Bullet Train
President Barack Obama recently announced plans to build a high-speed rail system across the United States, with the goal of reducing Americans' dependence on cars and planes to travel about the country. The plan calls for an initial outlay of $8 billion to develop the system and an additional $1 billion per year for five years to bring it to completion. Detailed guidance for state and local governments is being developed, and the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) will begin awarding grants by late summer, Obama said.


The strategic plan, "Vision for High-Speed Rail in America," calls for two types of projects. The first would build new transportation corridors—like those found in Europe and Japan—for high-speed rail; the other would make train service along existing rail lines slightly faster. High-speed rail "promotes economic expansion (including new manufacturing jobs], creates new choices for travelers in addition to flying or driving, reduces national dependence on oil, and fosters urban and rural livable communities," the FRA said in a statement. (A map of the proposed high-speed rail routes, shown at the bottom of this page, can be downloaded as a PDF here.)

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood sat for a series of video interviews with The Washington Post in which he discussed the agency's role in the economic stimulus, noting that over 18 months, Department of Transportation projects alone will create 150,000 jobs. LaHood also spoke about the high-speed rail plan, pointing out that spending $13 billion on a new rail system was a massive commitment. "That's more money that we've ever had in the department, that's more money than has ever been spent in the history of people working on high-speed rail," LaHood said.

Not everyone is thrilled with the plan, however, and some are wondering how long it will take to build and whether it can be run without losing money.

EPA Gets Busy
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has issued a finding that carbon dioxide and five other greenhouse gases contribute to air pollution and may well endanger public health and welfare. The EPA report is based on a study of carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons, and sulfur hexafluoride."The science clearly shows that concentrations of these gases are at unprecedented levels as a result of human emissions, and these high levels are very likely the cause of the increase in average temperatures and other changes in our climate," the EPA said in a statement announcing its findings.The report, a "proposed endangerment finding," must go though a public comment period before the EPA will issue a final report. No proposed regulations or other changes are yet on the table, though President Obama has vocalized his support for a clean energy economy and the major legislative overhaul it would entail. (The Huffington Post offers some insight into the findings and their ramifications.)

Last week, the EPA proposed cutting mercury emissions—which the EPA says is the fourth largest source of mercury air emissions in the U.S.—from Portland cement plants. The proposed regulations would also set new emission limits for total hydrocarbons, particulate matter, and sulfur dioxide from cement kilns of all sizes."We can save more than a thousand lives each year, sharply reduce mercury and other toxins in our air and water, and work with industry to encourage innovations and good ideas that are already out there," said EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson in a statement announcing the proposed regulations.