City Manager Brad Kilger oversaw Valero Crude By Rail proposal, not sticking around for outcome
In Benicia’s Council/Manager form of government, there is no more powerful person than the City Manager. The Mayor and City Council supposedly run the city, and they do make the final decisions. Some decisions are also made by Commissions, but the real power in Benicia is the city manager.
The CM presides over staff, and staff guides every decision of our elected and appointed officials, making recommendations and consulting with officials outside of public meetings. For instance, the city manager works with the mayor in setting the agenda for every Council meeting.
Brad Kilger was hired as Benicia’s city manager in 2010, and has overseen the Valero Crude By Rail (CBR) proposal from the start. Outwardly, CBR has been routed through the City’s Community Development Department and its Planning Division. Those offices have undergone personnel changes during the lengthy 3½ year Valero process, but Mr. Kilger has remained in charge throughout.
Kilger is due to begin work in Martinez on June 13, leaving only 6 weeks to finish up here in Benicia. As of this writing, no word has been released as to Kilger’s final day in Benicia. Nor have details been given about his rather sudden departure.
Getting out of dodge before a decision on CBR may very well be a smart career move. Everyone expects litigation, which would be any manager’s nightmare, and a loss either way could be expected to leave a blemish on his professional profile.
Kilger was welcomed to Benicia by Council members and citizens in 2010 as a promising new presence, bringing credentials and commitments that offered hope in the area of environmental sustainability. Indeed, his tenure has seen numerous advances on that front. But many of those advances can be credited primarily to the leadership of Mayor Elizabeth Patterson and the Community Sustainability Commission.
City Council during Kilger’s time in Benicia has often been contentious. Collegiality has often been wanting among Council members, and the public has come into fierce conflict with staff over staff’s seemingly blind support for Valero’s CBR proposal.
The City will no doubt bring in an interim. No telling how long the interim will be in charge, but it seems highly likely a permanent replacement would not be in place until January 2017, after elections, and under the authority of a new City Council.
It seems likely the City Council will face a decision on Valero CBR in September with a new and possibly untested interim city manager. If the delay for review by the federal Surface Transportation Board results in a re-write and recirculation of the environmental report with attendant written comments and lengthy public hearings, it could be a real handful for whoever is in charge.
It may be a real challenge locating a qualified candidate who is willing to step in at this critical moment in Benicia’s history.
Valero wins one; attorneys wrangle; opponents get testy
Catching up on recent events
Sorry, I had to take a little break. When the Benicia City Council voted 3-2 to put off a decision on Valero’s crude by rail proposal (CBR), it was just a bit too much.
I was deeply discouraged by the majority’s need for yet more information. Three Council members wish to hear from the federal Surface Transportation Board (STB) before making the decision whether to permit a rail offloading rack on Valero property – a project that would foul California air and endanger lives and properties from here to the border and beyond, a project that would clearly contribute to the ongoing effects of global warming.
So I was one discouraged 3½ year supposedly-retired volunteer. I was in no shape last week to send out my Friday newsletter.
Here, as best I can summarize, is news from the last 2 weeks:
Valero wins one
You will recall that Valero appealed the Planning Commission’s unanimous February decision on crude by rail to not certify the environmental report and to deny the land use permit. Then at the Benicia City Council’s opening hearing on the appeal on March 15, Valero surprised everyone by asking for a delay in the proceedings so that it could ask for guidance from the federal Surface Transportation Board (STB).
City staff recommended against Valero’s request, rejecting the proposed delay as unnecessary and risky, given that the City and Valero could end up with a “stale” environmental report that requires yet another time-consuming revision and more hearings.
Opponents also argued against the delay, noting that the request would be carefully framed by Valero in its own favor, submitted for review to an industry-friendly STB, and result in a judgement that would still be subject to final review in a court of law. Opponents also pointed out the possibly that the delay was a Valero political tactic, given that this is an election year with three members of City Council up for re-election.
At the most recent City Council hearing on April 19, contract attorney Bradley Hogin disclosed that he was not involved in the staff decision to recommend against the delay, and that he disagreed with his employers. Given every opportunity by Council members, Hogin argued at length in favor of the delay. During verbal questioning, Council did not give similar opportunity to Hogin’s bosses to argue against the request for delay.
And guess what, 3 members of Council were convinced by the pleasant instruction of their outside attorney Hogin that we would do well to hear from the STB before rushing (3 years into the process) to judgement.
Win one for Valero. Council will resume consideration in September.
The attorneys wrangle
We are asked to believe that the big issue here after 3 years of environmental review has nothing at all to do with the earth or the health and safety of you, me, our neighbors or the lands and wildlife.
Supposedly, according to Valero’s attorney and contract attorney Hogin, it’s all about “federal preemption.” Supposedly, our city officials have no legal authority to impose conditions or mitigations or deny a permit in this case.
However, according to California’s Attorney General and environmental attorneys, “federal preemption” does not prohibit City government from making such land use decisions based on local police powers and the legal requirement to protect public health and safety. Federal preemption protects against state and local authorities regulating railroads. A refinery, says our Attorney General, is not a railroad. Go figure.
Anyway, Valero’s attorney has written several letters on preemption and taking issue with the Attorney General. The Attorney General has written several letters, sticking by its argument. Environmental attorneys have written several letters making similar arguments.
In addition to the letters, Valero’s attorney and Mr. Hogin have testified at length under questioning by City Council members. Environmental attorneys have been given only 5 minutes each to speak at hearings, with little or no back and forth questioning from City Council members.
Everyone I have talked to expects this decision to end up in court, whether or not the STB issues a ruling, and regardless of which way they rule.
Benicians for a Safe and Healthy Community gets testy
Like me, I suspect, members of our local opposition group, Benicians for a Safe and Healthy Community (BSHC) were highly disappointed and discouraged by the Council vote to delay for Valero and the STB.
In interviews and online statements that followed the April 19 Council vote, some BSHC members were quick to presume that the 3 Council members who voted for delay would also support Valero when it comes to a final vote in September.
Of course, a 3-2 vote favoring Valero in September is not the only possible outcome. Some would say that the next 5 months might best be spent respectfully reminding Council members of facts of the case, and encouraging them to make the right decision.
Those of us who have spent countless hours opposing Valero’s dirty and dangerous proposal have known all along that it is an uphill battle, that the odds are against us, that big business prevails all too often against the interests of health, safety and clean air. But look what happened at our Planning Commission. There is hope.
It seems to me that the presumption of a negative outcome can only serve to harden Council members’ attitudes and opinions. But I may be wrong.
Some will continue to argue that Council members should be made to feel the public’s disappointment, that outrage and pessimism is understandable, and that an obvious implication is that unhappy voters will have their say in November.
I’m convinced that hardball politics and small-town respect for decision makers will need to co-exist over the next few months. Come September, we shall see.
“There is no doubt”: Exxon Knew CO2 Pollution Was A Global Threat By Late 1970s
By Brendan DeMelle and Kevin Grandia, April 26, 2016 09:19
Throughout Exxon’s global operations, the company knew that CO2 was a harmful pollutant in the atmosphere years earlier than previously reported.
DeSmog has uncovered Exxon corporate documents from the late 1970s stating unequivocally “there is no doubt” that CO2 from the burning of fossil fuels was a growing “problem” well understood within the company.
“It is assumed that the major contributors of CO2 are the burning of fossil fuels… There is no doubt that increases in fossil fuel usage and decreases of forest cover are aggravating the potential problem of increased CO2 in the atmosphere. Technology exists to remove CO2 from stack gases but removal of only 50% of the CO2 would double the cost of power generation.” [emphasis added]
Those lines appeared in a 1980 report, “Review of Environmental Protection Activities for 1978-1979,” produced by Imperial Oil, Exxon’s Canadian subsidiary.
[click on any of the screenshots in this story to see a PDF of the full document]
A distribution list included with the report indicates that it was disseminated to managers across Exxon’s international corporate offices, including in Europe.
The next report in the series, “Review of Environmental Protection Activities for 1980-81,” noted in an appendix covering “Key Environmental Affairs Issues and Concerns” that: CO2 / GREENHOUSEEFFECTRECEIVINGINCREASED MEDIAATTENTION.
A 1980 Exxon report explained the company’s plans:
“CO2 Greenhouse Effect: Exxon-supported work is already underway to help define the seriousness of this problem. Such information is needed to assess the implications for future fossil fuel use. Government funding will be sought to expand the use of Exxon tankers in determining the capacity of the ocean to store CO2.”
Now DeSmog’s research confirms that the knowledge of the carbon dioxide pollution threat was indeed global across Exxon’s worldwide operations, earlier than previously known, and considered a major challenge for the company’s future operations. The new documents revealed today were found by DeSmog researchers in an Imperial Oil (TSE:IMO) archival collection housed at the Glenbow Museum in Calgary, Alberta. We first learned of the existence of the collection in one of the articles published in the Los Angeles Times in collaboration with the Columbia School of Journalism.
“Since Pollution Means Disaster…”
A document discovered by DeSmog reveals that Exxon was aware as early as the late 1960s that global emissions of CO2 from combustion was a chief pollution concern affecting global ecology.
“Since pollution means disaster to the affected species, the only satisfactory course of action is to prevent it – to maintain the addition of foreign matter at such levels that it can be diluted, assimilated or destroyed by natural processes – to protect man’s environment from man.”
Included in Holland’s report is a table of the “Estimated Global Emissions of Some Air Pollutants.” One of those “air pollutants” on the table is carbon dioxide with the listed sources as “oxidation of plant and animal matter” and “combustion.”
The double asterisks beside CO2 in Holland’s list of pollutants refer to a citation for a 1969 scientific study, “Carbon Dioxide Affects Global Ecology,” in which the author explains the connections between the burning of fossil fuels, the rise in CO2 in the atmosphere and the potential effects this will have on future weather patterns and global temperatures.
Holland emphasized the need to control all forms of pollution through regulatory action, noting that “a problem of such size, complexity and importance cannot be dealt with on a voluntary basis.” Yet the fossil fuel industry has long argued that its voluntary programs are sufficient, and that regulations are unneeded.
Despite Exxon’s advanced scientific understanding of the role of CO2 pollution from fossil fuel burning causing atmospheric disruption, the company shelved its internal concerns and launched a sophisticated, global campaign to sow doubt and create public distrust of climate science. This included extensive lobbying and advertising activities, publishing weekly op-eds in The New York Times for years, and other tactics.
Exxon and Mobil were both founding members of the Global Climate Coalition, an industry front group created in 1989 to sow doubt — despite the GCC‘s internal understanding of the certainty.
While the GCC distributed a “backgrounder” to politicians and media in the early 1990s claiming “The role of greenhouse gases in climate change is not well understood,” a 1995 GCC internal memo drafted by Mobil Oil(which merged with Exxon in 1998) stated that: “The scientific basis for the Greenhouse Effect and the potential impact of human emissions of greenhouse gases such as CO2 on climate is well established and cannot be denied.”
And the most obvious evidence of Exxon’s pervasive efforts to attack science and pollution control regulations lies in the more than $30 million traced by Greenpeace researchers to several dozen think tanks and front groups working to confuse the public about the need to curb CO2 pollution.
As the science grew stronger, Exxon’s embrace of its global, multi-million dollar denial campaign grew more intense.
Imperial Oil’s Public Denial Grew Stronger In 1990s Despite Its Own Prior Scientific Certainty
Imperial Oil, Exxon’s Canadian subsidiary, as these documents demonstrate, had a clear understanding of the environmental and climate consequences of CO2 pollution from fossil fuel combution, yet its public denial of these links grew stronger throughout the 1990s.
Imperial Oil chairman and CEO Robert Peterson wrote in “A Cleaner Canada” in 1998: “Carbon dioxide is not a pollutant but an essential ingredient of life on this planet.”
(DeSmog will take a deeper look at Imperial Oil’s conflicting CO2 positioning in public vs. its internal communications in future coverage.)
Reached for comment, Imperial Oil did not respond by press time. ExxonMobil media relations manager Alan Jeffers provided the following response:
“Your conclusions are inaccurate but not surprising since you work with extreme environmental activists who are paying for fake journalism to misrepresent ExxonMobil’s nearly 40-year history of climate research. To suggest that we had reached definitive conclusions, decades before the world’s experts and while climate science was in an early stage of development, is not credible.”
Legal Implications of Fossil Fuel Industry’s Knowledge of CO2 Pollution and Climate Impacts
Climate activists and even presidential candidate Hillary Clinton are urging the Department of Justice and other relevant government agencies to investigate the fossil fuel industry’s deliberate efforts to delay policy action to address the climate threat.
Democratic U.S. Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (RI), Ed Markey (MA) and Brian Schatz (HI) introduced an amendment to the energy bill expressing Congress’s disapproval of the use of industry-funded think tanks and misinformation tactics aimed at sowing doubt about climate change science. But it remains to be seen what action Congress might take to hold the fossil fuel industry accountable for delaying policy solutions and confusing the public on this critical issue.
Imagine where the world would be had Exxon continued to pursue and embrace its advanced scientific understanding of climate change decades ago, rather than pivoting antagonistically against the science by funding decades of denial?
BOMB TRAINS – THE SCARIEST THREAT YOU DIDN’T KNOW ABOUT
They’re explosive. Pervasive. And their movements are cloaked in secrecy. Their nickname? Bomb trains. And they roll through the heart of Chicago.
BY Ted C. Fishman, April 25, 2016 9:35 A.M.
They could not look more ominous. The long coal-black tubes announce themselves by their distinctive shape and color, their markings too small to read from the street. The 30,000-gallon tank cars roll, sometimes 100 at a time, in trains of up to one mile in length. Their cargo? Crude oil—as much as three million gallons per train. Nearly all of it is light sweet Bakken crude, a type that is particularly explosive. In whole, these trains constitute likely the biggest, heaviest, and longest combustibles to ever traverse America, and they do so routinely. More pass through Chicago than any other big metro area. Their blast potential has earned them a terrifying nickname: bomb trains.
Stand long enough at 18th and Wentworth, on the traffic bridge that separates the newer sections of Chinatown from the largely residential South Loop, and you will spot the tank cars wending their way across neighborhoods on the Near South and West Sides, past playgrounds, schoolyards, and row after row of houses. An estimated 40 of these trains cut through the metro area weekly. There’s no public information on exact routes or timetables; revealing their paths, the logic goes, might aid potential saboteurs, a real risk in an age of terrorism.
Until recently, crude on the rails was relatively rare. But since 2008, when Bakken oil began rolling out of newly active fields in the United States—North Dakota is the biggest producer—and toward Eastern refineries, the number of oil tank car shipments has grown 50-fold. That’s pushed the number of accidents up, too. According to U.S. government data, from 1975 to 2012, an average of 25 crude oil spills from tank cars occurred on the rails each year. In 2014, that number rose to 141. Most incidents are minor, such as small leaks. But in cases of a major derailment, the result can be catastrophic, even fatal (see “Terrifying Incidents,” below).
Chicago found that in the last three years there were 17 derailments of crude oil trains in North America significant enough to generate news coverage. In eight of them, the tank cars blew, sending fireballs hundreds of feet into the air, filling the sky with black mushroom clouds. In the most severe cases, the flames produced are so hot that firefighters almost inevitably choose to let them burn out, which can take days, rather than extinguish them. (The Wall Street Journal calculated that a single tank car of sweet crude carries the energy equivalent of two million sticks of dynamite.) Even when there are no explosions, the spills can wreak havoc on the environment: five of the 17 accidents resulted in the pollution of major waterways, affecting thousands of people across the continent.
Chicago is particularly vulnerable. As the Western Hemisphere’s busiest freight hub, the city has become a center for crude oil traffic, too. High volumes, combined with a densely populated urban setting, have watchdogs such as the Natural Resources Defense Council alarmed. Henry Henderson, the NRDC’s Midwest program director, sums up the threat this way: “Trains with highly explosive materials are traveling through the city on aging tracks in cars that are easily punctured, which can result in devastating explosions.”
Many of these trains cut through what were once industrial rail yards in the city and suburbs. Over the last 35 years, however, much of that property has turned into residential and commercial clusters. “You should assume that if you live in the Chicago area, near a railroad track, that there are trains carrying Bakken crude oil,” says Jim Healy, a member of the DuPage County Board.
Though Chicago has so far been spared a crude oil train crash, the potential of one presents a horrifying picture. One particular nightmare is emblazoned in the minds of first responders, and regulators. On July 6, 2013, a runaway crude oil train, which had been left unattended, sped through the center of the small Quebec town of Lac-Mégantic. Sixty-three cars derailed. Forty-seven people were killed, some literally incinerated while they drank at a bar.
Emergency responders in the Chicago area say they are confident any derailment here could be managed before it reached neighborhood-destroying levels. “Crude is not the threat that everyone says it is,” says Gene Ryan, chief of planning for Cook County’s Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management. Ryan and a group of first responders looked closely at 29 major accidents across North America and found that “even though the crude is full of all kinds of volatile materials, the cars did not completely blow apart and hit homes,” he says.
But in a city as dense as Chicago, it takes only one freak incident to have a titanic effect on the urban landscape. Just last year, on March 5, on a stretch of track near Galena, Illinois, 21 BNSF Railway train cars carrying 630,000 gallons of Bakken crude derailed and tumbled down an embankment. Five of them burned for three days. At the time, James Joseph, director of the Illinois Emergency Management Agency, told the Chicago Tribune: “We’re fortunate this occurred where it did, in a remote area, and there were no homes around it.”
Experts believe the train was likely headed for Chicago, 160 miles to the east.
Historically, oil in America moved from south (think Texas and Louisiana) to north mostly through pipelines, the safest conduits for it. When newly deployed technologies such as horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing—or fracking—opened access to sources of oil in North Dakota and elsewhere in the West, few pipelines were in place to move the crude to the refineries back east that could handle it. (A proposed pipeline for Bakken crude running from Stanley, North Dakota, to Patoka, Illinois, has faced political and jurisdictional challenges.) With limited alternatives, oil producers and refiners turned to railroads. In 2014, trains carried 11 percent of the nation’s crude oil.
So what paths do these tank cars take? The exact routes are state secrets. But assuming 40 trains, carrying three million gallons of crude oil each, pass through the Chicago area weekly, that means more than 17 million gallons roll through the city daily. It’s an inexact count, and the NRDC has continued to push to get accurate information. “A lot of people don’t know their residences are adjacent to hazardous cargo,” says Henderson. “The issue should be subject to public discussion, but the public has been cut off from it.”
Using freight maps and firsthand reporting, the West Coast environmental advocacy group Stand has assembled a national map of the most common crude oil train routes and created an interactive website that allows users to determine how far any U.S. location is from these routes. For example, according to the site, half of Chicago’s Bridgeport neighborhood, home to 32,000 people and U.S. Cellular Field, falls squarely within a half-mile “evacuation zone,” established by the U.S. Department of Transportation for areas vulnerable to crude oil train explosions. Stretch that to the one-mile “impact zone” and you include the Illinois Institute of Technology, University of Illinois at Chicago, and Cook County Juvenile Court.
It’s not just Chicago proper that sees traffic from crude oil trains. They cut through Joliet, Naperville, Barrington, Aurora, and dozens of other suburbs. “I can look outside my office and see them passing through downtown,” says Tom Weisner, Aurora’s mayor. “About 120,000 tanker cars a year now come through our city.”
Last April, the U.S. Department of Transportation ordered a maximum speed for crude oil trains of 40 miles an hour in populous areas. The majority of railroads run them 10 miles slower than that, an acknowledgment, in effect, that the trains aren’t invulnerable. Most often, it is a flawed track, wheel, or axle that leads to a derailment, which can then cause tank cars to rupture.
Bakken crude was first shipped using tank cars designed for nonhazardous materials and ill suited to its volatility. (Most tank cars are owned not by the railroads but by the oil producers and refiners, such as Valero Energy and Phillips 66, that ship crude.) Those first-generation tank cars, called DOT-111s, have almost all been subjected to new protections, including having their shells reinforced with steel a sixteenth of an inch thicker than used in earlier models. Federal regulations passed in 2015 mandate that by 2025 haulers must replace all cars with new models featuring even thicker steel shells and other safety measures.
Railroads know the dangers. In addition to the human and environmental costs, one terrible accident could put a railroad company out of business. Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway, which ran the train that devastated Lac-Mégantic, could only cover a fraction of its hundreds of millions of dollars in liabilities and went bankrupt.
The big railroads hauling crude in the United States and Canada have spent heavily on new technology to make their lines safer, including an Association of American Rails app called AskRail, which identifies the contents and location of rail cars carrying hazardous materials. What railroad companies cannot yet do is reroute trains away from the populous areas whose growth their lines once spurred. There simply isn’t the infrastructure in place to do so.
And while the American Association of Railroads reports that rail companies have spent $600 billion since 1980 improving their current routes, even well-maintained tracks remain vulnerable. Department of Transportation accident data shows that broken rails were the main cause of freight derailments from 2001 to 2010. What’s more, the Federal Rail Administration, the agency charged with overseeing the integrity of America’s tracks, says it can only monitor less than 1 percent of the federally regulated rail system annually due to a shortage of manpower.
“There’s a lackadaisical attitude among people, including officials, about infrastructure that is not up to the threats against it, even as the threats are manifesting,” says Henderson. “You saw that in Flint, Michigan, and in other places with drinking water. And now with crude oil trains, which deal with very serious materials moving [on a system] not adequate to protect people from mistakes.”
10 Terrifying incidents
With crude oil rail shipments growing 50-fold in the last eight years, the number of accidents has risen too. Below, 10 of the most damaging. —Katie Campbell
JULY 6, 2013
In the worst recent accident, 63 cars on a runaway train derailed in the heart of this Canadian town. The resulting blast and flames killed 47 residents and destroyed 30 buildings in the small downtown.
NOVEMBER 8, 2013
Outside this tiny Southern town, 25 cars spilled nearly 750,000 gallons of oil into surrounding wetlands, creating an environmental nightmare.
DECEMBER 30, 2013
Casselton, North Dakota
After two trains collided, 18 cars on the one carrying crude oil spilled nearly 400,000 gallons.
FEBRUARY 13, 2014
Enroute from Chicago, a train went off the track and crashed into a downtown industrail building.
APRIL 30, 2014
A train from Chicago derailed near a pedestrian waterfront area, sending three cars—and 30,000 gallons of oil—into the James River.
FEBRUARY 16, 2015
Mount Carbon, West Virginia
After 27 cars went off the track during a snowstorm and exploded, the fire burned for four days.
MARCH 5, 2015
A train likely headed to Chicago derailed on a remote stretch of track, sending cars down an embankment. Even though the cars had been reinforced with half an inch of steel, the fire burned for three days.
MARCH 7, 2015
Just one month after a derailment in the same area, five cars fell into the Makami River, leaking oil into waterways used by locals for drinking and fishing.
MAY 6, 2015
Heimdal, North Dakota
Five cars exploded and spilled nearly 60,000 gallons of oil. Fire crews from three nearby towns were called to help fight the blaze.
JULY 16, 2015
Twenty cars toppled from the track, with three spilling a total of 35,000 gallons of oil, forcing 30 people to evacuate.