Tuesday, June 21, 2011

When it comes to High-Speed Rail, it's time for everyone to come clean, even if it takes a FOIA request from CEI.

This issue is going to be raised ever more frequently so we better address it here and now.  We've been saying for a long time that the High-Speed Rail program at the national level, and the High-Speed Rail project at the State of California level fall along political party lines.  

The Democrats support this project and the Republicans oppose it. I happen to be a life-time Democrat who opposes high-speed rail in the State of California, and pretty much in the United States.

This is all being said as a prelude to the following article which comes from a right-wing organization called the Competitive Enterprise Institute. Not being a student of their efforts, I can't say this with certitude, but I suspect that I disagree with just about every position they represent. . . . except one.  And this is about High-Speed Rail, and here we agree.

At the same time, I find accusations that they are ensnared by oil interests or the Koch Brothers is not particularly informative or useful. 

They have issued a FOIA request -- that's the Freedom of Information Act -- in order to obtain information not readily available from the Department of Transportation and the Federal Railroad Administration within the DOT. I don't see how anyone, Republican or Democrat, can oppose such a request for more information. 

The focus of their inquiries is the funding sent to California with ARRA Stimulus dollars into Rep. Jim Costa's district.  We've discussed this before.  This grant was timed just prior to the 2010 election and probably saved Costa's hide.  He brought home the bacon and got re-elected.  This confirms what I have been saying just about forever.  This entire HSR project is not about transit, transportation, the environment or anything else that the rail authority keeps promoting.  It's about political pork, and I find it profoundly objectionable. 

The article about this is presented below.  So is the press-release.  The letters that were sent to the Department of Transportation and the Federal Railroad Administration can be found if you click on the web-site: 

A colleague of ours just suggested that we be sure to encourage getting information directly from DOT Undersecretary Roy Kienitz, since he's the one who's been doing all the corresponding with California.  Anyone from CEI reading this should be so alerted. 

CEI Submits FOIA Requests to DOT Over California High-Speed Rail
on JUNE 21, 2011 ·

This morning, the Department of Transportation should receive the two Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests I submitted on behalf of the Competitive Enterprise Institute. The letters, which request communications and documents related to the proposed Central Valley HSR Corridor [PDF] from Borden to Corcoran, California, as well as congressional liaison records in the possession of both the Department’s Office of the Secretary of Transportation (OST) and the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA).

CEI has become increasingly concerned with the disregard for transparency the Obama administration has shown with respect to this $715 million American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) “stimulus” project. A week ago, President Obama issued Executive Order 13576, which called for “Delivering an Efficient, Effective, and Accountable Government.” In the executive order, the president claims that “[t]he implementation of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (Public Law 111 5) (Recovery Act) has seen unprecedented transparency.” But in the case of the ARRA-funded Central Valley corridor, nothing could be further from the truth.

The grant was announced on October 25, 2010, a little over a week before the November election. Rep. Jim Costa (D) was able to hold a nice “bringing home the bacon” press conference. Convenient, eh? 

Furthermore, after harsh criticism from state politicians, citizens, and the press, the California High-Speed Rail Authority requested more flexibility from the U.S. Department of Transportation in order to potentially begin constructing the Phase 1 high-speed rail system on a different segment that might enjoy a greater chance of being somewhat more financially viable, such as Los Angeles-Anaheim or San Francisco-San Jose.

Transportation Undersecretary for Policy Roy Kienitz wrote back to California and essentially told them, “Tough #%&$!” “Once major construction is underway and approvals to complete other sections of the line have been obtained, the private sector will have compelling reasons to invest in further construction,” said Kienitz. Huh? 

The private sector has a “compelling reason” to invest in a rail segment in the rural Central Valley, and one that might not be operational unless California secures additional federal funding and private-sector support, as Proposition 1A and  AB3034 forbid the use of California taxpayer dollars to subsidize operation [PDF]? 

I really don’t think so, and neither does CEI.
And, here is their press-release:

Gov’t Communications on “Train to Nowhere” Probed by CEI's FOIA of Department of Transportation

$715 Million Rail Construction Off to Questionable Start in Rural California Central Valley

By Christine Hall
June 21, 2011
Washington, DC, June 21, 2011 – Americans deserve to know what government officials really think about the “train to nowhere” supported by the Obama administration and some politicians in California. That’s why the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) has sent a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Office of the Secretary of Transportation (OST) and the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), seeking communications and records pertaining to congressional liaison and the Central Valley High-Speed Rail Corridor.

The $715 million Obama stimulus money – the federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) – granted to the Central Valley corridor was announced on October 25, 2010, just over a week before the November election.

“Californians have been questioning the reasoning of this ARRA grant for months,” said Marc Scribner, a land-use and transportation policy analyst at CEI’s Center for Economic Freedom who submitted the FOIA request on behalf of CEI.

“With the recent highly critical reports of both the state’s Legislative Analyst’s Office and the Independent Peer Review Group on the questionable future of high-speed rail in California, Californians and the rest of America have many questions that merit answers,” said Scribner. “The need for increased transparency is even more apparent after the Department of Transportation rejected attempts by the California High-Speed Rail Authority to secure more flexibility in where to construct and operate the first segment.”

CEI’s interest in the documents springs from its efforts to shed light on this expensive public transport project funded by ARRA.

The FOIA request includes the release of any and all written correspondence or other records sent or received by the OST or the FRA; specifically, documents that cite, name, or reference U.S. Representative Dennis Cardoza and U.S. Representative James Costa, their respective offices, staffs, and the 18th and 20th California Congressional Districts, respectively.

Additionally, CEI will be requesting any and all written correspondence or records related to the Central Valley High-Speed Rail Corridor proposed to be built between Borden and Corcoran, California, that specifically reference former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, California High-Speed Rail Authority CEO Roelof van Ark, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood, and FRA Administrator Joe Szabo.

The ultimate goal of this request is to increase transparency. CEI seeks to disclose all information regarding the appropriation of tax dollars in constructing this “train to nowhere,” ascertain the effect on the taxpayer, and reveal the rationale behind the Department of Transportation’s unbending resolve in pursuing this project.

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