LETTER OF OPPOSITION: Attorney Rachael Koss, for SAFER California

By Roger Straw, March 31, 2016

On March 30, attorney Rachael E. Koss of Adams Broadwell Joseph & Cardozo,  representing Safe Fuel and Energy Resources California (SAFER), sent the Benicia City Council this letter of opposition to Valero’s oil trains project.


First, Valero’s argument that the City should not consider Project impacts from crude slate changes because emissions would not exceed its permit limits has already been rejected by the California Supreme Court. The California Environmental Quality Act (“CEQA”)l requires the City to determine whether a project would change the existing environment by increasing emissions as compared to actual existing emissions — not whether the Project will change the environment by exceeding hypothetical emissions allowed under permit limits. This was precisely the issue before the California Supreme Court in Communities for a Better Environment v. South Coast Air Quality Management District.2 The Court rejected the argument that “the analytical baseline for a project employing existing equipment should be the maximum permitted operating capacity of the equipment, even if the equipment is operating below those levels at the time the environmental analysis is begun.”3 The Court held that CEQA requires the baseline to reflect “established levels of a particular use,” not the “merely hypothetical conditions allowable under the permits…”4 Following the Supreme Court decision, the court in Communities for a Better Environlnent v. City of Richmond5 similarly rejected the city’s use of a hypothetical baseline, which failed to reflect actual operational conditions. “The [Supreme Court] stated that using hypothetical, allowable conditions as a baseline ‘will not inform decision makers and the public of the project’s significant environmental impacts, as CEQA mandates.”’6 Thus, Valero’s argument has already been rejected by the California Supreme Court.


By Roger Straw, March 31, 2016

I will be pulling individual reports and letters from the City’s latest posting.  For now, please download from the City website:

  • March 25-31, 2016 PART 1 [Here’s a quicker download.] (10MB, 250 pages, with index on page 1 for both Part I & Part II. Some pages are searchable, but not all.  Pages 2-4 are the letter from Attorney Rachel Koss on behalf of Safe Fuel and Energy Resources California (SAFER).  The remainder is a letter from Senior Scientist Greg Karras from Communities for a Better Environment [and some of his attachments].)
  • March 25-31, 2016 PART 2 [Here’s a quicker download.]
    (36.6MB, 234 pages [not indexed – see page 1 in Part I].  Some pages searchable, but not all.  Pages 1 through 188 are a continuation of the CBE attachments.  Individual comments begin on page 189.

LETTER OF OPPOSITION: Greg Karras, Senior Scientist for Communities for a Better Environment

By Roger Straw, March 31, 2016

This morning, Greg Karras, Senior Scientist for Communities for a Better Environment (CBE) sent the Benicia City Council a 15-page Expert Report, Regarding the Appeal of Planning Commission Actions on the Valero Benicia Crude by Rail Project and Environmental Impact Report (EIR).

For Mr. Karras’ lengthy attachments, see the City of Benicia’s posting of letters received March 25-31.


Valero’s appeal asserts … that: “All of the public discussion about the Project has focused on the impacts of rail operations.” …The assertion that “[a]ll public discussion about the Project has focused on the impacts of rail operations”2 is inaccurate and misleading. Goodman and Rowan (2013) showed that the project could change the refinery’s crude slate.3 Fox (2013) showed this could cause significant impacts from refining operations.4 By 1 July 2013 at least eleven groups, including CBE and the refinery workers union United Steelworkers (Local 675), sought full disclosure and analysis of the changes in refinery oil feedstock and emissions that could result from the project.5 The EIR identified this potential for project-driven changes in its crude slate to cause impacts in the refinery as an “area of controversy.”6 Fox (2014),7 Pless (2014),8 Karras (2014),9 Fox (2016),10 Pless (2016)11 and others12 commented in detail on the EIR’s failure to evaluate these and other refining impacts of the proposed project. Valero is on record acknowledging this focus of independent public comment on refining impacts of the project, as shown by the company’s attempt, at the Planning Commission’s Public Hearing, to rebut comments regarding these refinery impacts of the project,13 in direct contradiction to its position on appeal.

LETTER OF OPPOSITION: Sacramento County Supervisor Phil Serna

By Roger Straw, March 31, 2016

This morning, Sacramento County Supervisor Phil Serna sent the Benicia City Council this letter of opposition to Valero’s oil trains project.


The EIR identifies that trains accessing the project would traverse Sacramento, including the heavily populated downtown area that I represent. It would cross numerous creeks and rivers, and run immediately adjacent to and through vulnerable residential neighborhoods. A rail accident resulting in oil spills, fire or a toxic explosion could have disastrous life safety, health, environmental and economic consequences. For these reasons, I believe an increase in oil train traffic from this project poses an unacceptable risk to Sacramento County residents and the environment.