The Environmental Law & Policy Center (ELPC) is the Midwest’s leading public interest environmental legal advocacy and eco-business innovation organization. ELPC develops and leads strategic advocacy campaigns to improve environmental quality and protect our natural heritage. On issues such as smart transportation and clean energy development, as well as natural resources protection, ELPC advances community sustainability by advocating for both environmental progress and economic development.
ELPC is a recognized national leader on transportation issues, providing environmental policy support to the highest levels of government, informing the decision-making process and championing sustainability. ELPC has actively studied and promoted high-speed rail for more than a decade, believing that a third long-distance transportation option is needed to meet the challenges of the future in a safe, convenient, environmentally responsible way.
ELPC’s vision is to build a modern, fast, comfortable and convenient national passenger rail system. Linking the Midwest’s cities within a 400-500-mile radius through a regional high-speed rail network delivers travelers almost as fast as airplanes, at a fraction of the cost and pollution and in almost all weather. By serving downtown railroad stations, high-speed rail will enhance the economic vitality of our central cities. In addition to creating new jobs during construction and operation, high-speed rail pulls together the regional economy and promotes intra-regional business growth. Because higher-speed trains are three times as energy efficient as cars and six times as efficient as planes on a per-passenger-mile basis, they can reduce pollution and the need for new highways and airports that exacerbate sprawl.
In the last two years, high-speed rail has moved to center stage both nationally and regionally. President Obama has made high-speed rail his signature transportation initiative and has already backed his rhetoric with $12 billion. ELPC’s policy analysis and strategic coalition-building across state lines with civic leaders, departments of transportation, and governors’ offices throughout the Midwest has helped broker agreements to determine both short-term “shovel ready” priorities that create jobs fast, as well as important longer-term priorities. Reaching these agreements was critical to presenting a strong, unified proposal to federal leaders.
Additionally, ELPC works closely with the US Department of Transportation, Governors and Congressional members in several states on their high-speed rail initiatives. Those efforts paid off when over $3 billion in competitive federal grants were awarded to high-speed rail projects in the Midwest. When governors-elect John Kasich (R-OH) and Scott Walker (R-WI) proposed to divert $1.2 billion in these high-speed rail grants to highway projects, ELPC went into action, leading a coalition of business, civic, labor, and environmental leaders to oppose this threat. At press conferences, public hearings, and rallies, ELPC repeated the message that high-speed rail is good for jobs, good for the economy, and good for the environment; at a hearing in Madison, WI, more than 600 citizens showed up to support high-speed rail. ELPC kept the controversy a central news story for weeks in both Ohio and Wisconsin. Ultimately, the U.S. Department of Transportation re-allocated the funds to other states pursing high-speed rail. The day after that announcement, Talgo, a high-speed train manufacturer, announced its plans to close its Milwaukee plant and move to a more rail-friendly state like Illinois.
As ELPC’s Executive Director Howard Learner has said in interviews, there is broad, bipartisan support for high-speed rail in the Midwest and throughout the U.S. Previous Republican Governors in Wisconsin and Ohio (Thompson and Taft) supported high-speed rail plans for their states, and Republican and Democratic governors and legislators in many states support it now, recognizing benefits for jobs, transportation, the economy and the environment. ELPC is continuing to work with leaders in the six participating Midwestern states as they spend the $1.8 billion still available for high-speed rail projects in Illinois, Iowa, Indiana, and Michigan and as they prepare for the next round of federal funding. The organization also plays an active role in securing a long-term federal commitment to high-speed rail. If anything, this setback has demonstrated the importance of ELPC’s work to continue to build civic support for these critical investments.