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Is the high speed rail plan 'green' enough to use cap-and-trade funds?

A rendering of what a high-speed rail train would look like traversing California's desert.
A rendering of what a high-speed rail train would look like traversing California's desert.
California High Speed Rail Authority

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California's beleaguered high speed rail project may be getting a breath of new life if Governor Jerry Brown's new budget is passed. The Governor is expected to propose a portion of the state's cap-and-trade revenue to be used to fund the first phase of the $68 billion rail project.

The Los Angeles - San Francisco high speed rail line has been plagued with setbacks and political opposition since voters first approved a referendum to build the train in 2008. In November, a judge blocked the state from using $8.6 billion in bond money to finance the first part of the rail line, putting both the train's future and $3 billion in federal funds in jeopardy.

Now, Brown wants to use nearly a third of the $850 million in revenue that the state expects to collect next year from cap-and-trade funds. The funds are earned from "carbon credits" bought by businesses who exceed the cap on carbon dioxide emissions.

The money may help rescue the project but some environmentalists are concerned that the train won't show any environmental benefits for 20 to 30 years. They argue the money should be spent on projects that will immediately reduce California's greenhouse gas emissions.

Is the high speed rail project 'green' enough to warrant using cap-and-trade funds? If the proposal is rejected will it kill the high speed rail project? What other funding options are out there? What could be a better use of cap-and-trade funds?


David Siders, reporter for the Sacramento Bee covering state politics

Rod Diridon, former chair of the High Speed Rail Authority and executive director of the Mineta Transportation Institute

Kathryn Phillips, Director of the Sierra Club of California