Saturday, January 29, 2011

Building HSR: If the law gets in the way, change it. Right?

Yes, indeed.  Those nasty environmental protection laws sure get in the way when you want to plow a multi-billion dollar project through every town that stands in the way.   "No," is their answer to the question in the headline for this editorial in the Boston Globe.  

According to the rail advocates, more funding is not enough.  We also have to get rid of any and all legal protections that citizens have fought for so hard for against  corporate and government interests. 

Sorry. If we are a nation of laws, we had better respect them, particularly if they constitute safeguards against the imposition of the will of the few against the many. 

We can read such editorials as this one proliferating, since Boston now begins to smell fresh blood from Washington and the promise of funding for a northeast corridor high-speed train.   

Those vested interests are the ones that cry 'foul' when environmental regulations constrain their pollution, contamination, and destruction. We will lose profits, they proclaim. They are the ones who seek ever greater eminent domain freedoms to take, or 'take down' whatever stands in their way. 

I am not sympathetic to this obsession to eliminate regulations.  These environmental protections were placed there in the first place to give all the rest of us a voice in what corporate, banking and industrial interests want to impose upon us at our expense.  We insist on protections of both the natural AND urban environments. 

It makes me cringe to read about the envy of centralized economies such as China who have been ramming mega-infrastructure projects through cities for decades.  The famous -- or should I say notorious -- Three Gorges Dam in China caused the destruction of dozens of towns and villages, and displaced tens of thousands of people.  

But, you say, it was for the good of the nation.  What kind of a nation sacrifices the well-being of its citizens for some "greater good?" Totalitarian nations.  Nations that are based on denying individuals any voice in how they are governed. In this article, France and China envy is grossly misplaced in making this argument.

We can see the endless pressures to by-pass CEQA laws in California for the sake of pushing this project through wherever the rail authority choose to go.  Protest to such plans is ridiculed and the protesters are dismissed as nuisances and cranks.  HSR promoters are so smitten with their rail vision that to ask for the application of the law is perceived as an affront.  I consider that a fascist mentality.

We are not a monarchy; we are not a centralized economy.  We are already beset by far too much unregulated control by large corporate and financial powers that are free to impose their will upon us.  We have a duty and obligation to defend our legal protections.

That is what is quintessential about the American Dream; not altering laws to permit the recklessly building more trains.

Obama wants more funding for high-speed rail, but is money enough?

January 29, 2011 10:55 AM
By Alan Wirzbicki

More federal money for high-speed rail may be on the way — but does the law need to change for such big projects to get built?

After handing out $8 billion in stimulus money for high-speed rail, President Obama called for more funding for fast trains during his State of the Union address on Tuesday, a proposal Globe columnist Derrick Z. Jackson praises on the op-ed page today.

But some rail advocates have argued that simply funneling more federal largesse into rail isn't enough. Building a high-speed network in the United States, they suggest, may also require the politically tricky task of altering the environmental laws that have often made building new train lines so difficult.

In California, Robert Cruickshank wrote in 2009, a plan to build a high-speed line between San Francisco and Los Angeles that had already lined up more than $9 billion in financing had to grapple with state laws empowering a handful of wealthy communities to hold up the entire project. (Since 2009, California High-Speed Rail has acquired both more money and more problems.) Nationally, Robert Goodspeed wrote, the process for planning and siting rail lines is "dysfunctional."

Tension between the nation's long-term environmental priorities and local concerns is familiar to Massachusetts from the Cape Wind saga. Despite the clamor on the national level for more green energy, environmental laws enacted in response to planning excesses of the 1950s and 1960s can slow projects to a crawl: Cape Wind took nine years to win permits.

Which is why on high-speed rail, comparisons to countries like France and China that only take financing into account can be misleading. France's government has strong central planning authority; China's government is a dictatorship that can build wherever it wants. At the least, debate over the future of high-speed rail in the U.S. may need to take into account why it's more challenging here.