Should California use climate change fund to finance a high-speed railway?

Japan bullet train

Is it a good idea to use money from California’s climate change program to help finance a high-speed railway that may not be a great way to reduce the state’s emissions?

Gov. Jerry Brown is apparently mulling over that idea, which the state’s legislative analyst recently concluded is not so smart, reported the San Jose Mercury News. The idea is to use the money that big polluters such as oil refineries and power plants will have to pay to get credits to offset their emissions. The pay-to-pollute program, which is meant to encourage polluters to reduce emissions over time, is part of a landmark climate change law passed in 2006 to reduce the state’s greenhouse gas emissions.

The Legislative Analyst’s Office said that pot of money should really go to other efforts that can reduce emissions more cost effectively than what the high-speed rail can. The Washington Post did some math to show that the cost of reducing emissions through the electric bullet train system will be much higher, at $250 per ton, than, say, planting trees or replacing coal power plants with solar and wind energy equipment. The high-speed railway is supposed to take $68 billion to build and would connect San Francisco to Los Angeles. The travel time between the two should be 2 hours and 40 minutes.

Incidentally, the agency in charge of planning the rail system, the California High-Speed Rail Authority, announced yesterday that it’d join some other state agencies to come up with a big plan to add solar, wind, geothermal and other renewable energy equipment on state-owned buildings and properties. The project’s goal is to install 2,500 MW of renewable electricity generation to help meet the state mandate that calls for getting 33 percent of its power from renewable sources by 2020.

If the rail system isn’t so effective at cutting emissions, then adding solar, wind or other clean power generation equipment may not help much. And using the climate change fund for an ineffective emission-reduction program just sounds like a bad idea.

Photo: a bullet train in Japan, courtesy of Miki Yoshihito via Flickr

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