The Environment or the Economy: California’s Bullet Train Plays Monkey in the Middle

July 20, 2012

California Bullet TrainImage by tkksummers | Flickr.com

While the droves of Californian environmentalists regularly disparage their state’s lack of public transportation, they have been less than supportive of the state’s Bullet Train initiative.

The California High-Speed Rail project intends to connect Sacramento, San Jose, Fresno, Bakersfield, Palmdale, Los Angeles, Anaheim, Riverside, Irvine, and San Diego via a high speed train system. Californians approved of the project and its required $9.95 billion in funding at the November 4, 2008 election and have been anticipating its construction ever since. The Bullet Train hopes to spur California’s struggling economy, while improving its notoriously smog-ridden air.

Environmental Pushback

Ironically enough, the train is facing a lot of environmental obstacles in achieving its environmental dreams. As with the rest of California’s economy, the bullet train is facing critical financial uncertainty. In an attempt to cut excess expenses and speed up the construction process, Governor Jerry Brown’s administration considered a proposal, which would prevent environmentalists from slowing Bullet progress – especially considering the upcoming vote to kick off the first $6 billion leg of the rail in Central Valley. If the proposal were to see fruition, any Bullet opponents filing under the California Environmental Quality Act would have to prove extreme environmental endangerment in order to halt progress.

Of course, environmental groups were not ready to surrender their voices – especially those that have been supporters of the bullet train project since its inception. These groups, including the Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council, pooled their resources to convince lawmakers not to set this kind of environmentally-negligent precedent. According to Kathryn Phillips, Sierra Club California director, “All along we thought it was a stupid idea. Trying to reduce environmental review for one of the largest public works projects in the state’s history really makes no sense.”

Jerry Brown and appointed leader of the project, Dan Richard, ultimately chose in favor of preserving environmental activists’ rights. According to Richard, it would be better to “take their chances” with the environmentalists than lose their support entirely.

Is It Worth It?

While this may seem like the obvious decision, environmentalists now have the power to halt production, resulting in huge losses for the sinking state of California. If federal grants aren’t spent on schedule, they may be lost, and the project sent underwater. Several government officials worry about environmental lawsuits getting in the way of this economy-boosting project. Fortunately, they know they have the power to reinstitute the proposed policy at any point.

Executive director of the Madera County Farm Bureau, Anja Raudabaugh, speaks on behalf of both parties, “I hope this is a path they won’t go down again.

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