Tag Archives: 350 Sacramento

Benicia Valero Crude-by-Rail comment period closes with a landslide of criticism

By Roger Straw

The Benicia Independent makes it easier for you to read comments of INDIVIDUAL state and regional agencies and organizations. See our updated Project Review page (or just see below).

Something UNUSUAL happened in Benicia on September 15, the final day of the public comment period on the Draft EIR on Valero’s Crude By Rail proposal. I understand that opponents of a project will almost always wait until the last day to submit public comments. But not only did a remarkable NUMBER of critical comments arrive in the City of Benicia’s inbox on September 15 – there was a dramatic landslide of comments from significant governmental agencies and environmental organizations, including…

Also highly significant on September 15 were written comments from four of Benicia’s Planning Commissioners: Steve Young, George Oakes, Susan Cohen Grossman and Belinda Smith.

Prior to September 15, the City also received critical comments from the

These documents are also downloadable from Project Review.

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    Sacramento Bee: California state and regional agencies challenge Benicia crude oil train plan

    Repost from The Sacramento Bee
    [Editor: to read the State’s letter and others mentioned in this article, check out Project Review.  – RS]

    California officials challenge Benicia crude oil train plan

    By Tony Bizjak, September 24, 2014

    Brown administration officials say Benicia has underestimated the risk posed by oil trains planned to run through Sacramento and other parts of Northern California to the city’s Valero refinery, and is calling on the city to redo its safety analysis before allowing oil shipments to increase.

    A letter sent to the city last week by the state’s Office of Spill Prevention and Response and the California Public Utilities Commission expresses concerns similar to those detailed in recent letters to Benicia from the Sacramento Area Council of Governments and the cities of Sacramento and Davis.

    Sacramento regional leaders have accused Benicia of not adequately exploring the explosion and fire risks of a Valero Refining Co. plan to run two 50-car trains daily through downtown Roseville, Sacramento, West Sacramento, Davis and other cities to the Benicia refinery.

    Julie Yamamoto, chief of the state spill prevention agency’s scientific branch and a member of the governor’s rail safety team, said state officials felt compelled to push for Benicia to do deeper study prior to project approval.

    “We felt the risk analysis was sufficiently flawed and underestimates the risks,” Yamamoto said.

    In its draft environmental impact report, issued earlier this summer, Benicia only analyzed oil spill possibilities on the rail line between Roseville and Benicia, even though the trains will travel from other states or even Canada. “That is a pretty big shortfall in not considering the rest of the track to the California border, and even beyond that,” Yamamoto said. State officials also have questions about how Benicia came up with the assertion that a derailed train might spill oil only once every 111 years, and therefore the risk was insignificant.

    “The derailment rate looks to us to be low compared to national data,” Yamamoto said.

    Benicia city officials declined to respond this week to the concerns raised by the state and local governments, but previously indicated that they limited their spill analysis to the Roseville-Benicia track section because they do not know yet which rail lines the Union Pacific Railroad may use east or north of Roseville to bring the oil into California.

    State officials countered that there are only a handful of rail lines that could be used to bring the oil into the state, and all should be included in Benicia’s project risk analysis. The state noted that those rail lines pass through “high-hazard areas” where derailments are more common. In Northern California, those hazard sections are at Dunsmuir, the Feather River Canyon and near Colfax.

    By issuing its letter, the state secures legal standing to sue Benicia if that city approves the project without redoing its risk studies. State officials this week declined to address the question of whether they would consider a lawsuit.

    The letter from the state is one of hundreds Benicia officials said they received in the past few months in response to their initial environmental study. Benicia interim Community Development Director Dan Marks said the city and its consultants would review the comments and prepare responses to all of them, then bring those responses to the city Planning Commission for discussion at an as-yet undetermined date.

    Under the Valero proposal, trains would carry about 1.4 million gallons of crude oil daily to the Benicia refinery from U.S. and possibly Canadian oil fields, where it would be turned into gasoline and diesel fuel. Valero officials have said they hope to win approval from the city of Benicia to build a crude oil transfer station at the refinery by early next year, allowing them to replace more costly marine oil shipments with cheaper oil.

    Crude oil rail shipments have come under national scrutiny in the last year. Several spectacular explosions of crude oil trains, including one that killed 47 residents of a Canadian town last year, have prompted a push by federal officials and cities along rail lines for safety improvements.

    SACOG and the cities of Sacramento and Davis have called on Benicia to require UP to give advance notice to local emergency responders, and to prohibit the railroad company from parking or storing loaded oil tank trains in urban areas. Local officials want the railroad to use train cars with electronically controlled brakes and rollover protection. Sacramento also has asked Benicia to limit Valero to shipping oil that has been stripped of highly volatile elements, including natural gas liquid.

    Others in the Sacramento region, however, point out that rail safety is a federal issue, not one that cannot legally be dictated locally. In a joint letter, Stanley Cleveland and James Gallagher of the Sutter County Board of Supervisors said SACOG is overreaching, and a better approach would be to work with federal railroad regulators, as well as with Valero and UP, on safety issues.

    The Union Pacific Railroad also has challenged the SACOG and Sacramento city perspectives, arguing that federal law pre-empts states and cities from imposing requirements on the railroads. “A state-by-state, or town-by-town approach in which different rules apply to the beginning, middle and end of a single rail journey, would not be effective,” UP officials said in a letter this month to SACOG.

    State Sen. Ted Gaines, who represents much of Placer County and other rail areas, said the Valero project has his “full support.” Benicia’s analysis, he wrote, “affirms that this project is beneficial environmentally and economically and can be done safety given the prevention, preparedness and response measures in place by both Valero and Union Pacific Railroad.”

    Among other commenters:

    •  350 Sacramento, a local climate change group, warned that oil trains would cause an increase in carbon emissions and slow efforts to convert to renewable energies.

    •  The Capitol Corridor passenger train authority, which would share tracks with the oil trains, voiced concern about the safety of passengers, crews and communities, saying the Benicia analysis doesn’t look at the impact crude oil trains would have on Capitol Corridor or Amtrak passenger trains.

    • The Sacramento Metropolitan Air Quality Management District said Benicia could ask Valero to fund local mitigation programs to reduce polluting impacts of trains in the region.

    •  UC Davis noted that the rail line passes through campus near the Mondavi Center and the UC Davis Conference Center, and called for additional training and equipment for Davis to deal with the possibility of a derailment and fire.

    Read more here: http://www.mercedsunstar.com/2014/09/24/3866089_california-officials-challenge.html?rh=1#storylink=cpy

     

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      Cool Davis: a final landslide of important letters on Valero DEIR

      Repost from Cool Davis

      Valero DEIR Comments are Successful

      By Lynne Nittler

      Lynne Nittler led the Davis effort to send comment letters on the Valero DEIR.
      Lynne Nittler led the Davis effort to send comment letters on the Valero DEIR.

      The DEIR comments for the Valero Crude-by-Rail Project in Benicia closed on September 15, with a final landslide of important letters critical of the project arriving on the last day. Attorneys and others who have looked at the quality and quantity of the comments submitted believe at the very least the DEIR will have to be significantly revised to address the many serious issues raised, and then recirculated. They expect the analysis to take many months.

      This is an example of an entire region coming together to respond to a serious threat to our safety and taking advantage of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) process to voice our many concerns before the project proceeds. The process is respectful and orderly, and allows governmental agencies, environmental organizations, and individuals all to respond. The responses range from detailed technical analysis of many pages according to the expertise of the agency, often relying on expert scientists and sometimes policy, to more personal or general concerns from the public at large. In addition, public testimony was taken at three lengthy Planning Commission meetings in July, August, and September, all of which can be accessed at the city site below. Finally, the Benicia Planning Commissioners themselves submitted written comments.

      CEQA is a stunning example of democracy in action, and in the case of the Valero Crude-by-Rail Project, all concerned parties utilized the channel available to them to look closely at the short and long-term impacts of Bakken Crude and tar sands bitumen entering the state of California via rail.

      All comments are added to the public legal record and incorporated as part of the review of the DEIR, and thus all concerns must be addressed in the final EIR. Furthermore, any item entered in the record can be used in future litigation.

      The comments can all be read by order of the dates they were submitted at here   In each batch posted, the organizations are listed first, followed by letters from individuals. Be patient, as the large files are slow to open.  An easier, faster site to view the submissions can be found here

      A few highlights of the hundreds of pages of commentary follow.

      Governmental Agencies:
      In the Sacramento region, our governmental agencies stepped forward on our behalf. Yolo County addressed the concern of the magnitude of an accident should one occur, among a range of other considerations about transport over the causeway. Read them here.

      The Sacramento Area Council of Governments (SACOG) on behalf of 22 cities and 6 counties raised a series of concerns including advance notification to emergency operations offices of crude oil shipments, limitations on storage of crude oil tank cars in urbanized areas, funding for training and outfitting emergency response crews, installing the best brakes to minimize risks, funding for rail safety projects, installing Positive Tran Controls to prevent accidents, and prohibiting shipments of unstabilized crude oil that has not been stripped of the most volatile elements (including flammable natural gas liquids). Read the full letter here.

      The City of Davis concurred with the SACOG and County of Yolo letter concerns and added some specific considerations for trains passing through Davis. In particular, the letter states that the DEIR’s Project description is incomplete and misleading as written, given information about the use of 1232 tank cars and assumptions about “just-in-time” supply chain and the significant sidings that could be used for storage.

      The letter also states that the DEIR inadequately describes the project setting as it gives no details about all the uprail cities the trains must pass through with their crude oil loads. Next, the DEIR improperly truncates its description of the project setting by ending the description at Roseville, when at the least the route should be studied to the California borders or better yet to the source of extraction. Clearly the source of the crude does pose a significant hazard to uprail communities that must be addressed in the DEIR.

      The Project’s Significant Hazard Risk Requires Feasible Mitigation Measures which are not explored in the present version, and the Davis letter presents a list of possible mitigations. Finally, the City insists that the DEIR fails to analyze the cumulative impacts of the Project given the imminent plans for more daily crude oil trains. Read the full letter here.

      The California Public Utilities Commission in conjunction with the Office of Spill Prevention and Response also commented at some length on the DEIR, submitting their letter on Governor Brown’s letterhead. Read the full letter here. The letter addresses issues about the length of track analyzed, the derailment and accident calculations, the legal enforceability of the Valero commitment to use CPC- 1232 tank cars, the total derailments attributable to the project, insufficient attention paid to potential consequences, assumption regarding the number of cars expected to derail and other areas.

      Many other governmental agencies including several Air Quality Management Districts wrote letters examining aspects of the DEIR. Just browse the commentary postings.

      Environmental Groups
      The Natural Resources Defense Council Document is a must read for the environmental group letters submitted! It clearly lays out so many of the flaws with the DEIR! Rather than a summary, go right to the document here!

      For a technical review, check in to Communities for a Better Environment or read the San Francisco Baykeeper’s review, or technical reviews by other experts here.

      Last but not least, read the letters from Cool Davis on Greenhouse Gas emissions and from 350 Sacramento at the link above.

      Individual comments
      Finally, many dozens of residents did their best to add their voices commenting on their personal concerns, whether or not they attended the five workshops offered. Some wrote of living close to the railroad tracks and their worries of a derailment and explosion. Others pointed out the noise and vibrations of the daily mile-long trains of heavy tank cars. Others wrote about the potential danger of crude oil trains on tracks that run through areas with earthquake fault lines, and many asked probing questions about the liability and who would cover the costs of accidents and spills. Many were concerned about our water supply as trains cross the mountains and our major rivers. A few raised questions about the cumulative impact of the Valero daily trains in the context of the proposed daily train to Phillips 66 Santa Maria refinery in San Luis Obispo County whose DEIR is to be released this month.

      Next Steps
      The review period for the federal Department of Transportation proposed safety rules remains open to public comment through September 30. A petition from ForestEthics is available for signatures through September 21.

      The DEIR for the proposed recirculated DEIR for the Phillips 66 Rail Spur Project for the Santa Maria refinery in San Luis Obispo that will bring 80 tank cars of crude oil through Davis each day will be released mid-September for a 60-day review period. Watch Cooldavis.org and Yolanoclimateaction.org for ways to respond during the comment period.

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