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By Tim Hunt

The governor touts his $68 billion boondoggle

Uploaded: Jan 8, 2015

When it comes to the environment, the sometimes pragmatic Gov. Jerry Brown seems to check his brain before deciding policy.
Several examples from his inaugural speech this week:
? In his remarks, he called out "the menace of air pollution." That was curious wording given that the air in California, with the exception of the lower San Joaquin Valley, is remarkably cleaner than it was when he was a boy growing up in Los Angeles. There have been dramatic advances in pollution control as technology has improved and regulators have a free hand to impose whatever they believe will improve air quality—witness the wood burning bans in the Bay Area.
? He must hate fossil fuels, although wisely he has refused to ban hydraulic fracking in the state. He raised the goal for renewable electrical power (which omits hydro power from dams) to 50 percent. What it does to the cost of power—already sky high when compared to other states—he chooses not to address. Wind power, without subsidies, works in a few places, but cannot be counted upon as other than a supplemental source. The roof-top solar systems are prudent investments and should be able to pay off without heavy government subsidies.
? He took great pride in the ceremonial start for the $68 billion high-speed rail that moved no dirt—that's because it is far from ready to go, but there is a deadline from the feds to spend the money by 2017. The state was supposed to have broken ground in 2012 (remember shovel-ready projects that the president touted in 2009 when he was signing the absurdly expensive, pork-filled stimulus billed that the Democrats in Congress sent to his desk.) The state is up against that deadline and with Republicans controlling both houses of Congress, there will be little wiggle room, particularly if there's a Republican in the White House in 2017.
? The problems with the high-speed rail would fill a book and there are still plenty of legal challenges ahead as well as purchasing the right-of-way. It's been far more difficult to find willing sellers in the San Joaquin Valley than anticipated—wait until they try to do it in populated areas. There still is $47 billion of money that has not been identified even after the state Legislature allocated 25 percent of cap-and-trade funds to the choo-choo. That's a very questionable use as well and the revenues from the eight auctions to date have not been great. That will increase now that the state air board has decreed that oil products are subject to the tax—a decision that will raise gasoline prices from 10 cents to perhaps as much as 30 to 40 cents per gallon. When prices have plummeted, that will not sting now—40 more cents on $4 hurts.
? Perhaps the biggest issue is that high-speed rail doesn't even qualify as a "nice to have" infrastructure in California. We have huge needs for road maintenance and expansion and this is simply a huge waste of money—you can extend BART to Livermore, east Contra Costa and ring the Bay for 10-15 percent of the cost of the high-speed system. High speed rail works in Europe because of its relatively compact cities with highly developed public transit systems stemming from hubs in downtown rail stations. Try getting around the Los Angeles basin by public transit or the Bay Area beyond downtown San Francisco and downtown Oakland.
There were thoughtful stories in a number of the dailies that are worth reading for additional details—particularly the San Francisco Examiner and Bay Area News Group (Sunday).