On March 31, five environmental attorneys and a host of experts and others (including Benicians for a Safe and Healthy Community) sent the Benicia City Council this strong 3-page letter of opposition to Valero’s oil trains proposal. (For a much longer download, see the Letter with Attachments [13 MB, 214 pages].)
Jackie Prange, Staff Attorney for Natural Resources Defense Council;
Roger Lin, Staff Attorney for Communities for a Better Environment;
George Torgun, Managing Attorney for San Francisco Baykeeper;
Clare Lakewood, Staff Attorney for Center for Biological Diversity;
Elly Benson, Staff Attorney for Sierra Club.
Others signing the letter:
Ethan Buckner, ForestEthics;
Katherine Black, Benicians for a Safe and Healthy Community;
Janet Johnson, Richmond Progressive Alliance;
David McCoard, Sierra Club SF Bay Chapter;
Jessica Hendricks, Global Community Monitor;
Colin Miller, Bay Localize;
Denny Larson, Community Science Institute;
Nancy Rieser, Crockett-Rodeo United to Defend the Environment;
Steve Nadel, Sunflower Alliance;
Kalli Graham, Pittsburg Defense Council;
Richard Gray, 350 Bay Area and 350 Marin;
Bradley Angel, Greenaction for Health and Environmental Justice;
Sandy Saeturn, Asian Pacific Environmental Network
The City Council can, and must, uphold the Planning Commission’s unanimous decision to deny the use permit for the Valero crude-by-rail project. Federal law does not preempt the City from denying the permit for this project. Furthermore, the City should not tolerate Valero’ s delay tactic of seeking a declaratory order from the Surface Transportation Board (STB). As explained below, the STB does not have jurisdiction over this project and will almost certainly decline to hear Valero’ s petition for the very same reason that preemption does not apply. Finally, even if preemption were to apply here, the project’s on-site impacts, especially the increases in refinery pollution, require the City to deny the permit.
The Benicia Independent is in receipt of a letter sent to the City of Benicia Planning Commission by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) detailing the failure of the EIR to “adequately analyze, disclose and mitigate the [Valero Crude by Rail] Project’s significant environmental impacts.”
The letter has not yet been posted to the City’s website as of this writing.
NRDC, joined by experts, attorneys and advocates representing 18 other Bay Area environmental groups (listed below), also responds to the City of Benicia staff report. The staff report recommended certification of the EIR and approval of the project.
The NRDC letter details at length the EIR’s various omissions and failures of law, logic and scientific method. Comments are organized into sections on Air Quality, Environmental Justice, Hazards, Water Quality, Biological Resources and “Additional Impacts Not Analyzed.”
The additional section on the Staff Report makes a lengthy and careful legal case against the City’s claim that federal law preempts Benicia from mitigating impacts or denying approval for the project.
In conclusion, the letter states, “Benicia Municipal Code 17.104.060, prohibits the City from approving a project that will be detrimental ‘to the public health, safety, or welfare of persons residing or working’ near the project, ‘to properties or improvements in the vicinity,’ or ‘to the general welfare of the city.’ For all the reasons stated above and in our prior comments, the Project will harm Benicians, other communities throughout the state, and our climate. The City should decline to certify the EIR and deny the permit for this Project.” [emphasis added]
This important and powerful letter has nineteen signatories:
• Natural Resources Defense Council
• Communities for a Better Environment
• San Francisco Baykeeper
• Center for Biological Diversity
• Sierra Club
• Richmond Progressive Alliance
• Sierra Club SF Bay Chapter
• Bay Localize
• Community Science Institute
• Benicians for a Safe and Healthy Community
• Crockett-Rodeo United to Defend the Environment
• Martinez Environmental Group
• Bay Area Refinery Corridor Coalition
• Sunflower Alliance
• Pittsburg Defense Council
• 350 Bay Area and 350 Marin
• Greenaction for Health and Environmental Justice
• Rodeo Citizens Association
• Asian Pacific Environmental Network
Contra Costa residents pushing for more information on crude by rail
By Karina Ioffee, Bay Area News Group, 03/27/2015 05:22:01 PM PDT
CROCKETT — With plans in the works to transport crude oil by rail through Contra Costa County cities to a Central California refinery, local residents say they want assurances that state and federal agencies are doing everything they can to keep them safe.
Less than 1 percent of crude that California refineries received in 2014 came by rail, but the negative perception of transporting oil by train has grown sharply because of highly publicized accidents. A derailment in Quebec in 2013 killed 47 people and destroyed parts of a town; another in West Virginia contaminated local water sources and forced the evacuation of hundreds of residents.
If the Phillips 66 plans are approved, an estimated five trains a week, each hauling 80 tank cars, could travel through Contra Costa cities, then Berkeley, Oakland and San Jose along the Amtrak Capitol Corridor, before arriving at the refinery in Santa Maria.
At a community meeting here Thursday, residents peppered a representative from the California Energy Commission about what kind of emergency plans were in place should a train derail and explode, what timelines the federal government had for new and improved tanker cars, and whether railroad companies have enough insurance in case of a catastrophic event.
Many came away unsatisfied with what they heard, saying they were terrified by the prospect of rail cars filled with Bakken crude from North Dakota, which is lighter and more combustible than most types of petroleum.
“The oil companies are getting all the benefits and the communities who live near them are taking all the risk,” said Nancy Rieser, who lives in Crockett and is a member of Crockett-Rodeo United to Defend the Environment, a community organization.
Her group is pushing the railroad industry to release its risk-assessment information, required for insurance purposes, to better understand what kind of plans companies have in an event of an emergency and whether their insurance policies would cover a large incident. Railroad companies have so far declined to release the information.
“You need to have hospitals at the ready, you need to have first responders, so if you keep it a secret, it’s as if the plan didn’t exist,” Rieser said. “You can’t be coy with the communities.”
Regulations about rail safety are written and enforced by the Federal Railroad Administration, and the California Public Utilities Commission focuses on enforcement in the state, employing inspectors to make sure railroads comply with the law. There is also an alphabet soup of state agencies such as the Office of Emergency Services (OES), the Office of State Fire Marshal (OSFM), California Environmental Protection Agency (CalEPA) and the Office of Spill Prevention and Response (OSPR).
But to what extent the agencies are working together to prepare for crude-by-rail transports and how they’re sharing information remains unclear. Last year, an Interagency Rail Safety Working Group, put together by Gov. Jerry Brown, produced a report recommending that additional inspectors be hired to evaluate tracks, rail cars and bridges; more training for local emergency responders; and real-time shipment information to local firefighters when a train is passing through a community. According to the report, incidents statewide involving oil by rail increased from three in 2011 to 25 in 2013.
Many at Thursday’s meeting said the only way to prevent future accidents was to ban the transport of crude by rail completely, until all rail cars and tracks had been inspected.
“These trains are really scary because we live so close to them and we feel the effects deeply through emissions and air pollution,” said Aimee Durfee, a Martinez resident. Statewide, Californians use more than 40 million gallons of gasoline each day, according to the California Energy Commission.
Bernard Weinstein, associate director of the Maguire Energy Institute at Southern Methodist University, said railroad companies are already shifting to new cars — outfitted with heat shields, thicker tank material and pressure-relief devices — although the process is gradual because of the sheer volume of the fleet, estimated at more than 25,000. New rulings specifying tanker car standards and timelines about phasing in updated technology are also expected this May.
“No human activity is completely risk-free,” Weinstein said, adding that the spill rate for trains transporting crude was roughly four times higher than accidents involving pipelines.
“Communities are resistant to crude by rail and they are against pipelines, but they also want to go to the pump and be able to fill up their car.”
Citizens Risk Arrest to Halt Operations at Richmond Oil Train Terminal: Call on Air Quality Agency to Reverse Illegal Permit, Protect Public Health
By Eddie Scher, risingtidenorthamerica.org, September 4, 2014
[Richmond, CA] Today more than a dozen Bay Area citizens chained themselves to a gate at the Kinder Morgan rail terminal in Richmond to stop operations. The citizens risked arrest to protest mile-long oil trains that threaten the safety of area residents and are a massive new source of air and carbon pollution in the region.
Among the demonstrators were residents of Richmond, Rodeo, Martinez, and Benicia, all towns that currently see dangerous oil trains moving through residential areas. Earlier this year the regional air quality agency, known as the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, changed an existing permit to allow oil trains at the rail facility. Demonstrators contend that the agency broke the law when it modified the existing permit without additional environmental and safety review.
On Friday the San Francisco Superior Court will hold a hearing on a lawsuit filed by groups challenging the legality of the permit change and asking for a halt to oil train operations at the facility.
“I work with Richmond residents who already struggle with cancer, asthma and other devastating health impacts of pollution. Now they are living with bomb-trains full of explosive Bakken crude oil driving through their neighborhoods. By allowing this to happen, BAAQMD is failing to protect us and choosing Kinder Morgan’s profits over our safety,” said Megan Zapanta, Asian Pacific Environmental Network Richmond Community Organizer.
“People in Richmond are angry that the Air District, who are supposed to protect us, instead has put our community at catastrophic risk along with all the uprail communities. This irresponsible behavior must be stopped NOW!” said Andres Soto, organizer with Communities for a Better Environment.
“It’s unacceptable and illegal that the Air District allowed Kinder Morgan to bring explosive Bakken oil by rail from North Dakota without going through the processes established by state law to protect air quality and the safety of families in Pittsburg, Martinez, Crockett, Rodeo, Benicia, and Richmond. We demand that all operations related to oil by rail at Kinder Morgan stop immediately,” says Pamela Arauz, on behalf of Bay Area Refinery Corridor Coalition.
“The law in the State of California requires public agencies like the Air District to inform the public of projects like the Kinder Morgan Bomb Train operation. Not only that, the law requires an environmental review and public input into the process of issuing permits. The Air District broke the law when they secretly approved this dangerous project,” stated Denny Larson of Global Community Monitor.
“As the Bay Area Air District and other government agencies are failing to protect the health and lives of communities from the reckless shipments of crude oil by rail, the people are taking action to protect our communities,” said Bradley Angel, Executive Director of Greenaction for Health and Environmental Justice.
“The Air District took a reckless, illegal shortcut that puts our families at risk. We’ve seen what happens when one of these trains derails and catches fire, we can’t let that happen here,” said Ethan Buckner, US organizer with ForestEthics.
“Climate disruption is bearing down on us even faster because of the extreme extraction of tar sands and shale oil. With Bomb Trains carrying millions of gallons of that dangerous crude rolling on Bay Area rails, all of our lives are on the line. Instead of the alarming dead-end expansion of the fossil fuel industry we need a rapid transition to renewable energy now,” said Shoshana Wechsler of theSunflower Alliance.
“To be sure, we take the oil refineries’ contempt for fenceline communities for granted. But frankly, it was shocking to see how covertly BAAQMD threw our public health under the bus,” said Nancy Rieser, Co-founder, Crockett-Rodeo United to Defend the Environment (C.R.U.D.E.)