CO2 Reduction Bill Finally Passes Assembly

Aug 23rd, 2016 | Posted by

It’s a big day for cap-and-trade. First, the good news: SB 32, which would extend the state’s CO2 reduction mandate to 2030, finally passed the assembly. Unfortunately, the legislature did not agree to include specific language extending cap-and-trade:

After an intense floor debate, a bill extending California’s greenhouse gas emission targets squeaked by in the Assembly on Tuesday.

Senate Bill 32 was seen as a crucial step for reauthorizing the state’s cap-and-trade program. Gov. Jerry Brown attempted to include an amendment specifically extending cap-and-trade authority but was rebuffed by lawmakers.

The bill now requires a 40 percent reduction from 1990 levels by 2030. The current climate law, AB 32, required the state to reach 1990 levels by 2020.

“With SB 32 we continue California’s leadership on climate change,” said Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, D-Paramount. Rendon acknowledged that the bill does not expressly extend the cap-and-trade program, but said it was “a piece of the puzzle” and that he is committed to continuing the program.

Basically, moderate Assembly Democrats, who are bought and paid for by the oil industry, refused to support the bill if it specifically extended cap-and-trade. However, that part of the story isn’t over yet. There’s still a possibility that the legislature will reach a deal to specifically authorize an extension of cap-and-trade.

But there’s also a school of thought in Sacramento that argues the California Air Resources Board has the ability to extend cap-and-trade anyway, without new legislative action. So that gives Governor Brown some important leverage.

The bad news is that today’s auction of cap-and-trade credits did even more poorly than the May auction:

A little more than 1% of state permits available were sold in the latest cap-and-trade auction, according to the California Air Resources Board, which runs the program….

Although final financial details won’t be available until next month, it’s expected that revenue will be less than $10 million. The numbers show an even weaker auction than the previous round in May, when only 2% of state permits were sold.

This isn’t a surprise. As long as the legislature leaves cap-and-trade in limbo like this, it doesn’t make sense for people to buy new credits that could become worthless in just four years. Let’s hope the legislature sides with the environment, the climate, and California’s future rather than with the oil companies.

More Criticism Emerges Against the Hyperloop

Aug 19th, 2016 | Posted by

This week we learned that the Hyperloop might go into actual service not in California, not in Nevada…but in Dubai. And it might not carry passengers, instead it would carry cargo.

Which is fine. Whatever. More power to ’em. But this is further evidence that the Hyperloop is not nearly ready for prime time for passenger service in North America. And, despite the claims of HSR critics and Hyperloop fanboys, it’s not a substitute for high speed rail.

The Guardian made that exact point this week, showing how the Hyperloop is a distraction from the actual things that will improve passenger rail in North America:

Despite its success in raising funds, questions are being raised about the viability of Musk’s hyperloop concept. Some say the technical challenges will be too great to get the idea off the ground, while costs, including land acquisition, for rail projects can run into the billions.

The other issue is whether the system is actually fit to transport people. “I’m not sure that most of us have a strong enough stomach to ride inside a vehicle traveling at several hundred miles an hour,” says James Moore, director of the University of Southern California’s Transportation Engineering Program. “Whether such a system can provide a comfortable, humanly bearable ride is completely unclear.”

Musk’s elaborate vision may have attracted plenty of media attention and Silicon Valley funding, but it also highlights society’s tendency to get caught up with new transportation technologies, instead of the less exciting but perhaps more workable solutions – some of which may already exist.

“There’s always been an element out there that valued the ‘gee whiz’ factor rather than the economics,” says Moore. “But if you look closely at the cost, benefits and risks, new technologies frequently do not compete well, yet we continue to pretend it’s obvious we should adopt them.”

It’s generally easier to improve transport systems incrementally, says Moore. Yet recent history has produced some high concept ideas that have captivated imaginations but failed to really take off in the real world.

The article goes on to talk about Personal Rapid Transit and other cutting edge technologies that never actually took off – and explains why we’re better off looking at off the shelf improvements rather than wasting time and money chasing some unproven technology.

Ultimately I would not be surprised if the hyperloop winds up being used for short-distance cargo shipments, though even then the speeds would limit the types of goods that the system could carry. The hyperloop isn’t going to be a passenger rail solution anytime soon – if ever.

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Fresno River Viaduct Takes Shape

Aug 15th, 2016 | Posted by

The California High Speed Rail Authority has a new video update on HSR construction work in the Fresno area – including the Fresno River Viaduct, which is now a visible and freestanding structure:

Progress!

HSR Odds and Ends

Aug 13th, 2016 | Posted by

It’s a toasty day up and down the West Coast. Let’s spend it talking about high speed rail:

• Delays in right-of-way acquisition have led to a $50 million cost overrun on the Central Valley section of the high speed rail construction project.

• A new vision for downtown Bakersfield and how it will integrate with high speed rail will be shown at the Rabobank Convention Center at 5:30 PM on August 23.

• Ah, Texas. A protestor at a rally against the Houston to Dallas HSR project, in which JR Central is a major player, yelled “remember Pearl Harbor”. Should we all yell back for Texas to remember who won the Civil War?

• Speaking of Texas, there’s a new proposal for a HSR line from South Texas to Oklahoma City along the Interstate 35 corridor. More from TxDOT.