Will Democrats Undermine Cap-and-Trade?

Jul 6th, 2014 | Posted by

California Democrats just adopted a budget that includes ambitious spending plans for cap-and-trade revenues. That’s as it should be. But you’d think Democrats would be a bit more cautious before they go undercutting the source of those funds.

That is what 16 Democrats are proposing to do. They recently wrote to the California Air Resources Board to demand that CARB delay the rule requiring energy retailers – including gas stations – to buy carbon permits.

Now Assemblymember Henry T. Perea of Fresno is proposing a bill that would delay the rule by three years:

Assembly Bill 69 by Assemblyman Henry Perea, D-Fresno, would delay for three years a rule requiring the energy industry to purchase permits for transportation fuels. Lawmakers and critics have been warning for months about a resulting price bump….

But the coming inclusion of transportation fuel into the program is threatening to push gas prices up, prompting alarm from moderate Democrats. In a show of broad discontent, 16 Democrats last week sent a letter to the Air Resources Board urging the air quality regulator to delay implementing the new rule. Despite the complaint, all but one of them voted to spend the money the rule is expected to generate.

Perea said he still supports AB 32′s overarching goal of reducing emissions but does not believe consumers have been adequately prepared.

“What we’re really trying to do on this is create a public discussion, because I’m not sure the public is aware of cap and trade and what it’s going to do to their pocketbooks,” Perea said.

Perea is a strong supporter of high speed rail, so I’m surprised to see him take this position. If fuels are excluded from cap-and-trade, that means less money for HSR and other crucial transportation projects.

I understand that these Democrats believe there is political risk in letting this rule go forward, that Republicans will blame them for a gas price increase. There are two responses to this.

First, Republicans will blame Democrats for breathing. Democrats never win when they let Republicans dictate their behavior. Democrats do win when they refuse to worry about what the GOP will say about them and instead move ahead with good policies that benefit a lot of people.

Second, gas prices rise and fall a lot these days. They’re spiky. Right now gas prices are about $4.13 a gallon, which is below the $4.50 range that we saw in 2008. Those numbers will fall as the summer wears on, all the way to winter, when they’ll start rising again. The public won’t notice a cap-and-trade related increase.

Yes, some members of the public who listen to right-wing talk radio and watch Fox News will attribute a spring increase to cap-and-trade. But they weren’t voting for Democrats anyway. The Democratic base won’t reward politicians who try to weaken AB 32, especially after voters in 2010 resoundingly rejected both a ballot proposition and a gubernatorial candidate that pledged to delay the entire cap-and-trade system.

There’s no good reason to undermine cap-and-trade, and certainly no reason to freak out about its effect on gas prices. If anything cap-and-trade and the projects it funds are the best way to help people deal with rising gas prices, by funding the alternatives they will need to get around affordably.

CHSRA To Accelerate Burbank-Palmdale Segment

Jul 1st, 2014 | Posted by

Last week the Federal Railroad Administration issues its Record of Decision allowing the Fresno to Bakersfield high speed rail segment to proceed to construction.

That news was expected and is obviously welcome. This week we’re also getting confirmation of news that was expected and is, I hope, welcome: the California High Speed Rail Authority is accelerating the Burbank-Palmdale segment:

IIn a strategic shift to secure new funding for California’s bullet train project, state officials intend to accelerate their plans to build a Los Angeles County section of the $68-billion system.

High-speed rail officials said they want to start a segment between Burbank and Palmdale in the next several years as they continue working on a 130-mile stretch of the line in the Central Valley. The revised approach could be formally adopted by the rail board as early as next month.

Vartabedian’s article doesn’t address some crucial questions about this move, including how it would affect construction of the aforementioned Fresno-Bakersfield segment. Nor does it answer where exactly the $13 billion in funds would come from, though one could borrow against future cap-and-trade revenues for it.

Personally I’d rather see construction happen on the missing link from Bakersfield to Palmdale, but you know me, I’ll support construction on any segment, as long as it’s actually bullet train tracks.

There was one part of the article that offered some false hope (though it’s surprising that a Vartabedian article offered any hope for HSR at all):

The rail project has encountered stiff opposition from some groups in the Central Valley and Silicon Valley, triggering lawsuits and political compromises on the design of the system. By contrast, there has been little organized opposition in Southern California. No major city has attempted to block or significantly modify the plan. Indeed, Palmdale threatened to sue the state if the project did not include a stop in the city. Los Angeles officials say that the project is yielding a number of benefits for other rail services, including more grade separations and improvements at Union Station.

Yeah, that’s only because there hasn’t yet been a serious effort to build in SoCal yet. Go back through the archives of this blog and one will see opposition from all over the region. I’ve seen people in the Santa Clarita Valley, Burbank, Glendale, LA near the Taylor Yard, Buena Park, Anaheim, Alhambra, and Rosemead – just to name a few – raise concerns. Usually it’s NIMBYs, sometimes it’s elected officials.

But if and when the CHSRA does move ahead with planning and construction on this segment, opposition will come out of the woodwork. Peninsula NIMBYs and Kings County antis will be there to help fund a new round of lawsuits. Rinse and repeat.

Some design notes on this project:

The rail authority has focused on a roughly 40-mile route following the Antelope Valley Freeway, which goes over Soledad Pass at an elevation of 3,225 feet. But Los Angeles County Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich, whose district includes most of the area, has asked the rail agency to consider a direct route from Burbank to Palmdale under the mountain range, requiring a tunnel about 15 miles long, according to his staff. The authority has agreed to consider the request.

I’m all for a 15-mile long tunnel, as long as Antonovich can help find the funding. That would probably allow for higher speeds than an alignment along the 14 freeway.

Bullet train planners always expected to place a station in the San Fernando Valley, and Burbank was the most likely choice. Ultimately, the bullet train track would connect Union Station in downtown Los Angeles to the Transbay Terminal transportation hub in central San Francisco. But by stopping construction in Burbank, at least initially, the authority would postpone the more difficult political and engineering task of reaching the heart of Los Angeles.

Specifically, this helps avoid the question of what to do around the Taylor Yard and the LA River State Park, which has been controversial in the past.

Pro-HSR Billboards Appear in Central Valley

Jun 26th, 2014 | Posted by

Californians For High Speed Rail is sponsoring pro-high speed rail billboards across the Central Valley, mostly on the Highway 99 corridor. Here’s one that recently went up in Bakersfield:

I love it.

There’s No Political Risk in Backing HSR

Jun 25th, 2014 | Posted by

A new Field Poll is out showing that Governor Jerry Brown leads Neel Kashkari by 20 points. Governor Brown is going to win a fourth term, the only question is just how badly will Kashkari get beaten.

That isn’t stopping some pundits from trying to find drama in a race that is a foregone conclusion. Dan Walters today argues that Kashkari’s chances depend on HSR.

Except they don’t. Kashkari is toast, and HSR is actually one of the reasons why he is doomed.

Contrary to what the media tells you, a majority of Californians still support HSR. They approve of Governor Brown’s job performance, and are going to re-elect him. These are related factors. If HSR was the ultra-controversial millstone around the governor’s neck that Walters and Kashkari would like it to be, Gov. Brown’s approval rating would be lower and so would his poll lead.

Voters have already taken Gov. Brown’s and Kashkari’s positions on HSR into account. And Gov. Brown has a 20 point lead. If HSR was unpopular, then Kashkari might have a path forward here. But it is popular, and so he is done. Stick a fork in him.

This logic applies to other races as well, including for Congress. Earlier this month, four California Democrats – all first term members of Congress – sided with Republicans in a vote to prevent federal funds from going to California High Speed Rail.

The four California Democrats are Ami Bera, Raul Ruiz, Scott Peters and Julia Brownley. All four of them should know better, but especially Julia Brownley. In 2012 Republicans funded attack ads against Brownley citing her vote for HSR. Brownley won anyway.

Walters has argued that 2014 is different because high Democratic turnout isn’t guaranteed, and that Democrats need to stoke their base. Here I agree with him – which is why it’s so utterly stupid of these four Democrats to side with the GOP on HSR.

Swing voters and the Democratic base do not vote for vulnerable Democrats when they embrace GOP policies. They do so when the Dems embrace progressive policies. So Bera, Ruiz, Peters and Brownley haven’t done anything to help themselves with their anti-HSR vote, and have instead alienated their base.

So when you see someone say this:

“If you’re facing a competitive election in California,” said Jack Pitney, a political science professor at Claremont-McKenna College, “opposition is probably the smart move.”

Feel free to roll your eyes, because it’s nonsense. California voters either back HSR, or oppose it but don’t place much priority on it. Neither Governor Brown nor these freshmen Congressional Democrats have anything to fear from Republicans on HSR.