Looming U.S. Battle on Fast Trains

In the U.S. budget proposal for the next fiscal year unveiled this week, the Obama administration is seeking $53 billion to promote development of fast train lines like those in Europe and Japan.

"At least two projects—a proposed Tampa-to-Orlando route in Florida and a planned San Francisco-to-Los Angeles route—would allow trains to reach upward of 200 miles per hour, rivaling trains in Europe and Asia," as The Wall Street Journal noted in a report.

Besides generating jobs and pushing the United States to catch up with rivals in a key area of infrastructural technology, greater use of trains has the potential to reduce gasoline consumption, boost energy independence, and cut carbon emissions--all fundamental administration goals.

Republicans in the House of Representatives, where U.S. spending bills have to originate under the Constitution, have made the trains spending proposal a tactical point of attack in efforts to rein in Federal spending, cut the deficit, and strike an alternative strategic approach to promoting economic growth.

As such, the looming battle over train funding is just the opening wedge in what will be a comprehensive attack on the administration's approach to energy and climate policy.

At the level of state government, where Republicans enormously strengthened their position in the November midterm elections, efforts are being made widely to roll back renewable energy portfolio requirements--mandates enacted by more than half the states in the country to have a certain fraction of electricity generated from renewable sources by certain dates.

Perhaps the most important fight will be over the Environmental Protection Agency's plans to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, as the Supreme Court authorized--indeed virtually required--several years ago. In somewhat startling testimony that EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson delivered to a congressional committee, she said that the agency's intentions are consistent with plans already initiated and formulated by former President George W. Bush's environmental chief.

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