High Speed Rail Is Essential to Improving Environmental Quality in the Central Valley
The latest tack in Ralph Vartabedian’s ongoing quest to destroy public support for the high speed rail project from the pages of the Los Angeles Times is to claim that it would somehow hurt, not help, environmental quality. This claim is utterly ridiculous, but there it is:
The California bullet train is promoted as an important environmental investment for the future, but over the next decade the heavy construction project would potentially harm air quality, aquatic life and endangered species across the Central Valley.
Eleven endangered species, including the San Joaquin kit fox, would be affected, according to federal biologists. Massive emissions from diesel-powered heavy equipment could foul the already filthy air. Dozens of rivers, canals and wetlands fed from the rugged peaks of the Sierra Nevada would be crossed, creating other knotty issues.
Here, as with the economic and fiscal aspects of building high speed rail, the cost of doing nothing is not zero. Vartabedian implies that the project would doom the Valley to more air pollution, kill endangered species, and wreck water supplies.
But there’s no evidence at all presented in Vartabedian’s article to justify these assertions. No facts, no statistics to show that the construction of the HSR project would actually produce these outcomes.
That’s not the only important information missing from the article. Vartabedian mentions many of the environmental maladies facing the Valley, but doesn’t explain that automobile pollution is one of their primary causes. Motor vehicles are responsible for 57% of the air pollution in the San Joaquin Valley. Not building HSR does nothing to fix that problem. Building HSR would help address that crisis not only by providing a clean transportation option but also by encouraging center city density instead of more sprawl.
Also missing is a discussion of the impact of climate change on the Valley. Much of the Delta is at risk of being reclaimed by the Bay. A declining Sierra snowpack would damage water quality. Combined with higher temperatures and the impact to habitat that would result, endangered species would suffer greatly from unchecked climate change. For those reasons it’s no surprise that the California Air Resources Board – an agency whose commitment to cleaning up the Valley is not in doubt – included HSR as part of its global warming strategy.
You’ll find none of that in Vartabedian’s article. Instead it’s insinuated, though not shown, that HSR would make a litany of environmental problems worse when in fact it helps solve them.
The LA Times has other reporters who have provided informative coverage of the HSR project, coverage that isn’t always favorable. Dan Weikel is one such reporter. Other reporters around the state, such as Tim Sheehan at the Fresno Bee and Michael Cabanatuan at the San Francisco Chronicle, have done good work providing informed and evidence-based coverage of the project. Yet the state’s largest paper still leaves a die-hard project opponent on the beat of this all-important project.
It’s long past time for HSR supporters to rise up and demand that the LA Times apply basic journalistic standards to their HSR coverage. Readers deserve informed and unbiased reporting. I don’t care if the article is favorable or unfavorable to the project as long as it is rooted in the facts and evidence. It’s clear that Vartabedian will never do that. Does the Times care?