Jerry Brown Defends Use of Cap-and-Trade Funds for HSR
The Sacramento Bee ran into Jerry Brown as he filed papers for his fourth campaign for governor, and asked him about funds for the high speed rail project:
Right now my main focus is the litigation in the 3rd Court of Appeals, I’m hopeful we will get that resolved quickly. And yes, in addition to the bond issues, the sources of funding have been one of the greatest questions of the critics, and I think cap-and-trade is very appropriate, because high speed rail reduces greenhouse gases [Brown emphasized that point], there’s no question about that, it’s much cheaper than building more freeways, or attempting to build more runways. So from an environmental and fiscal point of view, or even from a convenience point of view, given the fact that we have a number of people who are aging, and I hope to be one of those people over the next 20 years, it’ll be a lot better to be sitting on a high speed passenger rail than sitting behind a wheel trying to weave your way down I-5 or 99.
So Brown isn’t backing down on his cap-and-trade plan for high speed rail, nor should he, since he’s absolutely right about its environmental and climate benefits. Those benefits include CO2 reductions, despite what the ignorant Legislative Analyst’s Office says:
Cap-and-trade revenue is intended to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In a review of Brown’s proposal, the LAO said the first phase of the rail project will not be operational until after 2020, and “the construction of the project would actually generate GHG emissions of 30,000 metric tons over the next several years.”
Though acknowledging the California High-Speed Rail Authority’s plan to offset emissions by planting thousands of trees in the Central Valley, the LAO said the administration’s “emission estimates for construction do not include emissions associated with the production of construction materials, which suggests that the amount of emissions requiring mitigation could be much higher than currently planned.”
And yet the project will generate GHG reductions in the tens of millions of metric tons, far greater than any new emissions generated by construction. Those emissions can be offset easily and I support doing whatever it takes to offset them.
But the very idea that we shouldn’t build HSR and realize its massive carbon reduction benefits because it might generate some short-term CO2 emissions is completely absurd. It’s like telling a patient they should let a relatively minor cancer metastasize into a terminal illness because treating it might cause side effects. It’s like telling a student they shouldn’t go to college because it will cost money up front. It’s like saying we shouldn’t save the planet in the years to come because it might cause some inconveniences now.
Oh, wait, that last one isn’t just a simile, it’s an accurate description of the LAO’s head-in-the-sand attitude toward the state’s fiscal and environmental problems.
One wonders what the LAO has to say about the state legislature’s decision to spend cap-and-trade funds on drought relief. How much CO2 emissions will these steps cause? Is it right to use cap-and-trade revenues to fund climate change adaptation, rather than CO2 emission reduction? I’m not necessarily opposed to using a small amount of cap-and-trade funds to address water concerns, as the legislature has done here, but I wonder about the hypocrisy of those who criticized Brown for wanting to use the cap-and-trade funds for their original purpose – reducing CO2 emissions.