NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Environmental Objections in Path of Bullet Train

June 21, 2012

The California bullet train is promoted as an important environmental investment for the future, but over the next decade the heavy construction project would potentially harm air quality, aquatic life and endangered species across the Central Valley. Consequently, rail advocates find themselves at odds with the local environmental lobby and a number of local and federal regulators, says the Los Angeles Times.

Air quality issues already plague the region and thus make air quality a crucial problem.

  • Air quality is regulated across eight counties by the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District.
  • The district worries that the construction project would exacerbate already problematic levels of nitrogen oxides, particulates and volatile compounds.
  • The district already bears an annual $29 million federal fine for violating the Clean Air Act.
  • In the Fresno Unified School District, 10,045 students (one out of every seven) have been diagnosed with asthma, according to data provided by the school district, and many experts believe poor air quality acts as a trigger.
  • Hospitalizations, lost workdays and premature deaths, among other effects, cost $5.7 billion annually, a 2008 Cal State Fullerton study found.
  • For these reasons, those concerned with the area's air quality are especially anxious about diesel burning construction equipment that will produce further emissions.

The second issue pits supporters of the $68 billion bullet train (the largest infrastructure project in the nation) against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

  • So far, the service has identified six animals and five plant species listed as endangered or threatened that would be affected by the Merced-to-Fresno section of the rail project.
  • It has yet to determine whether the project would harm those species or could jeopardize their survival or have effects that could be mitigated.
  • The Sierra Club has taken particularly interest in this issue, noting that a great deal of money has been invested in keeping these species alive.

Finally, the rail's interaction with large bodies of water warrants intervention from the Army Corps of Engineers.  The train will cross up to 100 bodies of water, and its impact on each waterway must be assessed and approved.  This could also result in additional fees for "compensatory mitigation."

Source: Ralph Vartabedian, "Environmental Objections in Path of Bullet Train," Los Angeles Times, June 11, 2012.

For text:,0,7566489.story


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