Final decision on Tesoro’s Washington railport pushed to 2016
By Kristen Hays, June 26, 2015
HOUSTON – The latest delay in a detailed government review of Tesoro Corp’s proposed $210 million railport project in Washington state means a final decision will not happen until 2016, according to a state council’s published schedule.
The 360,000 barrels-per-day project would be the biggest in the United States, moving domestic and Canadian crude via rail to Washington’s Port of Vancouver, where it would be loaded onto vessels to supply West Coast refineries – mainly in California.
The company had hoped to start it up by late 2014, and then pushed it to this year as the project undergoes a lengthy state review.
Several other oil-by-rail projects, largely in California, are stalled amid opposition after multiple crude train crashes and derailments since mid-2013.
Tesoro said the company was disappointed in “yet another delay” and remains committed to the project.
Chief Executive Greg Goff told analysts last month that the delay to 2016 was likely as the project undergoes what he called a “painfully slow” review process.
The projected cost also has more than doubled to $210 million from its original $100 million as Tesoro upgraded the design, including seismic dock improvements.
Washington’s Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council (EFSEC)’s schedule, made public this week, says a draft environmental impact statement will be published in late November. The council had previously expected to release the draft report in late July.
State law then requires a month-long public comment period which can be lengthened.
EFSEC then will submit the final report to Gov. Jay Inslee, who has final say on whether it will be built. The new schedule, and the public comment session, pushes that submission to early 2016. Inslee will have up to two months to decide once he receives the report.
Most Washington refineries, including Tesoro’s 120,000 bpd plant in Anacortes, receive oil by rail. No major pipelines move oil west across the Rocky Mountains or the Cascades, so West Coast refineries turn to rail to tap North American crudes that cost less than imports.
(Reporting by Kristen Hays; Editing by Christian Plumb)
Repost from the Contra Costa Times [Editor: It takes the Air District over 3 years to “settle” with Valero for polluting our air? In the past City officials have asked that these kinds of fines be redirected to the communities where the violations occur. My understanding is that BAAQMD Executive Officer Jack Broadbent indicated he would consider it, but never took any action. Seems the Air District wants to continue to use the fines for their own operations: “The penalty money will be used to fund air district inspections and enforcement actions.” – RS]
Valero refinery in Benicia to pay $122,500 in air pollution penalties
By Denis Cuff, 06/25/2015 12:49:50 PM PDT
BENICIA — The Valero oil refinery has agreed to pay $122,500 in civil penalties for air pollution violations during 2011, clean air regulators announced Thursday.
The settlement between Valero and the Bay Area Air Quality Management District covers 25 notices of violations, including one over odors at the refinery wastewater treatment plant.
Another 14 violations concerned excessive pollution detected by monitors at the Benicia plant, officials said.
“Violations of air quality regulations, no mater how minor, must be addressed and refineries held accountable,” Jack Broadbent, the air pollution district chief, said.
The penalty money will be used to fund air district inspections and enforcement actions.
The air district regulates stationary air pollution sources in the nine Bay Area counties.
Railroads use new oil shipment rule to fight transparency
By Curtis Tate, McClatchy Washington Bureau, 6/25/15
WASHINGTON — Railroads may have found a new weapon in their fight to keep information about oil train shipments from the public: a federal rule that was supposed to increase transparency.
The U.S. Department of Transportation insists that its May 1 final rule on oil trains, which mostly addresses an outdated tank car design, does not support the railroads’ position, nor was it intended to leave anyone in the dark.
But in recent court filings in Maryland, two major oil haulers have cited the department’s new rule to justify their argument that no one except emergency responders should know what routes the trains use or how many travel through each state during a given week.
Those details have been publicly available in most states for a year, though some sided with the railroads and refused to release them. The periodic reports have helped state and local officials with risk assessments, emergency planning and firefighter training.
The department’s rule was expected to expand the existing disclosure requirements. In its 395-page rule, the department acknowledged an overwhelming volume of public comments supporting more transparency. But ultimately, it offered the opposite.
The final rule ends the existing disclosure requirements next March. Railroads no longer would be required to provide information to the states, leaving emergency responders to request details about oil train shipments on their own, and the public would be shut out entirely.
The switch floored those who submitted comments in favor of increased transparency.
“The justification was not consistent with the comments given,” said Denise Rucker Krepp, a former senior counsel for the House Homeland Security Committee and chief counsel for the U.S. Maritime administration. “They’re supposed to be the same.”
Facing push-back from Capitol Hill, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx assured lawmakers in a May 28 letter that “we fully support the public disclosure of this information to the extent allowed by applicable state, local and tribal laws.”
Foxx added that the department was not attempting to undermine transparency.
“That was certainly not the intent of the rule,” he wrote eight Senate Democrats.
But Foxx’s assurances differ sharply from the assertions of Norfolk Southern and CSX in court documents filed last month in Maryland. The documents are related to a case last summer when the railroads sued the state to block the release of oil train reports to McClatchy.
The final rule provides “clear and unequivocal guidance” that information about oil train routes and volumes are security- and commercially-sensitive, attorneys for the railroads wrote on May 5 to Judge Lawrence Fletcher-Hill of the Circuit Court for Baltimore City.
That classification would trigger an exemption from the state’s Public Information Act.
A trial is scheduled for August, though Fletcher-Hill could decide before then whether to dismiss the case in favor of the railroads or the state.
Both companies declined to comment on the case.
Last May, the Transportation Department issued an emergency order requiring railroads to notify states of large shipments of Bakken crude oil after a series of fiery derailments involving the light crude from shale formations in North Dakota. The worst of those derailments killed 47 people in Quebec in July 2013.
Railroads have insisted that the oil train details are sensitive from a security and business perspective and should be exempt from state open records laws. They attempted to shield the data from public view last year by asking states to sign nondisclosure agreements.
Some states initially agreed, but most declined. McClatchy sought oil train reports from 30 states through open records laws. All but half a dozen states released at least part of what McClatchy requested.
“DOT finds no basis to conclude that the public disclosure of the information is detrimental to transportation safety,” the Federal Railroad Administration wrote, adding that the trade associations “do not document any actual harm that has occurred by the public release of the information.”
But when the department unveiled its final rule in May, the requirements more closely aligned with what the railroads sought.
“Under this approach,” the regulation states, “the transportation of crude oil by rail can . . . avoid the negative security and business implications of widespread public disclosure of routing and volume data.”
The Maryland Attorney General’s Office has cited the department’s October Federal Register notice to support its position that the state can release the oil train information.
But the final rule is the last word, attorneys for the railroads say. They wrote Fletcher-Hill on May 29 that the state “relies on non-final comments published by the Federal Railroad Administration” and “fails to acknowledge the highly persuasive guidance articulated in the final rule.”
Unlike other arguments put forth by the railroads and their trade groups that have swayed few state or federal officials – including speculative claims of terrorism, competitive harm and even insider trading – the final rule may prove more persuasive to a judge.
The eight Senate Democrats wrote to Foxx on May 6, the same day another oil train derailed and caught fire in North Dakota. It was the fifth such incident in North America this year. They asked the department to reconsider the rule.
“The onus for obtaining detailed crude-by-rail information should not be on the local jurisdiction,” they wrote, and they called on the department “to clarify that broader crude-by-rail information will remain accessible to the public.”
Apparently backing away from the final rule’s expiration date for the emergency order, Foxx replied that it would remain “in full force and effect until further notice” and that the department would be looking for ways to codify the disclosure requirement.
But Krepp said that’s exactly what everyone was expecting in the rule.
“If they wanted that,” she said, “they would have put that in the rule-making.”
Krepp said the department made its intentions clear in the final rule.
“They have the final rule now,” she said. “They have to live with it.”
Dutch court orders government to do more to fight climate change
Éanna Kelly, Science|Business, June 25, 2015
Verdict in world’s first climate liability case says current targets are “unlawful” and the Dutch State must reduce emissions by 25% within five years
In a landmark decision, a court in the Netherlands has ordered the Dutch government to up its fight against climate change, after judges ruled that plans to cut emissions by just 14-17 per cent compared to 1990 levels by 2020 were unlawful, given the threat posed by climate change.
The district court in The Hague said that by 2020, the Netherlands must cut CO2 emissions by 25 per cent from 1990 levels, in what was the first climate liability suit brought under human rights and tort law.
The verdict said, “The state should not hide behind the argument that the solution to the global climate problem does not depend solely on Dutch efforts … Any reduction of emissions contributes to the prevention of dangerous climate change and as a developed country the Netherlands should take the lead in this.”
The case was brought in 2102 by Urgenda (from ‘urgent’ and ‘agenda’), a class-action group of 886 concerned citizens, accusing the government of not doing enough to meet international obligations to tackle greenhouse gas emissions.
“All the plaintiffs are overjoyed by the result. This makes it crystal clear that climate change is a huge problem that needs to be dealt with much more effectively, and that states can no longer afford inaction,” said Marjan Minnesma, one of the plaintiffs.
The Dutch are lagging in terms of greening the economy. In 2012, the share of renewable energy in the Netherlands was 4.5 percent according to Eurostat, well below the EU average of 14.1 percent. Only Malta, Luxembourg and the UK have lower shares.
The inspiration behind the case was Roger Cox, a Dutch lawyer and advocate who wrote a book called ‘Revolution Justified’, in which he argued that the legal community should become much more active in the fight against climate change, given the seeming inaction of politicians.
The government has the option to appeal, although it has not said yet whether it would.
An almost identical challenge is being pursued in Belgian courts, where campaigners hope there will be ripples from the Dutch verdict.
Dutch government loses world’s first climate liability lawsuit
By Catherine Brahic and Rowan Hooper, June 24, 2015 11:38
The Dutch government has lost a landmark legal case over its greenhouse gas emissions plans.
The environmental group Urgenda brought a class action suit over climate change on behalf of some 900 citizens, including children. The suit claimed that the government’s action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is insufficient, and is therefore “knowingly exposing its own citizens to dangerous situations”.
Urgenda asked that the court in the Hague “declare that global warming of more than 2 °C will lead to a violation of fundamental human rights worldwide”. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, governments must cut emissions to between 25 and 40 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020 to have a 50 per cent chance of avoiding 2 °C. Yet European Union states have signed up for 40 per cent cuts by 2030.
Three judges agreed with the class action suit, ruling that government plans to cut emissions by 14-17 per cent compared to 1990 levels by 2020 were illegal. The ruling said: “The state should not hide behind the argument that the solution to the global climate problem does not depend solely on Dutch efforts.”
Marjan Minnesma, who initiated the case in 2013, made a statement through Urgenda. “All the plaintiffs are overjoyed by the result,” she said. “This makes it crystal clear that climate change is a huge problem that needs to be dealt with much more effectively, and that states can no longer afford inaction.”
Ahead of the ruling, James Arrandale of London-based environmental law firm Client Earth said it would be groundbreaking for Urgenda to win. It would lead to similar suits in other countries, he said. A Belgian group is already on the case.
A key point, said Arrandale, is to show that governments already have legal obligations to cut emissions, regardless of the outcome of the UN climate talks. To that end, a group of international legal experts published the Oslo Principles on 30 March, which set out existing legal obligations on governments to safeguard the climate.