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moulton, ocasio-cortez and gillibrand rally for high-speed rail money

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) speaks during an event outside Union Station on June 16, 2021 in Washington, D.C. Ocasio-Cortez, joined by Rep. Seth Moulton (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), called for increased federal funding for high-speed rail in the infrastructure package being discussed on Capitol Hill. (Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Progressives Push for High-Speed Rail Funding in Infrastructure Deal

"This is part of our overall goal to create millions of union jobs in the United States of America building climate infrastructure to bring down our carbon emissions, save our future, and improve our quality of life."

Jessica Corbett

Clean transportation supporters in Congress joined with environmental and labor advocates for a Wednesday rally to demand funding for high-speed rail, a call that was echoed in a new letter from five Democratic lawmakers amid ongoing infrastructure talks.

"High-speed rail connects communities. It brings people together. It's the way of the future."
—Rep. Seth Moulton

The letter is spearheaded by Reps. Seth Moulton (D-Mass.), Jim Costa (D-Calif.), and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) as well as Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Ed Markey (D-Mass)—some of whom spoke at the morning rally.

"For too long," Moulton said at the podium, "our highways have divided our cities. They have gone directly through neighborhoods—usually neighborhoods of color. High-speed rail connects communities. It brings people together. It's the way of the future."

As Ocasio-Cortez put it: "This is part of our overall goal to create millions of union jobs in the United States of America building climate infrastructure to bring down our carbon emissions, save our future, and improve our quality of life."

The Democrats behind the letter are also among those who have expressed frustration with GOP attempts to water down President Joe Biden's two-part infrastructure proposal—the American Jobs Plan and American Families Plan—that some progressive critics argue is already inadequate.

The letter, addressed to the party leaders in each chamber as well as key committee chairs and ranking members, says that "with the new administration, we have a generational opportunity to invest in our nation's infrastructure, and we are grateful for your leadership in ensuring we invest in next generation infrastructure, not just the infrastructure of the past."

"As negotiations continue to develop around a comprehensive infrastructure package, we write to express our support for the inclusion of dedicated funding to develop international-standard high-speed rail with high-performance connections that feed into a larger network," it adds. "A federal commitment to these modern and proven transportation systems will dramatically improve our environment, reduce inequity, and help grow cities and sustain vibrant downtowns across the nation."

"Reducing emissions from the transportation sector is critical to meeting our nation's climate goals and cutting our carbon footprint," notes the letter, echoing scientific findings. "A robust network of high-speed rail corridors with high-performance connections is the best option to dramatically reduce carbon emissions while improving intercity travel."

"As we rebuild coming out of the pandemic," it continues, "investing in a high-speed rail network with high-performance rail connections will create direct, good-paying, and secure jobs immediately, while enabling long-term economic growth across whole megaregions and providing vital access to opportunity for smaller communities."

The letter's authors are also leaders of major climate proposals recently put forth in Congress: Ocasio-Cortez and Markey reintroduced the Green New Deal Resolution in April; Markey and Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.) unveiled the $10 trillion THRIVE Act that same month; and Moulton proposed a national high-speed rail plan in May.

Moutlon's "ambitious—and expensive—plan," detailed in a WIRED report and a white paper (pdf) on his website, calls for investing $205 billion over five years into building a national high-speed rail network.

According to WIRED:

That money could, in turn, encourage another $243 billion in matching state, local, and private investments, Moulton says. The bill would create a unified, national vision of a rail network that could guide future investments and would iron out regulations to speed construction. It would encourage private companies to operate the new rail networks, instead of, say, Amtrak, which is projecting a $700 million loss this year. It cites firms like Virgin Trains USA, which runs and hopes to extend a rail line in Florida, and Texas Central Railway, Moulton’s former employer, which is working to build one in the Lone Star State, as models.

The rally and letter initiative followed a Tuesday announcement that the developers behind the proposed high-speed rail project between Dallas and Houston signed a $16 billion contract with a construction and engineering company to build the 200-miles-per-hour train system.

Wednesday's developments also came a day after Markey joined with Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) for an event under the "no climate, no deal" catchphrase that progressive lawmakers and advocacy groups are using in public discussions and demands about the developing infrastructure deal.

Kate Aronoff reported Tuesday for The New Republic that "progressive offices and nonprofits are now in the process of trying to align their priorities, which may include $1 trillion of funding for public renewables and $500 billion for clean transportation."

Sunrise Movement legislative director Lauren Maunus told Aronoff that "we understand the political constraints and reality in this moment, and we need to work within them while continuing to shift the conditions for more ambitious climate action in years to come."

"We need to make sure that Biden does not walk back his campaign commitments and the American Jobs Plan," said Maunus, whose youth-led group has endorsed bold climate proposals like the Green New Deal and THRIVE Act. "That's already a compromise, and we can't afford anything less than that."

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