SACRAMENTO BEE – critical review of Benicia Valero RDEIR

Repost from the Sacramento Bee

Sacramento oil spills would be risky but rare, new report says

By Tony Bizjak, August 31, 2015

HIGHLIGHTS
• Valero Refining Co. wants to send two 50-car oil trains daily through central Sacramento
• A report says project presents risks to humans and the environment, but says spills are rare
• Sacramento and NorCal leaders have called for more safety steps to reduce the spill and fire risks

A train travels near the Feather River Canyon in the foothills into the Sacramento Valley.
A train travels near the Feather River Canyon in the foothills into the Sacramento Valley. Jake Miille Special to The Bee/Jake Miille

Benicia city officials have concluded a proposal to transport large amounts of crude oil daily on trains through Sacramento and Northern California would create a “potentially significant” hazard to the public, but say a spill is probably only a once every few decades occurrence.

In a revised environmental impact report issued Monday, officials in the Bay Area city contend spill risks are unavoidable and there is nothing that the city or the Valero Refining Co. can do to mitigate them, given that the federal government controls how rail shipments are handled. The report makes a point of saying that federal and state governments have taken recent steps to make crude oil rail transports safer.

Valero, which operates a major oil refinery in Benicia, is asking for city approval to ship two 50-car crude oil trains daily from north American fields through California to the Bay Area, replacing marine oil shipments.

Oil train shipments have come under the spotlight nationally after a handful of crashes that caused spectacular explosions and fires. One crash two years ago resulted in the deaths of 47 people in a Canadian town; others have forced evacuations and spilled oil into waterways.

Benicia officials conducted the latest analysis after critics, including Sacramento regional leaders, complained earlier risk assessments were inadequate. They have called on Benicia and Valero to take more safety steps.

Cities on the rail line include Roseville, Sacramento, West Sacramento, Davis, Dixon, Vacaville, Fairfield and Suisun City. The oil train route through rural Northern California remains uncertain. Trains could enter the state from Oregon and pass through the Dunsmuir area, or through the Feather River Canyon, or via Donner Summit.

Benicia’s initial environmental report, published last year, had said spill damage hazards are “less than significant.” The new report is based on a deeper analysis of an expanded geographic area.

The Benicia report cites federal data showing that less than 1 percent of train accidents cause releases of hazardous materials. But it also notes that trains to Benicia would have to travel through mountainous areas that have higher derailment rates. It projects that an oil spill of more than 100 gallons – described in the report as a small spill – might be expected to happen once every 20 to 27 years. A larger spill of 30,000 gallons is listed as a once-every-38-to-80-years event, but could cause injuries and deaths.

The release of the new report sets in place a 45-day public comment period. Benicia officials said they will respond to those comments, then set a Planning Commission review and vote on the project. The date for that hearing has not been set.

Valero officials, who have complained that Benicia’s vetting process has gone on too long, said in a brief email statement Monday that they are looking forward to participating in the Planning Commission discussion of their project. Officials with the Sacramento Area Council of Governments, the regional entity that has been monitoring the project, could not be reached for comment Monday.

A copy of the report can be found under “Revised Draft EIR” on the city of Benicia’s website.

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    VALLEJO TIMES-HERALD: City releases revised report on Valero’s Crude-By-Rail project

    Repost from the Vallejo Times-Herald

    City releases revised report on Valero’s Crude-By-Rail project

    By Irma Widjojo, 08/31/15, 6:50 PM PDT

    Benicia >> The revised draft environmental impact report for the proposed Valero’s Crude-By-Rail project was released Monday.

    The new version of the draft includes “potential impacts that could occur uprail of Roseville, California (i.e., between a crude oil train’s point of origin and the California State border, and from the border to Roseville) and to supplement the (draft environmental impact report) DEIR’s evaluation of the potential consequences of upsets or accidents involving crude oil trains based on new information that has become available since the DEIR was published,” according to a City of Benicia press release.

    The draft of the report was first released June 17, 2014. However, due to a number of public comments and concerns, the city decided to revise portions of the report and recirculate them back to the public.

    The updated parts are subject to another round of a 45-day public comment period.

    The Planning Commission will hold a formal public hearing to receive comments on the RDEIR (revised draft environmental impact report) on Sept. 29.

    In anticipation of the number of speakers, additional Planning Commission meetings to receive comments on the RDEIR are scheduled for Sept. 30, Oct. 1, and Oct. 8. These additional meetings will only be held as necessary to hear public comment. All meetings will begin at 6:30 p.m. in the City Council Chambers, Benicia City Hall, at 250 East L St.

    No action on the projects will be taken at these meetings, staff said.

    Comments on the RDEIR may be provided at the public hearing, or may be submitted in writing, no later than 5:00 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 15.

    Written comments should be submitted to amillion@ci.benicia.ca.us or Principal Planner Amy Million at the Community Development Department.

    If the project is approved, Valero Benicia Refinery will be allowed to transport crude oil through Benicia via two 50-tanker car trains, rather than shipping the crude oil by boat. It will not replace the crude that is transported by pipeline.

    According to reports, the project has a potential “to result in significant impacts to the environment in the following subject areas: Air quality and greenhouse gases, traffic and transportation, hazards and hazardous materials, biological resources, energy conservation, geology and soils, hydrology and water quality, cultural resources, land use and planning, and noise.”

    An environmental analysis also indicated that there would be “a significant and unavoidable impact associated with air quality and greenhouse gas emissions, hazards and hazardous materials, and biological resources.”

    Valero Benicia Refinery applied for a permit to extend Union Pacific Railroad lines for the crude transportation in early 2013, and has since garnered public concerns about rail safety and environmental impact.

    Valero officials have contended that the railroad addition would make the refinery more competitive by allowing it to process more discounted North American crude oil.

    For further information about the RDEIR and the public hearing contact Million at 707-746-4280.

    The report can be reviewed at the Benicia Public Library, 150 East L St.; the Community Development Department, 250 East L St.; or online at bit.ly/1lBeeTt.

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      Valero Benicia Crude by Rail: RDEIR now available, links here

      Project Documents: Valero Crude by Rail

      By Roger Straw, Benicia Independent Editor, 8/31/15
      UPDATED September 4, 2015

      Here you can download documents from the City of Benicia’s website.  They are the official documents submitted by Valero and/or prepared by City consultants, including the Report itself, eight appendices and ninety (!) reference documents.  (Documents submitted by citizens and others commenting on the proposal may be found on our Project Review page.)  Caution: many of these are huge downloads.

      The Recirculated Draft EIR – released August 31, 2015
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        Benicia: Not exactly a smart, green city

        Repost from the Benicia Herald

        Grant Cooke: Benicia: Not exactly a smart, green city

        By Grant Cooke, August 28, 2015
        P1010301
        Grant Cooke is a long-time Benicia resident and owner of Sustainable Energy Associates. He is also co-author of “The Green Industrial Revolution: Energy, Engineering and Economics.” His new book, “Smart Green Cities” will be published in 2016.

        THOMAS HOBBES, THE GREAT 16TH-CENTURY British political philosopher, wrote in “Leviathan” that humans living without legitimate government would eventually dissolve into a “state of nature.” This state of nature was brutish with violent chaos, evil discord and civil war. Legitimate government, Hobbes believed, had a “social contract” to wield power and authority.

        Hobbes’ vision that governmental power be used for the moral good evolved into our current view that government, particularly on the local level, has a responsibility and obligation to protect and maintain the safety of its citizens. Which brings us to present-day Benicia and the return of the Valero Crude-by-Rail Project as we anticipate the Recirculated Draft Environmental Impact Report (RDEIR).

        Under Hobbes’ social contract, it is the obligation of local government to maintain public safety. Anything that presents a known risk of explosion or other significant health risk is not something that city government should tolerate. To willingly allow a project that presents a public danger to move forward is ridiculous. And to argue that the Crude-by-Rail Project (CBR) is safe is equally ridiculous. A quick Internet search reveals numerous examples of trains carrying Bakken crude derailing or exploding.

        The fossil fuel industry has a clear record of putting profits above safety. We have ample local examples, from the Chevron fire in Richmond to the San Bruno natural gas explosion. With tens of thousands of oil cars carrying volatile crude into the Bay Area, one or more explosions is all but guaranteed to occur. We all know it’s just a role of the dice whether the explosion happens in Benicia or another town along the line.

        The conversation will probably build with the release Monday of the RDEIR. No doubt, the discussion will be as heated as ever. Regardless, let’s put some broad strokes on the situation, as there are several factors to consider:

        • Firstly, the CBR is an effort by Valero to increase its business and, therefore, its profits. Unfortunately, for that to happen the city must risk its residents’ health and well-being. This is not in your interest.
        • Valero, an oil company, benefits from the CBR; the city doesn’t. The idea that Valero, or any for-profit fossil fuel company, is a “Good Neighbor” to Benicia is silly and naïve.
        • Benicia’s future, and the city’s future tax base, can no longer be dependent on heavy-carbon industries. The current tax revenue from the refinery is not sustainable, or even desirable.
        • The decline in costs for renewable energy will create an energy price deflation that will make oil non-competitive. Ali Al-Naimi, Saudis Arabia’s oil minister, told a climate conference in Paris in June that the world’s largest crude exporter will eventually sell solar power instead of crude. He also renewed the kingdom’s commitment to current levels of production, putting more pressure on U.S. oil producers and refiners.
        • Besides the global switch to renewable energy, our local refineries will be under growing pressure from regional air quality regulators to clean up their emissions. And as the international effort to make large emitters pay for their carbon releases grows, carbon taxes or offsets will cut into refinery profits.
        • Within a decade or so, Valero and most Bay Area refineries will be shuttered. We need to begin discussions with Valero about what happens when they shut down. How will the refinery pay for the site cleanup and residual hazardous waste?
        • Even as the tax stream from Valero declines, Benicia, like most California cities, is also facing exponentially rising retiree benefit costs. The revenue decline cannot be made up with increased resident taxes (as the base gets older, it is harder to raise taxes) — so Benicia will be forced to cut services.
        • Also likely: Benicia’s municipal services and government will merge with Vallejo’s or go to a regional model. The era of small, local government is ending for numerous reasons. Small city governments can’t achieve the cost efficiencies or employee productivity needed to keep pace with rising costs and retiree benefit obligations. Large organizations can make better use of technology and smart systems to improve productivity and increase efficiency.
        • Small city governments don’t have the resources needed to deal with the future’s looming problems. Valero’s CBR clearly shows how ineffective small cities like Benicia are in dealing with problems that overlap. The same is true as small cities are forced to confront the future’s critical problems of mitigating climate change, wealth inequality (poverty, homelessness, gang violence and terrorism), and restraining agglomeration and urban sprawl. For example, Benicia city government’s ongoing struggles to convert to a new information technology package. Or the City Council’s inability to address even simple environmental issues like eliminating the use of plastic bags, promoting renewable energy or endorsing a pro-environmental or sustainability position. If a city government can’t agree that reducing the number of plastic bags clogging up our landfills is a good thing, how can it promote community respect for the environment — or more complicated values like decency, tolerance or a respect for others?

        * * *

        FOR MANY REASONS, BENICIA IS AT A CROSSROADS, and its future is worrisome. As a city, we need to come to grips with the reality that the fossil fuel/carbon era is ending, and we have to turn to a pro-environmental, knowledge-based and sustainable economy.

        For the past several months, I’ve been researching the world’s smart and green cities. Despite the heroic efforts of Benicia’s Community Sustainability Commission, I’m sad to say that my lovely hometown is neither.

        I was reminded of this the other evening at a friend’s house that overlooked our bay. The view was beautiful, with the silvery-gray straits glowing in the declining sunlight. But when I looked closer, I saw trash along the waterline, and the water showed traces of oil and pollution in the shallows.

        It was so much different than Copenhagen’s harbor. Did you know that the citizens of Copenhagen had the wherewithal a few years ago to clean centuries of pollution and trash out of their harbor? And that every summer, four major swimming areas along that city’s waterfront attract thousands of Danes and other Europeans to bask in the northern sun and swim in the harbor’s clean waters?

        Can you imagine going for a swim in Benicia’s harbor?

        Copenhagen’s clean harbor points to the sharp contrast in attitudes about the environment held by Europeans and Americans. After decades of neglect, Europe has come around and now takes pride in cleaning up its environment. Most European nations, reflecting the will of their citizens, are mindful of waste and diligently work to reduce carbon emissions. Hamburg, for example, is deeply worried that global warming will raise sea levels and create havoc with their harbor and lowlands. The city has carved out several green zones, added trees to absorb carbon and reduced auto traffic. In Scotland, over 40 percent of the country’s domestic energy use is supplied by renewable energy. Germany is striving for 100-percent renewable energy by mid-century.

        But Benicia — a city that sits on the water — doesn’t seem to give a flip about potential flooding from warming seas, or the steady degradation of its remarkably beautiful environment. The lack of concern underscores the general sense shared by far too many Americans — particularly those involved in the carbon industries — who view our environment and atmosphere as one large garbage can.

        Grant Cooke is a long-time Benicia resident and owner of Sustainable Energy Associates. He is also co-author of “The Green Industrial Revolution: Energy, Engineering and Economics.” His new book, “Smart Green Cities” will be published in 2016.
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