Ever since Governor Jerry Brown loaned away the first $500 million in cap-and-trade greenhouse gas auction revenues, advocates and decision makers have been wringing their hands. There is a growing if somewhat guarded line of thinking that sees a continual siphoning of much if not all of these revenues to fund the state’s high-speed rail project. With future federal funding for the project not committed, the state may be on the hook for coming up with more on its own than originally anticipated. Indeed, political pundits and editorial boards across the state are seeing the recent ruling by a state judge against the project as an opportunity to stop HSR once and for all.
Without passing judgment on HSR in California, it would be a tremendous loss for environmental justice if a major portion of auction revenues weren’t invested in projects that benefit disadvantaged communities. These communities are already suffering from the impacts of climate change and are adjacent to many of the facilities that produce the most climate change and air quality pollution.
When even the former chairman of the High Speed Rail Authority states his fear that the state will consider dedicating all of the cap-and-trade revenues to HSR, it’s hard not to get nervous. The answer to this question will be forthcoming over the next year but one thing’s clear: for cap-and-trade to follow through on its promise of fighting climate change and building stronger and healthier communities these revenues must be used for much more than just HSR.