Friday, March 29, 2019

Cap and trade: $2 billion for high-speed rail!


Streetsblog Cal links and praises the California Climate Investments report ("Cap and Trade Dollars at Work") while only mentioning the high-speed rail project in passing.

What Streetsblog and the project's supporters don't like to talk about: thanks to Jerry Brown and the Democrats, high-speed rail by law gets 25% of all cap and trade money raised.

See page iii of the document: up to this year, the cap and trade program gave the project $1,287,000,000. This year the project will get $736,000,000, much more than any other project listed.

From a State Senate agenda on the program:

Background. Cap-and-Trade Part of State’s Strategy for Reducing GHGs. The Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 (AB 32 (Núñez, Pavley)...established the goal of limiting GHG emissions statewide to 1990 levels by 2020. Subsequently, SB 32, (Pavley)...established an additional GHG target of reducing emissions by at least 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030.

If/when it's ever built, will the project actually reduce greenhouse gas? The Institute of Transportation Studies did a study on that:

...they computed HSR’s Return on Investment, or ROI, in terms of energy consumption and emissions of greenhouse gases and sulfur dioxide and compared it to existing modes, which do not require new infrastructure. 

Depending on occupancy levels in all modes, there are scenarios where HSR will or will not perform environmentally better than the other modes: with 75 percent occupancy, HSR’s energy ROI is recouped in eight years, its GHG emissions in six years. But at 25 percent occupancy its ROI is infinite. At mid-level occupancy HSR ROI is achieved at 28 years for energy and 71 years for GHG emissions. (emphasis added)

Why wouldn't the project do better than this? 

The study:

For one thing, building a huge new infrastructure that relies heavily on vast quantities of steel and concrete counts against it, say the researchers.

“Producing concrete, particularly its cementitious component, is a GHG-intensive process,” said [Mikhail]Chester, and concrete will be required in vast quantities for the rail project, not only in the construction of retaining walls and aerial track segments, but also stations and smaller facilities.

“High-speed rail in general may reduce GHG emissions, but you could have a situation where you’re trading those reductions for increases in other emissions, like sulfur dioxide.”

...While HSR’s huge new infrastructure counts against it environmentally, the electricity required to run the trains—and how it is produced—also has major environmental costs. 

Under the current electricity mix, high-speed rail will emit much larger amounts of sulfur dioxide than other modes because it will be fueled by California electricity, which is produced in part from fossil natural gas and coal. The other modes use lower-sulfur fuels and have emissions-control devices. 

In fact, the researchers noted that the ROI on sulfur dioxide emissions will never be achieved for HSR no matter how full its trains are packed (emphasis added).

“If we invest this money in HSR with a goal of reducing GHG emissions, then we should also consider purchasing high-priced but cleaner electricity or installing advanced sulfur controls at power plants,” says Chester. 

Sulfur dioxide emissions have ecological and human health impacts that result in secondary particulate formation that can affect respiratory and cardiovascular function. Those emissions also add to acidification of the environment.

“While GHGs are certainly important, we also want people to think of emissions affecting direct human as well as ecological health,” he added. “High-speed rail in general may reduce GHG emissions, but you could have a situation where you’re trading those reductions for increases in other emissions, like sulfur dioxide.”

Rob's comment:
That is, not only is this huge, under-funded project unlikely to ever be completed, but it will produce toxic gas as long as this construction continues---and even afterward!

The money the project gets from the cap and trade program only keeps the project on life-support; it's not nearly enough to actually build the project.

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At 12:25 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Cap and trade funds should go to updating our roads, overpasses and widening streets to allow traffic to flow freely; this would do more to lower carbon emissions than the boondoggle choo chops.


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