits made by oil and gas producers. However, many nations have also enacted new subsidies for fossil fuels. “We’re spending globally $11m per minute on subsidising fossil fuel. In 2020, this was 7% of the global GDP,” said Rana Adib. “This obviously creates a system which is unbalanced, because even though renewable energy is an economic alternative to fossil fuels, it’s not playing in a fair market.” While renewable energy had reached 10% of global electricity production in 2021, the problems lie in challenging areas such as transport. Cars, lorries, ships and airplanes account for 32% of total final energy consumption, but green energy only had a 3.7% share last year. According to Rana Adib, the slow progress underlines the critical importance of policies in moving markets and attitudes. “The reality is with a ban of the internal combustion engine, there’s a regulatory obligation to move away from this, so we see a trend in electric mobility, which is ramping up in quite an exponential way, and I think this is quite encouraging.” There’s also been a lack of progress on the political promises made at COP26, the big international climate conference last year. Growing crops in the shade of solar panels is termed agrivoltaics While 135 countries had net zero emissions targets for 2050 in the run up to the meeting in Glasgow, only 84 had economy-wide targets for renewables. But that was before the world changing events of the past six months. The surging prices of energy mean governments are now reaching for every tool to ease the burden on their citizens. And that could possibly see a big rise in spending on greener sources, as they are not just much cheaper than fossil fuels, they are more attractive for other reasons as well. “The energy transition is our lifeline,” said Teresa Ribera, a vice president in Spain’s government. “It will enable innovative business models and forms of organisation, transform value chains, redistribute economic power and shape governance in new, more people-centred ways. “With the right investments in technology, renewables are the only energy sources offering every country in the world a chance for greater energy autonomy and security.”

Clean energy projects include dams that trigger military conflicts in the developing world

Giulio Boccaletti, 1-4, 22, When Climate Change Meets Geopolitics, New Security Beat, https://www.newsecuritybeat.org/2022/01/climate-change-meets-geopolitics/

Deteriorating security in Ethiopia, a country W.E.B. Dubois once described as where “the sunrise of human culture took place,” is deeply concerning. The last few months have seen a dramatic involution for a country that was once a poster child for sustainable development. The conflict between the government and rebel forces in Tigray is not just a matter of regional security, but a significant blow to the world’s efforts to fight climate change. Just over ten years ago, Prime Minister Meles Zenawi presented Ethiopia’s Climate Resilience and Green Economy Strategy. It was the 17th Conference of Parties in Durban, under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. The plan was hailed as a visionary, historic example of economic growth and climate agendas coming together, a new paradigm for development in a world of climate change. But behind the jargon of “green growth,” the plan was the product of a complicated geopolitical history. During WWII, President Roosevelt invited Ethiopia’s Emperor Haile Selassie to visit hydraulic projects, such as Glenn Canyon Dam, that had transformed the American West. The trip took place in 1954, during the Eisenhower administration. By then, economic development was a central concern for poorer countries like Ethiopia, who looked at the American Progressive experience in hydropower as a model to replicate. In the following years, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which at the time acted as a de-facto technical agency of the State Department, worked with the emperor’s government to produce a blueprint for the Blue Nile. The plan was an instrument of American Cold War strategy in the region. Far downstream, Gamal Nasser was playing Americans and Soviets against each other as he attempted to develop his own stretch of the river. Hydraulic development of the Nile’s upstream source was a powerful reminder to the newly elected Egyptian President that the Americans had their hand on the tap of his water supply. Amongst the proposed projects in the plan was a hydroelectric dam close to the border with Sudan, the “Border Dam.” It was supposed to hold just over 11 billion cubic meters of water, with installed capacity of about 1.5 Gigawatts. The plan was far too ambitious for Selassie’s autocratic government and remained unused. Eventually, the emperor was replaced by Mengistu’s DERG regime in 1974, itself then chased away by the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) and its allies in 1991. In May of 1992, Meles Zenawi, the leader of the TPLF and by then president of a transitional government, argued that the rebirth of Ethiopia would depend on the development of its substantial water resources. The time for the Blue Nile plan seemed to have come. But Egypt, fearing for its supply of water, vowed to fight any attempt to develop such infrastructure, a threat it could back with its military might, now confident of American support. The plan remained dormant. Then came the Arab Spring. I was in Addis Ababa when, on the morning of February 11, 2011, the military came out in full force across the city, signaling an unusual concern for security. Two thousand miles downstream, Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptian autocrat, had just been defeated in Tahrir Square. That day, everything changed. Up to that point, the government had been pursuing an Ethiopian green growth plan, but it had been singularly silent on how the vast, planned amounts of renewable energy would be delivered. Few knew of a key project, codenamed Project X, that was based on the Blue Nile blueprint. In fact, the Millennium Dam, built on the site of the Border Dam and subsequently renamed the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, was going to be the keystone of the country’s low-carbon rebirth. Two months later, Prime Minister Zenawi laid the first stone. The dam—over-dimensioned by roughly five times compared to the original proposal—was to be the largest in Africa, an ambitious benchmark of the country’s aspirations, shrouded in a bright shade of green. In November of that same year, Zenawi presented the country’s Climate Resilient and Green Economy strategy in Durban, revealing his ambition to the world. A template for Green Growth had been set, anchored on a hydropower project that had been conceived over half a century earlier. Meles Zenawi died unexpectedly in 2012. A few years later, the TPLF lost its grip on power to Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, setting the stage for the current conflict. Development of the vast dam continued—it has just completed the second stage in filling its vast reservoir—but for the past year, the once star performer in the African low carbon transition has been descending into chaos. No matter what happens, recomposing an ethnically divided country scarred by alleged war crimes will be a fragile basis from which to deliver on the promise of the green growth. The Ethiopian government continues to be ostensibly committed to its low carbon strategy. Egypt, incensed by what it views as uncooperative river development, has been increasing pressure to thwart it. This issue is going to dominate the regional context when nations convene in Sharm el Sheik for UNFCCC COP 27. There is little doubt that Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi will be looking upstream, trying to judge whether the troubles of its upstream rival might herald another reversal of fortunes along the Nile. Multilateral negotiations over climate can often appear to be a principled fight for a low carbon future against the reactionary forces of the incumbent fossil fuel economy. But Ethiopia’s potentially catastrophic setback shows that green growth, economic development, and regional geopolitics are inextricably bound in a complicated, path-dependent knot that can present insurmountable obstacles to progress. It is a crucial reminder that, for all the focus on technology and global targets, the political wrangling that shapes and has always shaped the pursuit of development and self-determination is the dominant engine that will define the world’s ability to win its fight against climate change.

Houston to Dallas HSR line depends on federal funding

Diana Wray, November 8, 2021, Houston Press, Texas Central Seeking Federal Funds to Jumpstart the Texas Bullet Train Project

Way back when Texas Central was first formulating its plans to construct a highspeed rail line that would tote passengers between Houston and Dallas in just 90 minutes, company officials made vague, broad promises that they would not be seeking any federal funding to construct the Shinkansen railway. However, that’s a claim that Texas Central folks have steadily moved away from over the past decade as the company has managed to obtain regulatory permits and backing that have inched the project ever closer toward becoming a reality, as we noted in our story back in 2017. Thus, it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise now that Texas Central has recently announced that it is currently seeking $12 billion in federal loans to help fund the project’s estimated cost of about $20 billion. If the loan goes through it will be the largest one in the history of the Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement fund’s history, gobbling up more than a third of the $35 billion debt limit Congress has set on the fund. Of course, politicians who have been lobbying against the construction of the rail line since word of the plans to build the Japanese-created bullet train first started going around in 2015 have been quick to criticize Texas Central for going after the federal funds. U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady, a Republican representing The Woodlands, decried the move, which makes sense since some of the landowners who have been most vehemently opposing the highspeed rail line are in the rural sections of the state located between the edges of Houston and Dallas. “Texas Central Railroad has yet again reneged on their promise after vowing for years to not seek federal funding for their proposed high-speed rail project,” Brady stated in a letter issued to Department of Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. “Taxpayers should not be left on the hook for boondoggle projects that never come to come to fruition. I will always fight to protect federal taxpayers—not only in my district, but across America—to make sure our constituents aren’t stuck holding the bag when rail projects default on their loans.” But on closer inspection, the federal loan program Texas Central is hoping to tap into is potentially one of the best chances the company will have of getting enough funding to finally start construction. (Back in late 2019 Texas Central had announced plans to kick off construction in 2020, but all of that got derailed, so to speak, by the COVID-19 pandemic that saw the company go through layoffs and downsizing instead.) If the company is approved for the loan program—a program that was created back in 1998 specifically to entice non-freight train companies to build or upgrade their railways, according to a 2018 report issued to Congress by the Congressional Research Service—it will simply be accessing funds that will have to be repaid at 0.5 percent interest. The entire program is designed to help improve our railroad infrastructure, allowing the less profitable railways that don’t operate freight lines loans without any cost to the federal government. So if Texas Central does manage to obtain this loan the groundbreaking that urban dwellers and rail enthusiasts have been waiting for may finally happen marking the beginning of construction. Texas Central seems confident despite the pandemic-related delays. This summer the company signed a $16 billion deal with an Italian outfit to construct the line, and it has been recently reported that investors have been buying up property south of Downtown Dallas with plans to put a station there. If things go according to plan, the Houston-to-Dallas line could be up and running by 2028. Of course, so far little about this has played out as envisioned, and the rural Texas landowners who haven’t signed agreements with the company for right of way are still opposing the entire thing. (The Texas Supreme Court recently to hear a Leon County landowner’s eminent domain case against Texas Central.) But who knows, maybe it really will become a reality. The only thing certain is that if the company does obtain that federal loan, it’s going to be a hell of a lot more likely.