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U.S. Rep. Garamendi praises Benicia City Council for crude-by-rail vote

Repost from the Fairfield Daily Republic

Garamendi praises Benicia City Council for crude-by-rail vote

By Ryan McCarthy, September 23, 2016

FAIRFIELD — Rep. John Garamendi is praising the Benicia City Council for its unanimous vote rejecting a proposed crude oil by rail facility that Valero corporation would have operated and Garamendi said would have led to dangerous railcars traveling through Fairfield, Suisun City, Dixon and Davis.

“The action by the Benicia City Council is a clear signal that shipping oil by rail presents a serious safety problem that must be addressed before our communities are faced with increased oil shipments,” Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove, said Thursday in a news release. “The council did the right thing by forcing a pause on oil by rail through our communities.”

The congressman, who represents the 3rd District that includes Fairfield and Suisun City, authored the Bakken Crude Stabilization Act to reduce the volatility of oil transported by rail and make it safer to transport, the release said.

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    SACRAMENTO BEE: State seeks fee on dangerous chemicals crisscrossing California

    Repost from the Sacramento Bee

    State seeks fee on dangerous chemicals crisscrossing California

    By Tony Bizjak, July 22, 2016 6:00AM

    HIGHLIGHTS
    • California officials say the state isn’t prepared to handle hazardous materials spills
    • A new $45 fee on every rail car carrying dangerous substances will help beef up spill response

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      DAVIS ENTERPRISE: Area agencies oppose Valero oil train petition

      Repost from the Davis Enterprise

      Davis joins regional agencies in opposing Valero oil train petition

      By Felicia Alvarez, July 10, 2016

      In the latest addition to the turbulent saga of Valero Refining Company’s proposal to expand a crude oil-by-rail train route through the Sacramento-Davis region to a refinery in Benicia, the City of Davis, Yolo County, and the Sacramento Area Council of Governments have submitted formal letters opposing the Valero’s latest moves to approve the project.

      The local agencies are joined by a formidable coalition opposing Valero’s project, including State Attorney General Kamala Harris, the cities of Oakland and Berkeley, and a number of air quality management districts.

      The letters oppose Valero’s most recent steps to push through the crude-by-rail proposal and expansion of their Benicia refinery.

      Last February saw the Benicia Planning Commission unanimously vote down the project’s environmental impact report. Valero decided to take it to the federal level, petitioning the Surface Transportation board for a federal preemption [by] the railroads.

      Preemption would allow the company to expand its operations to transport oil through Davis along Interstate 80 toward the refinery in Benicia. It would also include routes that travel to San Luis Obispo, Bakersfield, and several other projects in Oregon and Washington.

      The route of the most local concern would see 100-car trains travel through Old East Davis, downtown Davis, and the south end of UC Davis each day.

      Last Friday, the City of Davis delivered its own letter to the Surface Transportation Board opposing Valero’s proposal. The city signed alongside Yolo County, Oakland, Berkeley and SACOG.

      Fighting to maintain local control of planning and zoning management of the proposal in the interest of public safety, the letter states:

      “Valero’s complaints do not actually pertain to rail operations at all. They pertain to the operations of oil refineries within California, refineries that wish, for their own financial benefits, to be exempted from compliance with state and local environmental and planning laws.”

      The local agencies go on to argue that granting preemption is outside of the role of the board to rule on an oil refinery’s obligations.

      The Yolo Solano Air Quality Management District decried Valero’s petition as well, drafting a letter alongside the Butte, Sutter, Placer, Sacramento, Shasta and Bay Area air quality management districts. 

      The letter points to the project’s revised draft environmental impact report, which lists the additional air quality impacts that would be felt across multiple air districts if additional railcar trips were made across the region.

      ” … federal preemption prohibits the mitigation of project emissions either directly from locomotives or indirectly through the purchase of emission offsets,” the letter states, adding that this is what prompted the air quality districts to oppose the petition.

      Yolo Solano AQMD’s letter goes on to echo the city’s argument that Valero is not a rail carrier, and therefore is not eligible to receive a preemption on the railroads from the Surface Transportation Board.

      The Benicia City Council is slated to give the oil train proposal another hearing in September.

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        SACRAMENTO BEE: Northern California towns lack resources to handle oil train fires, spills

        Repost from the Sacramento Bee

        Northern California towns lack resources to handle oil train fires, spills

        By Jane Braxton Little, April 23, 2016 7:49 AM

        HIGHLIGHTS
        • Lassen County town has no reliable water supply for firefighting
        • Crude oil transport by rail grew 1,700 percent in 2015
        • Federal government providing hands-on response training

        A BNSF train carrying dozens of tank cars crosses an 80-year-old trestle heading south to Union Pacific Railroad tracks through the Feather River Canyon.
        A BNSF train carrying dozens of tank cars crosses an 80-year-old trestle heading south to Union Pacific Railroad tracks through the Feather River Canyon. Jane Braxton Little

        WESTWOOD – BNSF Railway trains carrying crude oil and other hazardous materials rumble through this Lassen County community every day – past homes, churches and a scant block from the downtown commercial center.

        If a tank car were to derail and explode, Westwood Fire Chief Forest Duerksen would take the only action he’s equipped for: Evacuation. Of all 1,000 residents.

        Westwood Fire Chief Forest Duerksen CQ stands next to the BNSF Railway tracks, a stone’s throw from the fire station in this Lassen County community.
        Westwood Fire Chief Forest Duerksen CQ stands next to the BNSF Railway tracks, a stone’s throw from the fire station in this Lassen County community. Jane Braxton Little

        Westwood has no consistent source of water, and the closest trailers with enough foam to extinguish a large blaze are a full four hours away, he said: “We’d just have to get everybody out and go from there.”

        Rural officials like Duerksen have been worried for decades about the chlorine, ammonia, propane and crude oil transported through their northern California communities by BNSF and Union Pacific Railroad. But a dramatic surge in production in oil fields in the Midwest and Canada increased the volume from about 10,000 railroad tank cars in 2008 to nearly half a million in 2014. In 2015, the U.S. Energy Information Agency reported a 1,700 percent increase in crude oil transportation by rail.

        That’s slowed significantly in the last year, a change generally attributed to a drop in the price of oil. But emergency responders worry that the volume will swell again when crude oil prices rise. In recent weeks, many have observed an increase in the number of tank cars on trains running south toward Sacramento and San Francisco.

        That could be a precursor to the half-mile long oil trains planned for travel through Northern California to Benicia. Valero Refining Co. has proposed building a rail loading station that would allow importing oil on two 50-car trains a day to the city 40 miles northeast of San Francisco.

        The trains would run through Roseville, downtown Sacramento, West Sacramento, downtown Davis, Dixon and other cities. East of Roseville, the route is uncertain. Trains could arrive via Donner Summit, Feather River Canyon, or through the Shasta and Redding areas.

        WE’D JUST HAVE TO GET EVERYBODY OUT AND GO FROM THERE.
        Westwood Fire Chief Forest Duerksen

        On Tuesday, the Benicia City Council postponed until September a decision on Valero’s appeal of a February planning commission recommendation that unanimously rejected the proposal.

        Accidents have mounted with the increase in the number of trains transporting oil around the country. A 2013 oil train explosion in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, haunts firefighters across the continent. The fire and detonation of multiple tank cars carrying Bakken crude oil killed 47 people and destroyed dozens of buildings.

        No one was hurt in 2014, when 11 cars derailed on Union Pacific tracks in the Feather River Canyon, spilling corn down a hillside above the river that supplies drinking water to millions of people as far south as Los Angeles. The cars could easily have been carrying crude oil, with substantial environmental consequences far beyond the Feather River, said Jerry Sipe, director of Plumas County’s Office of Emergency Services.

        “We were lucky,” he said.

        In 2015 there were 574 railway “incidents” involving hazardous materials while in transport, according to the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. Of these, 114 were in California, and three in Roseville, site of a large rail yard. Most were minor, and none involved fatalities.

        Officials in California’s up-rail cities, including Sacramento, have raised objections to plans to expand oil train traffic, saying not enough attention is being given to safety concerns. But these large urban jurisdictions are far better equipped to respond to incidents than their counterparts in rural Northern California, where train tracks pass through some of the state’s roughest terrain.

        In these rural areas, the people responding first to oil spills and accidents are generally local fire departments like Duerksen’s, one of the nation’s 20,000 all-volunteer fire organizations. Among the small rural communities along BNSF’s tracks through Northern California, the Westwood Fire Department is one of the better equipped for a hazardous materials accident.

        Duerksen took advantage of a BNSF program at the railroad industry’s training and research center in Pueblo, Colo. That gave him hands-on experience in using water and foam on a burning railcar, and taught him advanced techniques for containing spills.

        1,700 percent
        Increase in crude oil transportation by rail in 2015

        Since then, several volunteer firefighters from Westwood and communities along the BNSF line have attended the training. Quincy and other fire departments along the Union Pacific line have also sent volunteers to Pueblo.

        Plumas County was recently awarded a grant to acquire an oil spill trailer with firefighting foam and 1,200 feet of “hard booms,” which can contain large quantities of hazardous materials. Sipe said it will be positioned along Highway 70 at Rogers Flat for quick deployment in the Feather River Canyon, where aging trestles and sharp curves make it among the most accident-prone rail lines in the state.

        “We’re better protected now than a year ago,” Sipe said.

        Despite the improvements, many fire departments remain untrained and poorly equipped. In Greenville, where the BNSF line passes directly through residential and commercial areas, none of the 25 volunteers has been to the oil-spill training in Pueblo, said Chris Gallagher, general manager of the Indian Valley Community Services District, which oversees the fire department. Four of the department’s 10 pieces of equipment have been deemed inoperable by the California Highway Patrol, he said.

        “We definitely need some help,” said Gallagher.

        That could come through an innovative program taking the Pueblo emergency response training on the road. Rail safety experts will travel to communities around the country providing hands-on accident preparedness to firefighters. Funded by a $2.4 million award from the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, the mobile training program is expected to train about 18,000 first responders from remote rural communities in 2016.

        The award is part of a $5.9 million grant to provide hazardous materials training for volunteer or remote emergency responders. Plumas County has already requested the mobile training, Sipe said.

        BNSF strongly supports these programs, said Lena Kent, a company spokeswoman. Last year alone it trained 10,000 first responders, 1,500 of them in California.

        Duerksen, the Westwood fire chief, said he feels much safer than he did two years ago, when the increase in oil-train traffic had emergency responders on edge. “We’re better trained and better prepared now,” he said.

        But not everyone is content with the increased training and beefed-up emergency response equipment. Larry Bradshaw, a retired therapist and community activist in Westwood, is advocating for additional safety requirements for BNSF. He wants to see a high-risk rail designation extended from Greenville to Westwood, imposing a 45 mph maximum speed and increasing the number of inspections.

        “We’re not prepared at all. There’s no way we can respond to a spill. The only thing we can do is evacuate,” Bradshaw said.

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