California Governor Jerry Brown’s plan to spend millions from the state’s cap-and-trade program on his high-speed rail project set off a firestorm from powerful environmental groups.
Last year, the controversial bullet train system, which aims to connect Los Angeles and San Francisco, had $9 billion in state funding blocked due to unsuccessful litigation surrounding the project. As a result, Brown and his supporters have been looking for new resources to fund the venture.
The Governor will include a proposal in his new budget to be released on Friday that will use $250 million of cap-and-trade revenue for the project, according to officials familiar with the budget proposal. It was two years ago that Brown first indicated that cap-and-trade revenue, which comes from a project designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, would be used for building the high-speed rail.
Powerful environmental groups including the Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and the Planning and Conservation League are not happy with this proposal, because the rail system is not scheduled to be completed until 2020. The idea of extracting funds for a distant $68 billion rail system is not immediate enough gratification for green groups. They would prefer to see the money used for more urgent projects.
Bruce Reznik, executive director of the Planning and Conservation League, believes that the high speed rail system is a “money pit” because of its vast needs. He concluded, “The high-speed rail board is trying to make the best of a troubled situation, but I don’t think raiding cap-and-trade is the right direction to go.”
What’s more, Governor Brown and the state of California may still have some legal hurdles to overcome. James Burling, the director of litigation for the conservative Pacific Legal Foundation, argues that cap-and-trade is an unconstitutional tax that was not properly authorized by the Legislature. “It’s a desperate attempt by the governor to grab money for his pet project,” Burling said. “It continues to demonstrate why [the cap-and-trade law] is unconstitutional and why the railroad makes no sense.”