The experience of reading one more article about the California High Speed Railroad Boondoggle
You read along and read along, plowing through the so-called “news” about some new “approval,” which is one piece more in the whole piecemealed project, that is being conducted that way so that the cumulative environmental consequences are as invisible to the public eye as the national phenomenon of inverted totalitarianism.
The farce flows into lower graphs, mentioning all the things approved yet not quite started yet. The lawsuits and the funding problems are listed. Not mentioned is that one of Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s husband’s, UC Regent Richard Blum, companies won the bid to build the first section of the railroad – which hasn’t really started yet.
As we all expected, the HSRA ran roughshod over environmental law and regulation in a fashion worthy of the University of California, but somehow, this second section is still a long way from all the approvals it needs, including that of a bureaucracy new to this dull-witted reader, the Surface Transportation Board, a federal, bipartisan “decisionally-independent adjudicatory body” which arose from the ashes of the Interstate Commerce Commission, RIP 1996 (1)
There are some un-memorable quotes, several from Jeff Morales, the present HSR CEO. We were happy to see his appointment to this position because – having observed him operate in several other state bureaucratic functions as a posterchild of all that is meant by contemporary “leadership,” – we knew Morales and the high speed rail boondoggle were made for each other.
California Environmental Quality Act was mentioned. That was nice.
Then, at the bottom of the article, what should have been the lede because it was the only real news in the article: the high speed rail board committed $35 million to the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District, and we are sure that the board and Executive Director Seyed Sadredin, “Seyed the Mendacious,” will spend the money wisely. If lies alone could return the worst air-pollution basin in the US to the blue skies over Bakersfield of 1970, the Mendacious would have been the best air-pollution bureaucrat in history. We don’t know what all this $35-million pledge is going to buy or who is going to get it, but we beg the indulgence of our readers in our doubt that it will improve the air quality of the south San Joaquin Valley.
As we found observing the UC Merced project, corruption attracts corruption until instead of a public good you get a political dairy lagoon. The result of this corruption will be to make the already heavily impacted air quality of the Valley worse because high speed rail will make the region more available for commuters and will increase residential construction. This is the dream behind the real board of directors of California: Finance, Insurance and Real Estate. -- blj
High-speed rail agency OKs Fresno-Bakersfield route...Tim Sheehan
The California High-Speed Rail Authority approved its Fresno-Bakersfield section Wednesday -- the second piece of what is planned as the backbone of a statewide passenger train network.
The agency's board, meeting in Fresno, took two separate votes related to the 114-mile route. Board members certified the final 20,000-page version of its environmental-impact report, intended to analyze how building and operating the rail system would affect homes, businesses, farms and wildlife habitat in the region, and detail how the agency will minimize or make up for those effects.
A short time later, the board approved the rail project itself and the route from downtown Fresno to the northern outskirts of Bakersfield. That route generally runs near the BNSF Railway freight tracks, now shared by Amtrak passenger trains, between Fresno and Bakersfield.
Over the objections of residents and farmers in Kings County, the route diverges from the BNSF corridor with a bypass east of Hanford that sweeps diagonally across farms and dairies. It also has bypasses that skirt the towns of Corcoran and Allensworth.
Lemoore farmer Frank Oliveira, co-chairman of Kings County's Citizens for California High-Speed Rail Accountability, was disappointed -- but not surprised -- by the votes.
"As we expected, the authority declared that their work resolving any questions in Kings County was adequate," Oliveira said. "We believe they have not done their due diligence, despite what they say. They're not adequately evaluating the environmental impacts of this project."
More than 21/2 years after the rail agency issued its first draft of the EIR, Oliveira said he believes the authority has done little more than pay lip service to Kings County's concerns.
"There are things in the EIR that are not intellectually honest," he said. "The line through the county has not changed since 2010. They ran around and talked to people, but have they really listened to us? I don't think so, if the line has not changed in four years."
Kings County's Board of Supervisors and two of its residents are already suing the rail authority over its statewide plan. Authority leaders acknowledged that Wednesday's votes are likely to generate more lawsuits over whether the EIR complies with the California Environmental Quality Act.
The first high-speed rail section from Madera to Fresno was the subject of several CEQA lawsuits after the authority board approved the section two years ago. By last spring, however, all of those cases were settled.
"I'm sure that we'll see a couple of lawsuits," said Tom Richards of Fresno, the rail board's vice chairman. "But I don't think they'll be any different than the ones we worked through in the past."
Dan Richard, the board's chairman, said he knows the agency has its work cut out to convince the project's opponents, who cite escalating costs, loss of homes and farms that have been in families for generations, and fears of dust and air pollution during construction.
"I don't want to pretend that we're going to resolve all these issues," Richard said after the votes. "But as we move down the Valley from Madera, and people see what we're doing to work with them, to relocate affected businesses, to compensate them for any losses, I think you're starting to see a level of comfort that we're really trying to do things the right way."
Wednesday's votes are significant steps -- but not the final ones -- toward construction south of Fresno.
Substantial work has yet to commence on the first stage of construction between Madera and Fresno, part of the Merced-Fresno section that was approved by the rail board two years ago. The agency hopes to begin construction -- estimated to cost between $1.5 billion and $2 billion -- between Fresno and the Tulare-Kern county line by spring 2015.
Before that can happen, two federal agencies must still lend their approval: the Federal Railroad Administration, which has committed more than $3 billion in federal stimulus and transportation funds for construction in the San Joaquin Valley, and the Surface Transportation Board.
Permits from agencies including the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service will also be needed for work involving waterways, wetlands and other habitat.
Rail board will pay local air board
Also Wednesday, the high-speed rail board agreed to commit up to $35 million to the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District to offset the anticipated pollution created by earth-moving and construction on the high-speed rail project between Merced and Bakersfield. The agreement with the air district is part of the rail agency's efforts "to provide near-term and ongoing benefits to this region for clean air," said Jeff Morales, the authority's CEO.
Morales said the agreement will pay for investments in clean technology, including the replacement of older diesel pumps on farms with new electric pumps, as well as upgrading older tractors and farm equipment.
The agreement is in addition to the authority's requirements for its construction contractors to "use the cleanest-burning construction fleet reasonably possible," Mark McLaughlin, the authority's director of environmental services, said in a memo to the board. "But even a clean fleet will produce emissions."
The Surface Transportation Board(STB) of the United States is a bipartisan, decisionally-independent adjudicatory body organizationally housed within the U.S. Department of Transportation. The STB was established in 1996 to assume some of the regulatory functions that had been administered by the Interstate Commerce Commission when the ICC was abolished. Other ICC regulatory functions were either eliminated or transferred to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration or to theBureau of Transportation Statistics within DOT.
The STB has broad economic regulatory oversight of railroads, including rates, service, the construction, acquisition and abandonment of rail lines, carrier mergers and interchange of traffic among carriers. The STB also has certain oversight[which?] of pipeline carriers, intercity bus carriers, moving van companies, trucking companies involved in collective activities and water carriers engaged in non-contiguous domestic trade. The Board has wide discretion, through its exemption authority from certain…federal, state and local laws, to tailor its regulatory activities to meet the nation’s changing transportation needs.
Los Angeles Time
San Joaquin Valley officials fight with EPA over air quality
Local officials say that ozone has been reduced and hope to end fees they began three years ago to help pay for cleaning up the air. But the U.S. is skeptical and asks for more
By Tony Barboza
After spending decades and hundreds of millions of dollars cleaning up stubbornly high levels of pollution, air quality officials in the San Joaquin Valley are telling federal regulators that enough is enough.
San Joaquin Valley officials say that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is unfairly blaming locals for air fouled by outside sources and is failing to take into account the pollution-trapping topography of the mountain-ringed basin.
"Once we've done everything we can, we should not be penalized," Seyed Sadredin, executive director of the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District, said in reference to fees his agency has imposed on local drivers and businesses in recent years after failing to meet federal deadlines to curb smog.
Sadredin and others want the federal government to ease off and not hold local officials responsible for pollution blowing in from the Bay Area and Asia and exhaust from traffic passing through the San Joaquin Valley on California's two major north-south highways. Those pollutants, they say, mix with emissions from the region's sprawl of farms, cities and oil fields. It all gets boxed in by mountains and an inversion layer, bakes in the sunlight and becomes more concentrated, giving the San Joaquin Valley's 3.9-million inhabitants some of the nation's dirtiest air.
The dispute boiled over last month, when Sadredin and other local leaders declared that smog no longer exceeds a federal health standard for ozone. They urged the EPA to approve the finding so they can end fees they began charging drivers three years ago.
But federal regulators are pushing back.
The EPA says that readings at two of the most polluted air quality monitoring sites are flawed and do not prove that the region's air has been cleaned up enough to reach the agency's 1979 standard for ozone. The EPA says that it will hold the San Joaquin Valley to the same standards as the rest of the nation and has asked the district for more data to back up its contention.
Community activists call the San Joaquin Valley's ozone declaration premature — a publicity stunt — and insist that the region needs more restrictions on emissions from farms, dairies and industrial sites. They accuse air quality officials of protecting business interests over residents' health.
"We hear that we need to get off industry's back and stop complaining because the air is so much better now," said Dolores Weller, interim director of the Central Valley Air Quality Coalition. "They only want to talk about the positive, even though our air is still very dirty."
The region's clean-air rules are already among the most stringent in the nation and enacting stricter ones would bring economic hardship to a poor region with double-digit unemployment, air quality officials say.
Since the early 1990s, local regulators have adopted more than 500 air quality regulations, and pollution from industrial sources has dropped more than 80%. Days when hourly ozone concentrations exceeded limits have plummeted from 37 a year in 2003 to three in 2011 — and zero this year.
Breathing ozone, the worst component of smog, can harm children's lungs, trigger respiratory problems like asthma and bronchitis and worsen heart and lung disease. In Fresno, children are diagnosed with asthma at twice the rate of California as a whole. On high ozone days, hospital visits for asthma rise nearly 50%, health studies show.