Construction of the high-speed train connecting Las Vegas with Los Angeles could begin “in the next 12 months,” said Phillip Washington, head of the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, at a recent hearing in Congress told MP Dina Titus (D-NV ) Week.
This timeframe opens up the possibility of a delay beyond Brightline’s January forecast that the project will begin in the second quarter of this year. Brightline is the Florida-based company developing the project.
The hearing on the rail took place last week when little else happened in the capital of the country without roll-call votes in the House of Representatives or in the Senate. But the house has held hearings from afar.
Titus attended six hearings last week, including one for the Homeland Security Committee’s Oversight, Management and Accountability Subcommittee on Factors Forcing People to Migrate to the US from Central America.
Other delegation members were also out, including Rep. Steven Horsford (D-NV), who spoke with the Vegas Chamber on Monday about a new program to help restaurants.
Titus, Rep. Susie Lee (D-NV), Senator Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) and Senator Jacky Rosen (D-NV) joined First Lady Jill Biden who visited Las Vegas for an event last week. Biden also presented flowers to National Teacher of the Year 2021 Juliana Urtubey of Las Vegas.
The high-speed rail hearing was convened on Thursday by the Subcommittee on Railways, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, of which Titus is a member.
Michael Reininger, Brightline’s chief executive officer, appeared before the subcommittee but was not asked for a specific timeframe for construction to begin.
Reininger noted that Brightline is “in the middle of negotiating construction contracts to begin work” on the Las Vegas to Los Angeles project.
“And in the course of these negotiations, our preferred contractor is also in the middle of discussions with workers about a project work agreement that would come into effect,” continued Reininger. “We understand from both sides that these discussions are going very, very well. We very much support these discussions and strive to achieve an amicable result. “
Titus was a supporter of the Brightline West project and asked Reininger what the committee could do to help. Reininger called for the cap on Private Activity Bonds (PABs), a type of municipal debt used to develop private sector projects, to be raised to $ 30 billion. Congress limits their use to $ 15 billion domestically, which makes it competitive to get PAB funding.
He also called for a change in the rules governing certain rail finance programs to make it easier for private rail projects to participate. He cited the Railroad Rehabilitation & Improvement Financing (RRIF) loan program. The RRIF loan program marks high-speed rail projects as start-ups with no credit history and requires high premiums, eliminating the benefits of a low-interest loan.
These provisions could end in the proposed $ 2 trillion infrastructure package known as the American Jobs Plan. A group of Republicans and Senate Democrats are working on a compromise move after the GOP recently tabled a $ 600 billion counteroffer.
Titus said she envisions the project of turning Las Vegas into an affordable suburb for the expensive metropolitan area of Los Angeles.
“I see it not just as a tourist train, but also a business train, and even some people can commute, live here for tax purposes, and commute to work anywhere in California,” said Titus.
Washington agreed that it would open affordable housing options for Californians that don’t currently exist.
“If you can get from Vegas to Los Angeles in two and a half hours or something, that’s incredible,” Washington said. “You can go to Las Vegas to work, or you can go to Los Angeles to work and still have affordable housing. I think it is a project of regional and national importance just because of the economic benefit to people who would otherwise not have it, ie people with low incomes. “
The planned passenger number for the railroad is 10.8 million people per year, added Washington.
The consultation on migration factors is taking place as there is an increase in migrants on the southern border. April border crossings are expected to be around 170,000, similar to March, and close to a 20-year high.
At the hearing, Titus discussed the cascade of negative impacts that would result in more people illegally migrating to the US if the Temporary Protection Status (TPS) and Delayed Child Arrival (DACA) programs were ended. TPS enables people from countries plagued by war or disaster to stay in the United States. DACA protects immigrants who were illegally brought to the United States as children from deportation and enables them to work.
“I have a number of people from this area in my district, many of whom are TPS holders, particularly from El Salvador and Honduras,” said Titus.
Dan Restrepo, a senior official with the Liberal Center for American Progress, said sending it home would end remittances, a scenario where immigrants in the US are sending money back to their home country. Some countries rely on remittances to prop up their economies. Remittances to El Salvador, for example, hit a record high of $ 5.92 billion last year, accounting for 23 percent of El Salvador’s gross domestic product and benefiting around 360,000 households.
Sending TPS and DACA holders back to their home countries would also crowd out low-skilled workers who would be under migratory pressure.
Restrepo called it a “lose, lose, lose” scenario.
“They cut a flow of money that allowed people to stay in place. They would displace a section of the population at risk of migration, ”said Restrepo. “And … we would lose here in the United States with the people who are already members of our community.”
Titus also noted that the food insecurity caused by climate change was also a major factor in pushing people to migrate.
“We have certainly seen how it exacerbates the problems of poverty in this northern triangle,” said Titus. “I think the statistics from the United Nations World Food Program showed that food insecurity only rose from 1.6 to almost 3.3 million people in 2020.”
To address the problem, Council on Foreign Relations’ Shannon O’Neil said the US could provide short term food and help farmers respond to climatic conditions by changing crops in neighboring countries and improving the markets for these products.
MEP Susie Lee (D-NV), a member of the House Appropriations Committee’s Energy and Water Subcommittee, attended a hearing on the DOE budget.
The hearing has historically been a platform for disputes over the funding of Yucca Mountain, the designated site for a national nuclear storage facility. But this year, when President Joe Biden was against the project, Lee was the only one who brought up the issue directly.
“Yucca Mountain has been a failure in both politics and science for decades. Millions of dollars have been wasted and there is nothing to show. So I’m very encouraged that this government is committed to developing an alternative,” Lee said.
Lee asked Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm how the department would implement a consent-based site policy for the construction of a temporary nuclear waste repository.
“The department is actively developing a strategic approach to advance this consent-based cited federal repository that we are authorized to do,” said Granholm.
She said the DOE could make a request for information or set up a funding mechanism for interested communities, organizations, or tribal governments to examine the idea of negotiating a repository within their boundaries.
“The department hopes to announce the next steps with this process in the coming months,” said Granholm.
Lee also said she is starting a nuclear waste caucus with Rep. Chuck Fleischmann (R-TN), whose Oak Ridge district is the headquarters of the Manhattan Project.
Rep. Steven Horsford (D-NV) last week highlighted the launch of the $ 28.6 billion restaurant revitalization fund created by the American bailout plan passed in March.
The program allows restaurants and other eligible hospitality businesses, including caterers, bars, bakeries, brewpubs, wineries and inns, that have been forced to slow the spread of the coronavirus to apply for funding from the program.
Horsford praised the program in his address to the Vegas Chamber.
“Basically they are taking your 2019 earnings and 2020 earnings, obviously a lot of restaurants have had to close due to the COVID restrictions placed on them,” Horsford said. “This fund enables people to apply. I believe it is up to $ 10 million to help them overcome some of the loss incurred. It covers the cost of rent, payroll, operating costs including facilities, and possibly some of the improvements that had to be made during the COVID containment. “
For a full breakdown of the actions delegates supported or disapproved of this week, please see The Nevada Independent’s Congressional Voting Minutes and other information below.
REP. SUSIE LEE
HR 2986 – To prevent speculative leasing of oil and gas and to promote improved management of multiple uses of public land and land of the National Forest System and for other purposes.
HR 2999 – Granting of grants for the recruitment, retention and development of direct caregivers.