Thursday, December 20, 2007

In the News

California is great. It's the rest of the world that's going crazy.

First, my contribution to the whole EPA thing: What a load of bunk. This really ticks me off. The decision as a whole bothers me, but what I find infuriating is the EPA director's obfuscated and misleading justification that he needed to prevent a "patchwork" of state solutions. This is the standard industry-backed talking point, and is simply false... it implies that every state could set its own standards, which would indeed be hard to follow. That is not the case, though. Ever since the EPA was first created in the '70's, California has had the right to set its own pollution standards. Other states can choose to follow either the more strict California rules, or the lax federal ones. Regardless of what the EPA had chosen, there would be exactly two standards, and never any more or less.

Random bit of history: California has very good reasons for special controls. The geography of the state means that pollution's effects are felt much more severely here. For example, the majority of the population lives in valleys that trap smog, so air quality is generally poor. In the specific case of global warming, San Francisco and San Diego will be among the first cities affected by rising sea levels, so people here are highly motivated to try and fix (or at least mitigate) the problem.

And, really, the whole thing bothers me because it makes clear that the administration is really driven by greed more than ideology. I thought conservatives were supposed to be federalists who supported states' rights, as opposed to letting the federal government dictate policy. And yet, given the chance to let a state take a daring approach to a problem, the Bush administration bows to industry pressure and denies that state its rights.

I think that this sort of thing is one of the best possible examples of federalism. Admittedly, California is pretty out there, coming up with some weird stuff that doesn't quite work out. And yet, the populist/progressive heritage of the state also means that it's brave enough to try things that are eventually proven to be right, and eventually do spread throughout the country. Think of things like the seat belt law, mandatory catalytic converters, and emergency statewide communication systems. I think the country as a whole would gain enormously by letting California try its regulatory plan. If it succeeds, it can be adopted nationally with more confidence; if it fails, well, only California and a few other states will have suffered. (Oh, and fewer high-polluting SUVs will have been sold. Boo-hoo!)

I wasn't that big a fan of Schwarzenegger when I moved here, but he increasingly endears himself. I love the latest threat to "sue, sue, and sue again." My state's cause is just, and I have faith that we will eventually prevail... if not under this political hack, then in the next administration.

Secondly, and on a more positive note: Hooray! We are moving closer towards getting high-speed rail! After my trip to Japan, I've wanted more than ever before to get this system in the U.S. Now, as a whole, U.S. rail is way behind that in other countries, primarily due to the way we subsidize the automobile/highway system. But I think this particular plan could be a huge success. The distance is perfect - it's too far to comfortably drive, yet short enough that flying feels like a waste - you spend almost as much time in the airport as you do on the plane.

Anyways. The idea has been kicking around for a while, and unfortunately, the state's finances are in poor enough shape that we may not be able to kick it off soon. Even the $10 billion in upcoming ballot referendums would only start the process. Still, I think we need to do what we can to allow the railway to be built in the future: secure rights of way, work out zoning issues, figure out how to placate the environmentalists. After construction starts, it will take more than a decade to finish. Well, unless we hire C. C. Myers again.

And when it's done? Expect to see less traffic on the 5, which can only be a good thing. I think this would be a big boost for tourism as well, much in the same way the J-Rail pass really opened up that country for me; visitors would no longer need to choose between Hollywood and the Golden Gate. The more people we get off the roads and onto mass transit, the better everyone will be.... well, except for Detroit.

I apologize for my crankiness. Hope everyone has a happy holiday!

Update 12/21: Whoa, I really should have read more before posting. Check out this Washington Post article on the story. Two other wrinkles in this: first, the EPA administrator ignored the UNANIMOUS recommendation of his technical and legal staff in issuing this denial. Second, he was specifically advised that if California sues, it will win. This is even deeper hackery than I had originally thought. Argh.

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