California Residents and Politicians Ask Gov. Brown to Give Up on High-Speed Rail
It's been nearly six years since California voters approved $10 billion in rail bonds to make a high-speed train line from Los Angeles to San Francisco a reality. The project appears to be on life support, with judges, residents and politicians all expressing doubt.
“It’s time for the [California Gov. Jerry Brown] to pull up the tracks,” U.S. Rep. Kevin McCarthy, (R-CA), told The New York Times. “Everything he has said has not come to fruition.
"It’s time to scratch the project.”
That statement came nearly two months after a Sacramento County judge's invalidation of the rail authority’s business plan. Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Michael Kenny ruled that the High-Speed Rail Authority's (HSRA) plan is no longer in line with what voters approved in 2008, according to The Associated Press. The lawsuit came from a group of Kings County residents who don't want the project to happen.
The HSRA now needs to show how it will pay for the first 300 miles of construction. Kenny rejected a request from the HSRA that would allow the state treasurer to sell $8.6 billion in bonds.
Fifty-two percent of the respondents in a September survey from U.S.C. Dornsife/Los Angeles Times said they oppose the project. That's the same percentage of residents who passed the rail measure in 2008.
The project is slated to cost $68 billion and be completed in 2029. The state identified nearly $13 billion in financing for the project before the November ruling—about $9 billion in state bonds and $3.5 billion in matching funds. California won't get more than $3 billion in federal matching funds without more state funding. Brown's new budget proposal, which is expected by the end of the week, could include a request that some money collected from carbon producers under the state’s cap-and-trade program be used to help pay for the high-speed line.
“We have confidence that we can comply with this ruling and we can move this program forward, and it should move forward,” said Dan Richard, chairman of the High-Speed Rail Authority, which is building the line.
“Yes, it’s difficult. Yes, it’s challenging. But we are still committed to it. The governor is fully committed to it.”
However Rep. McCarthy said he doubts voters would approve $9 billion to build it and that private investment in the project has been nonexistent. Democratic State Sen. Mark DeSaulnier, who voted against the project, said he has yet to see solid evidence of where the money will come from.
“That’s the bottom line: Show me the money,” he told The New York Times. “That is what the judge said, and that is what we promised the voters. And I never heard, sitting through many, many years in the Legislature, I never heard them show me the money in a way that I could feel comfortable. It has gotten worse.”
DeSaulnier may soon get to see some of the money—or progress—once the HSRA is done evaluating qualification bids from five "world-class construction teams" to build a 60-mile stretch of the high-speed line from Fresno to a county line near Bakersfield for about $1.5 to $2 billion.
Based on his comments, it doesn't sound like that would impress McCarthy very much.
“They get so invested in it, they just get blinded,” the U.S. representative said. “That’s why I think this time of year, New Year’s, is the best time to step back and say: ‘I tried. It won’t pan out.’
"I think the governor would get big applause from California voters saying that.”
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By D. André Green II
One of nature's epic events is underway: Monarch butterflies' fall migration. Departing from all across the United States and Canada, the butterflies travel up to 2,500 miles to cluster at the same locations in Mexico or along the Pacific Coast where their great-grandparents spent the previous winter.
Millions of People Care About Monarchs<p>I will never forget the sights and sounds the first time I visited monarchs' overwintering sites in Mexico. Our guide pointed in the distance to what looked like hanging branches covered with dead leaves. But then I saw the leaves flash orange every so often, revealing what were actually thousands of tightly packed butterflies. The monarchs made their most striking sounds in the Sun, when they burst from the trees in massive fluttering plumes or landed on the ground in the tussle of mating.</p><p>Decades of educational outreach by teachers, researchers and hobbyists has cultivated a generation of monarch admirers who want to help preserve this phenomenon. This global network has helped restore not only monarchs' summer breeding habitat by planting milkweed, but also general pollinator habitat by planting nectaring flowers across North America.</p><p>Scientists have calculated that restoring the monarch population to a stable level of about 120 million butterflies will require <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/icad.12198" target="_blank">planting 1.6 billion new milkweed stems</a>. And they need them fast. This is too large a target to achieve through grassroots efforts alone. A <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/CCAA.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">new plan</a>, announced in the spring of 2020, is designed to help fill the gap.</p>
Pros and Cons of Regulation<p>The top-down strategy for saving monarchs gained energy in 2014, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service <a href="https://www.fws.gov/southeast/pdf/petition/monarch.pdf" target="_blank">proposed</a> listing them as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. A decision is expected in December 2020.</p><p>Listing a species as endangered or threatened <a href="https://www.fws.gov/endangered/esa-library/pdf/listing.pdf" target="_blank">triggers restrictions</a> on "taking" (hunting, collecting or killing), transporting or selling it, and on activities that negatively affect its habitat. Listing monarchs would impose restrictions on landowners in areas where monarchs are found, over vast swaths of land in the U.S.</p><p>In my opinion, this is not a reason to avoid a listing. However, a "threatened" listing might inadvertently threaten one of the best conservation tools that we have: public education.</p><p>It would severely restrict common practices, such as rearing monarchs in classrooms and back yards, as well as scientific research. Anyone who wants to take monarchs and milkweed for these purposes would have to apply for special permits. But these efforts have had a multigenerational educational impact, and they should be protected. Few public campaigns have been more successful at raising awareness of conservation issues.</p>
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="91165203d4ec0efc30e4632a00fdf57d"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/KilPRvjbMrA?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
The Rescue Attempt<p>To preempt the need for this kind of regulation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approved a <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/pdfs/Monarch%20CCAA-CCA%20Public%20Comment%20Documents/Monarch-Nationwide_CCAA-CCA_Draft.pdf" target="_blank">Nationwide Candidate Conservation Agreement for Monarch Butterflies</a>. Under this plan, "rights-of-way" landowners – energy and transportation companies and private owners – commit to restoring and creating millions of acres of pollinator habitat that have been decimated by land development and herbicide use in the past half-century.</p><p>The agreement was spearheaded by the <a href="http://rightofway.erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank">Rights-of-Way Habitat Working Group</a>, a collaboration between the University of Illinois Chicago's <a href="https://erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Energy Resources Center</a>, the Fish and Wildlife Service and over 40 organizations from the energy and transportation sectors. These sectors control "rights-of-way" corridors such as lands near power lines, oil pipelines, railroad tracks and interstates, all valuable to monarch habitat restoration.</p><p>Under the plan, partners voluntarily agree to commit a percentage of their land to host protected monarch habitat. In exchange, general operations on their land that might directly harm monarchs or destroy milkweed will not be subject to the enhanced regulation of the Endangered Species Act – protection that would last for 25 years if monarchs are listed as threatened. The agreement is expected to create up to 2.3 million acres of new protected habitat, which ideally would avoid the need for a "threatened" listing.</p>
A Model for Collaboration<p>This agreement could be one of the few specific interventions that is big enough to allow researchers to quantify its impact on the size of the monarch population. Even if the agreement produces only 20% of its 2.3 million acre goal, this would still yield nearly half a million acres of new protected habitat. This would provide a powerful test of the role of declining breeding and nectaring habitat compared to other challenges to monarchs, such as climate change or pollution.</p><p>Scientists hope that data from this agreement will be made publicly available, like projects in the <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/MCD.html" target="_blank">Monarch Conservation Database</a>, which has tracked smaller on-the-ground conservation efforts since 2014. With this information we can continue to develop powerful new models with better accuracy for determining how different habitat factors, such as the number of milkweed stems or nectaring flowers on a landscape scale, affect the monarch population.</p><p>North America's monarch butterfly migration is one of the most awe-inspiring feats in the natural world. If this rescue plan succeeds, it could become a model for bridging different interests to achieve a common conservation goal.</p>
The annual Ig Nobel prizes were awarded Thursday by the science humor magazine Annals of Improbable Research for scientific experiments that seem somewhat absurd, but are also thought-provoking. This was the 30th year the awards have been presented, but the first time they were not presented at Harvard University. Instead, they were delivered in a 75-minute pre-recorded ceremony.