Benicia City Manager leaving to take post in Martinez, CA

By Roger Straw, April 30, 2016

City Manager Brad Kilger oversaw Valero Crude By Rail proposal, not sticking around for outcome

Brad Kilger, City Manager of Benicia, 2010-2016
Brad Kilger, City Manager of Benicia, 2010-2016

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.

Please share!

EDITORIAL: Valero wins one; attorneys wrangle; opponents get testy

By Roger Straw, April 29, 2016

Valero wins one; attorneys wrangle; opponents get testy

Catching up on recent events

RDS_2015-06-21_200pxSorry, 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.

Please share!

DESMOGBLOG: “There is no doubt”: Exxon Knew CO2 Pollution Was A Global Threat By Late 1970s

Repost from DeSmogBlog

“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.

#exxonknew - it is assumed

#exxonknew | there is no doubt
[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.

#exxonknew | distirbution list
[click here to download the full PDF version of “Review of Environmental Protection Activities for 1978-1979”]

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 / GREENHOUSE EFFECT RECEIVING INCREASED MEDIA ATTENTION.


[click here to download the full PDF version of “Review of Environmental Protection Activities for 1980-1981”]

InsideClimate News unveiled much new information in its Exxon: The Road Not Taken series clearly demonstrating the depth of climate science knowledge among Exxon’s U.S. operations. Additional revelations about the company’s early climate research were published by the Los Angeles Times in collaboration with the Columbia School of Journalism.

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:IMOarchival 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.

Those details were found in a 1970 report, “Pollution Is Everybody’s Business,” authored by H.R. Holland, a Chemical Engineer responsible for environmental protection in Imperial Oil’s engineering division. [click to download PDF of “Pollution is Everybody’s Business]

Holland wrote:

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.”

#ExxonKnew - Imperial Oil
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.

Exxon Understood Climate Science, Yet Funded Decades of Climate Science Denial

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.

FROM THE DESMOG RESEARCH DATABASE: ExxonMobil’s Funding of Climate Science Denial

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

Calls are growing louder to hold Exxon and other fossil fuel interests accountable for funding climate denial campaigns given their advanced understanding of climate science and the implications of CO2 pollution for the atmosphere going back many decades.

In multiple U.S. states and territories — including New York, California, Massachusetts and the Virgin Islands — state Attorneys General are investigating Exxon’s depth of knowledge regarding the climate impacts of burning fossil fuels, and whether the company broke the law by fueling anti-science campaigns through corporate contributions to organizations and individuals working to sow doubt and confusion about global warming. [DeSmog coverage: State Investigations Into What Exxon Knew Double, and Exxon Gets Defensive]

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 (HIintroduced 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?

Please share!