[Editor: Attend City Council on May 7 if at all possible. This is an issue of fairness and could affect Benicia’s economic viability and reputation. If you can’t attend, check out How to write to Council and staff. – R.S.]
By Steve Young, Benicia City Council member
On May 7, the City Council will consider a proposal by Councilman Largaespada to expand the buffer zones around cannabis dispensaries. The proposed changes would, if adopted, add buffer zones around any day care center (or places where kids congregate), park, or any residential zone. If adopted by the Council, the practical effect would be to eliminate virtually all retail locations in the City.
Cannabis issues have been on the ballot twice recently. In 2016, Benicians voted 63% in favor of Prop. 64 which legalized personal use of cannabis by adults. In 2018, Benicians voted 68% in favor of letting the Council impose excise taxes on cannabis businesses (which we did last December). The current rules, adopted by the previous Council after more than 18 hearings and dozens of hours of testimony, limited cannabis dispensaries to just a few commercial areas in the City. The Council eliminated First Street and all of downtown, as well as all of the Southhampton shopping center. We also limited the number of dispensaries to just two.
When we finally opened up the application process last fall, we had 9 applicants for these two possible permits. Applicants were required to pay the City $20,000 each for processing their application, including for a Public Safety License to be issued by the Police Department after significant vetting of the applicants. In addition, the applicants were required to show some form of site control. This required them to rent or lease, or obtain an option to lease, commercial space at significant costs while waiting for the City to finally recommend which applicants were recommended to move forward to the Planning Commission to apply for a Conditional Use Permit (CUP). (Some applicants have reported absorbing over $100,000 in costs each.)
In my opinion, regardless of how you feel about cannabis, it is fundamentally unfair to treat these businesses in this manner. They have followed all the rules set forth by the City in August, paid substantial fees to the City and even more to rent vacant space, and have waited over 9 months for the City to act on their applications. It is simply not fair or equitable, at this late date, to have the City change the rules in the middle of the game.
If you are interested in this topic, please attend the Council meeting on May 7 or let the Council know about your opinions.
When oil industry supports legislators, air quality suffers
By By Kathryn Phillips, April 22, 2019
California journalists have reported over the last two election cycles on the effort by the Legislature’s “moderate caucus,” composed of conservative Democratic state legislators, to increase the caucus’ influence
During normal times—say, when the planet’s very future hasn’t depended on dramatically cutting combustion fueled by oil and methane gas—such facts would be just interesting data points for analyzing the Legislature’s political dynamics.
Now, though, the caucus members’ devotion to maintaining California’s oil dependence is having health-threatening consequences.
This devotion is especially playing out in the Assembly Transportation Committee. The committee is chaired by Jim Frazier, a Democrat from Discovery Bay, a leader of the moderate caucus.
California’s notorious air and climate pollution is driven by transportation. The smog and toxic particles that spark maladies ranging from low birthweight to asthma and heart disease are tightly linked to tailpipe emissions.
Reams of data, scientific papers and regulatory agency reports point to the need to transition California’s cars and trucks to zero-emission vehicles if the state is to ever have clean air or avoid the worst effects of climate change.
So one would expect to see growing devotion by the Democratic-led California Legislature to do more to help Californians access electric cars and cut pollution from delivery trucks.
Instead, the California Assembly is the graveyard for legislation designed to help advance zero-emission vehicles.
Assembly Transportation Committee Chairman Frazier has a commanding, no-nonsense, take-no-prisoners style of governing. He has demonstrated that style by stopping bills to advance clean transportation by refusing to schedule them for a hearing in his committee.
One of the most recent victims is Assembly Bill 40, which would require the regulatory agency responsible for tailpipe emissions regulations, the California Air Resources Board, to produce and deliver to the legislature a strategy for fully transitioning brand new cars sold in California to zero-emission by 2040.
That is, the bill by San Francisco Democratic Assemblyman Phil Ting would have asked for a study to be done and sent to the Legislature. It did nothing more. Yet it’s a bill the oil and gas industry and the California Chamber of Commerce strongly oppose. The bill isn’t being scheduled for a hearing.
There are a few bills in the Senate that advance clean transportation that may pass in that house. But they are sure to face the buzzsaw in the Assembly once they reach Frazier’s committee.
How can a single legislator stop progress in advancing technology and cutting pollution?
He can do this by not acting alone. The Assembly Transportation Committee includes at least four other moderate caucus members who won’t buck the chairman, and whose votes, when counted with the handful of Republicans on the committee, can stop any bill.
In essence, the committee is stacked against zero-emission technology.
Frazier isn’t the only pro-oil Democrat sitting in a leadership role this year. Rudy Salas, Jr., a Democrat from Bakersfield, is chairman of the Joint Legislative Audit Committee. His first action was to try to get an expansive and expensive audit of the air resources board’s work on transportation.
It wouldn’t take a rocket scientist to see that Salas’s audit request, which failed to garner the votes needed, echoed the complaints commonly heard from the oil and gas industry about the air resources board’s transportation policies.
Who pays campaign costs has consequences. In the California Legislature, the consequences are that we all live with more health-threatening transportation pollution with no end in sight.
Kathryn Phillips is director of Sierra Club California, the legislative and regulatory advocacy arm of the Sierra Club’s 13 local chapters. She wrote this commentary for CALmatters.
We must defeat Donald Trump. The first step is a primary contest that produces a strong Democratic nominee. The second step is winning the general election. We will not accept anything less. To ensure this outcome, I pledge to: Make the primary constructive. Rally behind the winner. Do the work to beat Trump.
I was so impressed watching the Ezra Levin interview about this on the Rachel Maddow show the other day (see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wKK1TzAKaYE). As of today, seven Democratic presidential candidates have already taken the pledge (Booker, Buttigieg, Castro, Harris, Inslee, Sanders and Warren).
Indivisible is also inviting the rest of us – the grassroots – to sign on. To take the pledge, go to http://pledge.indivisible.org/. For more info, see below.
Washington, DC — The Indivisible Project today unveiled its 2020 “We are Indivisible” pledge that asks Democratic presidential candidates and grassroots Indivisible groups to commit to a constructive primary, backing the eventual Democratic presidential nominee and working to defeat Trump in November.
“Democrats do not need to choose between creating space for a healthy primary debate and taking back the White House in 2020. Indivisible’s pledge invites candidates and grassroots leaders to join together in rejecting that false choice, and recognizing that those two goals support each other,” Indivisible’s national political director María Urbina said. “As a progressive movement, we are united in our commitment to a robust primary that elevates the best ideas, and to winning in November 2020.”
As a demonstration of unity, Indivisibles and others will be hosting 2020 unity kickoff events across the country on the weekend after the Democratic National Convention, which they can begin registering now at pledge.indivisible.org.
“We believe in rigorous and spirited primaries, and we also know that once we have a nominee, our entire focus must turn to defeating Trump. The “We Are Indivisible” Pledge commits all of us to a debate of ideas followed by dedicated work to make our ideas reality,” Indivisible’s co-executive directors Leah Greenberg and Ezra Levin said. “This pledge is about beating Donald Trump and the anti-democratic, xenophobic right wing. And it’s about the ideas and vision we need for a post-Trump future.”
The “We Are Indivisible” 2020 Pledge builds on the success of Indivisible’s 2018 midterm endorsement program. To seek the Indivisible Project’s endorsement in a primary, every candidate and every endorsing local Indivisible group had to affirm that they’d endorse the ultimate Democratic primary winner and work hard to elect them. This model empowered Indivisible groups to elevate progressive challengers, including freshman standouts like Rep. Ayanna Pressley and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. It also positioned Indivisible groups to serve as unifying forces after the primary, rallying progressives together to knock doors and flip seats across the country.
Below is the full pledge language:
The “We Are Indivisible” Pledge
We must defeat Donald Trump. The first step is a primary contest that produces a strong Democratic nominee. The second step is winning the general election. We will not accept anything less. To ensure this outcome, I pledge to:
Make the primary constructive. We’ll make the primary election about our hopes for the future, and a robust debate of values, vision and the contest of ideas. We’ll remain grounded in our shared values, even if we support different candidates.
Rally behind the winner. We’ll support the ultimate Democratic nominee, whoever it is—period. No Monday morning quarterbacking. No third-party threats.
Do the work to beat Trump. We’re the grassroots army that’s going to power the nominee to victory, and we’ll show up to make calls, knock doors, and do whatever it takes.
Make the primary constructive. I’ll respect the other candidates and make the primary election about inspiring voters with my vision for the future.
Rally behind the winner. I’ll support the ultimate Democratic nominee, whoever it is—period. No Monday morning quarterbacking. No third-party threats. Immediately after there’s a nominee, I’ll endorse.
Do the work to beat Trump. I will do everything in my power to make the Democratic Nominee the next President of the United States. As soon as there is a nominee, I will put myself at the disposal of the campaign.
# # #
ABOUT THE INDIVISIBLE PROJECT
The Indivisible Project is a registered 501(c)(4) nonprofit. Our mission is to cultivate and lift up a grassroots movement of local groups to defeat the Trump agenda, elect progressive leaders, and realize bold progressive policies. Across the nation, thousands of local groups are using the Indivisible Guide to hold their members of Congress accountable. Not authorized by any candidate or candidate committee.
Ethanol Train Derails and Burns in Texas, Killing Horses and Spurring Evacuation
By Justin Mikulka, April 25, 2019
Early in the morning on April 24, an ethanol train derailed, exploded, and burned near Fort Worth, Texas, reportedly destroying a horse stable, killing three horses, and causing the evacuation of nearby homes. According to early reports, 20 tank cars left the tracks, with at least five rupturing and burning.
While specific details have not yet been released, it appears to be a unit train of ethanol using the federally mandated DOT-117R tank cars, based on the images showing tank car markings. This is now the third accident in North America involving the upgraded DOT-117R tank cars, all resulting in major spills of either oil or ethanol.
This latest fiery derailment highlights the dangers to the estimated 25 million people living within the blast zone along rail lines across North America. While this incident had no human fatalities, the oil train disaster in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, in 2013 killed 47 people, devastating the small Canadian town. As I’ve exhaustively reported, the same risk factors for hauling oil by rail, and increasingly, ethanol, are still in place years after the Lac-Mégantic disaster.
In Texas, first responders were quickly on the scene and able to contain the fire, preventing the situation from worsening. When ethanol rail tank cars are involved in fires, the unpunctured tanks can explode as the fire increases the temperature and pressure in the full tanks.
Ethanol Industry Adopting Risky Oil Train Practices
In 2016 DeSmog published a series of articles analyzing why oil trains were derailing at over twice the rate of ethanol trains. Likely contributing factors included the fact that the derailing oil trains were longer and heavier than ethanol trains.
The oil industry was moving oil using “unit trains,” which are long trains dedicated to a single commodity, while the ethanol industry was using shorter trains. The majority of ethanol was shipped as part of manifest trains, carrying multiple types of cargo and not just ethanol.
As part of the analysis, DeSmog found that derailing ethanol trains tended to be longer trains of 100 or more cars.
However, longer trains are more profitable, and in 2016 the ethanol industry noted it intended to follow the lead of the oil industry and begin to move more ethanol via long unit trains. This announcement led to the following conclusion in the 2016 DeSmog series:
“Based on the ethanol industry’s interest in using more unit trains for ‘efficiency,’ and the fact that it is allowed to transport ethanol in the unsafe DOT-111 tank cars until 2023, perhaps it won’t be long before ethanol trains are known as bomb trains too.”
And while the DOT-111 tank cars are less robust than the DOT-117R tank cars, both have a history indicating neither are safe to move flammable liquids in unit trains. And DOT-117R tank cars are heavier than DOT-111s, adding another factor that increases chances for train derailment.
Bomb Train Risks Continue to Grow
After a string of oil trains filled with volatile crude oil from North Dakota’s Bakken Shale derailed and exploded in 2013 and 2014, there was a push for new safety regulations for trains carrying flammable materials including crude oil and ethanol.
In 2015, the U.S. Department of Transportation released new regulations, which, as DeSmog noted at the time, were a big win for the oil and rail industries and their lobbyists. While touted as increasing safety, these watered-down rules did not address the trains’ known risk factors or require the oil and rail industries to implement proven safety technologies. The one requirement in the new 2015 regulations that would have greatly improved safety mandated that railroads transition to modern braking systems. That requirement has since been repealed.
The rail industry frequently calls the upgraded tank cars, which include DOT-117Rs and were required by federal regulators, a safety improvement. However, in the first two derailments involving the new cars, those purportedly safer tank cars led to major oil spills. One of those occurred in February in Manitoba, Canada, and now the Fort Worth derailment appears to represent a third example of these upgraded rail cars’ failed safety.
In 2014 during rail safety discussions, the rail industry was recommending using much more robust tank cars — known as “pressure cars” — to move the volatile crude oil implicated in oil train explosions, but federal regulators did not incorporate the recommendation into the final rules. That is why oil and ethanol continue to be moved in rail cars that fail and lead to large leaks and fires during derailments.
In Utah a train carrying propane in pressure cars recently derailed, highlighting the risk of even those more robust tank cars. That derailment caused a propane leak, and hazmat experts decided the safest thing to do was detonate the tank cars, a situation possible when in rural Utah. However, health experts were concerned about the impact on air quality for local residents.
Despite the many examples of the risks of moving these flammable materials by rail, President Trump recently issued an executive order mandating federal regulators allow moving liquefied natural gas (LNG) by rail as soon as next year.
These risks are why a group of people were just arrested for blocking oil train tracks in Oregon. And why legislators in the state of Washington have passed legislation requiring oil be stabilized — to make it less volatile and likely to ignite — prior to its loading on rail tank cars for shipment. Several states also are looking at passing laws requiring two-person crews for freight trains to improve safety. One of the factors cited in the deadly Lac-Mégantic oil train disaster was that the train was operated by a single person.
States are moving to address these very real, well-documented, and preventable risk factors because the U.S. federal government has fallen short in mitigating those risks to American communities from the oil and rail industries. These regulatory shortcomings, which began under President Obama’s administration, have only intensified under the Trump administration’s anti-regulatory approach. With the prospect of LNG trains in the near future — along with record amounts of oil trains coming from Canada to U.S. ports and refineries — the risks of “bomb train” accidents (the nickname bestowed by nervous rail operators) continue to grow.