BACKGROUND: Valero Crude By Rail and Opposition EffortsBy Roger Straw, UPDATED Apr 14, 2016
(This background is ordered from most distant past to more recent events. Click here to jump to the end. For MOST recent news, see Events.)
Valero Benicia Refinery has proposed a project to transport crude oil for processing by rail cars rather than ships. The project raises serious questions about the health and safety of Benicians and others up-rail and down-wind.
In early June, 2013, Charlie Knox, former City planner, released a one-page Notice of Intent to Adopt a Mitigated Negative Declaration for the “Valero Crude By Rail” project along with a 190-page DRAFT Mitigated Negative Declaration and Initial Study (IS/MND). Before a July 1 deadline, these documents were reviewed and commented upon (extensively) by Benicia citizens and experts from the National Resources Defense Council, many questioning the source of the crude oil (including Alberta tar-sands) and calling for a full Environmental Impact Report rather than the shortcut IS/MND. (See Public Comments.)
On July 9, 2013, Benicia’s Good Neighbor Steering Committee hosted a public information meeting, at which experts from the National Resource Defense Council joined Good Neighbors members in explaining their concerns. Citizens were able to ask questions and offer opinions. Over 70 people attended the meeting, including many from the media.
Two days later, a packed crowd in City Council Chambers participated in a meeting of Benicia’s Planning Commission. Valero employees testified in favor; others raised serious technical, environmental and safety issues. At that meeting, no action was taken, in large part due to the volume of comments City staff had received. Approval of the IS/MND was continued, with the expectation that it would come to a vote at the August 8, 2013 meeting of the Planning Commission.
On August 1, the City cancelled the Commission’s August 8 meeting. City staff confirmed that the Valero Crude by Rail project had been “continued indefinitely,” and that no date had been set for another hearing at the Planning Commission.
PROGRESS … BENICIA PREPARING A FULL EIR!
In a major victory for those who raised concerns about the project, the City of Benicia announced on August 8, 2013 that it would be preparing an EIR for the Valero Crude by Rail proposal. The City scheduled a scoping meeting to be held at the next Planning Commission meeting, September 12, 2013, and issued a Notice of Preparation of an EIR and a Notice of Completion (describes the project and lists all issues that the EIR will examine).
In September, with funding from Valero, the City hired Environmental Science Associates (ESA), to prepare the EIR. In October the City contracted Bradley Hogin of Woodruff, Spradlin & Smart as outside council for the Valero Crude by Rail Project.
For those unfamiliar with the processes governing a Scoping Period, note that the public had 30-days during which our comments, questions and concerns were again sought. A “scoping” may be called for by a Lead Agent (the City of Benicia) as a preliminary step toward production of an EIR. During a 30-day comment period, the public is given the opportunity to help advise and give direction to the consultants who are contracted to produce the EIR. Comments help identify the range of actions, alternatives, mitigation measures and significant effects to be analyzed in depth in the EIR [14 CalCode Regs CEQA 15083].
Again, many formal and informal citizen comments were sent and added to the public record. (See Public Comments.)
DRAFT ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT REPORT
In December, 2013, the City announced that the Draft Environmental Report (DEIR) release date would be sometime in January, 2014. On February 5, 2014, the City announced that the DEIR release date had been rescheduled for sometime in March 2014, later changed to April, 2014. On May 1, 2014, the City announced that the DEIR will be released on June 10, 2014, and again on June 10, the City announced another week long delay. The DEIR was released for review and comment on June 17, 2014. After two continuances to hear additional comments, the public comment period closed on September 15, 2014. Close of comment on September 15 was dramatic, as the City received a massive amount of – mostly critical – comments from Benicia residents, governmental agencies, major environmental groups, UC Davis and others who live uprail from Benicia and elsewhere in the San Francisco Bay Area.
VALERO DEIR TO BE REWRITTEN AND RECIRCULATED – REVISED DRAFT EIR
On Feb. 3, 2015, nearly 5 months after close of comments, the City of Benicia released an announcement further delaying Valero’s proposal to begin shipping North American (Bakken and tar sands) crude oil in railroad tank cars:
The City has reviewed all of the comments submitted on the Draft EIR and has determined that sections of the Draft EIR will need to be updated and recirculated. The anticipated release of the Recirculated Draft EIR for public comment is June 30, 2015. The Recirculated Draft EIR will have a 45-day comment period. After the comment period on the Recirculated DEIR closes, the City will complete the Final EIR which will include responses to all comments on the original Draft EIR and the Recirculated Draft EIR.
Revised DEIR Links:
- Valero Benicia Crude by Rail: RDEIR now available, links here Aug 31, 2015
- Sacramento Bee – highlights of RDEIR
- A flurry of exceptional – and very personal – letters opposing Valero Crude By Rail, Oct 29, 2015
- Planning Commission Hearings: Public comments in late September, early October 2015
FINAL DRAFT EIR – PLANNING COMMISSION REJECTS VALERO’S PROJECT
The FINAL DRAFT EIR was released for public review on Tuesday, January 5, 2016
- Public comments on the FEIR - 2016
- Benicia city staff recommends APPROVAL of Valero Crude By Rail, Jan 30, 2016
- VIDEO: The public speaking against Valero crude by rail
- Benicia Planning Commission votes unanimously to not certify the EIR and to deny the land use permit, February 11, 2016. Widespread coverage in the media: Huffington Post, Sacramento Bee, Reuters, Davis Vanguard, Vallejo Times-Herald, CBS News, etc.
- VIDEO: Closing comments of Planning Commissioners and their unanimous vote on February 11, 2016
- Benicia Planning Commission’s Resolution to Deny, February 18, 2016
VALERO APPEALS THE PLANNING COMMISSION’S UNANIMOUS DENIAL -
City Council hearings, a vote to delay until September 20, 2016, and documents related to the Surface Transportation Board
Valero Benicia Refinery appealed the decision of Benicia’s Planning Commission ON February 29, 2016. The formal Appeal Form was accompanied by a hard-hitting 11-page letter by Valero’s attorney, John Flynn of Nossaman LLP. The letter details Valero’s position, and is posted on the City’s website.
- Valero submits a request to DELAY proceedings, March 15, 2016
- Benicia staff recommends no delay, March 29, 2016
- Public comments and VIDEO of public hearings on Valero’s appeal, March-April, 2016
- PETITION – Benicians for a Safe and Healthy Benicia submits a petition with 4,081 signatures of those opposing Valero Crude By Rail, Apr 4, 2016
- Benicia City Council votes to delay the appeal process until September 20, 2016, allowing Valero to submit a petition to the federal Surface Transportation Board (STB)
- Benicia City Council votes on June 7, 2016 to hire an outside attorney to file a response to Valero’s petition to STB the process until September 20, 2016, allowing Valero to submit a petition to the federal Surface Transportation Board (STB)
- City of Benicia contract attorney’s letter to STB asserts local permitting authority, July 8, 2016
- A flood of STB filings for and against Valero’s petition on 7/8/16, the deadline for comments.
It is vital that everyday citizens of Benicia learn about this project, ask questions and voice their concerns to the Planning Commission, City staff and our Mayor and City Council.
Please send your comments to:
- Amy Million, Principal Planner, Community Development Department, by email: mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org?subject=Comment for the record – Valero Crude By Rail AND
- Ms. Million may also be contacted by delivery to 250 East L Street, Benicia, CA 94510, or by Fax: (707) 747-1637.
- To direct email to Planning Commissioners, send email to Amy Million, requesting her to forward on to Planning Commissioners.
- Get help in writing your comments: Resources page on SafeBenicia.org
Click here for Eight Ways you can help “derail” Valero’s proposal.
Stay tuned, and plan to attend Planning Commission and City Council meetings when this proposal comes up on the agenda.
Questions? Contact me at rogrmail at beniciaindependent.com.