Carla Marinucci of the San Francisco Chronicle, a reporter who I like a lot, decided to stir the pot yesterday with an article looking at Gavin Newsom’s newfound opposition to high speed rail. Marinucci touted other Newsom positions he took earlier than others that became widely adopted, like support for marriage equality and marijuana legalization.
But the difference between those and HSR is that Newsom was simply reflecting obvious demographic shifts that were producing much greater support for social justice causes. It’s very different when you’re looking at infrastructure – especially a project where, by most indications, younger people are much more supportive.
What really stood out to me though was Newsom’s odd and contradictory sense of priorities:
Newsom said the state has more pressing problems, such as “the issue that will define our time” – water.
Instead of focusing on high-speed rail, the drought underscores that the ability to store and transport enough water to go around is “not a ‘nice to have’ – it’s a must-have,” Newsom said.
This is completely nuts. Surely Newsom knows that climate change is fueling drought and that the state’s own climate change assessment shows that as the planet warms, the state’s snowpack will decline. Former Energy Secretary Steven Chu explained it to the New York Times in 2007:
even the most optimistic climate models for the second half of this century suggest that 30 to 70 percent of the snowpack will disappear. “There’s a two-thirds chance there will be a disaster,” Chu said, “and that’s in the best scenario.”
Newsom is taking the right-wing line on the drought, claiming that if we just add more storage and conveyance (meaning tunnels and canals) then everything will be fine. But if the snowpack vanishes, it won’t matter how much new storage you build because there will not be enough water to fill it. It’s like opening a new savings account when your wages have been cut in half – having a new account isn’t going to solve your underlying problem.
But you know what would help? A bullet train powered by renewable electricity that reduces millions of tons of CO2 emissions.
By opposing HSR, Gavin Newsom is now saying that climate change doesn’t matter, CO2 reductions are irrelevant, that fulfilling the state’s AB 32 goals is not a priority. If his view were to prevail, he would be helping ensure that this year’s drought becomes the new normal, rather than a passing crisis. I cannot imagine a greater priority for California than to build infrastructure that reduces CO2 emissions.
It’s hard to say what is driving Newsom’s new position. He likely is trying to appease conservatives, who will not ever vote for him, in hopes of advancing to higher office. It isn’t going to work, and contrary to his claims, most Democrats aren’t going to fall in line in agreement. But what we do know is that California’s future is no longer a priority for him.