Tag Archives: Environmental Impacts

Santa Clara County votes to oppose oil trains

Repost from NBC Bay Area
[Editor:  See also coverage on CBS SF Bay Area.  – RS]

Supervisors Oppose Proposed Project That Would Bring Oil Trains Through Santa Clara County

By Robert Handa and Bay City News, Aug 24, 2015, 7:03 PM PDT

Santa Clara County leaders, including some fire chiefs, are looking to join the Bay Area fight to stop railroad cars filled with crude oil from traveling through neighborhoods.

The South Bay officials said they are worried a proposed plan in San Luis Obispo County could lead to a derailment, an environmental disaster and the loss of life.

A recent train derailment in San Jose made some Santa Clara County leaders suddenly very interested in blocking the Phillips 66 proposal to expand its Santa Maria oil refinery.

The plan to extend a Union Pacific rail line in San Obispo County would likely allow Phillips 66 to have up to five trains a week transporting millions of gallons of high sulfur crude oil around its Santa Maria refinery.

The route would run through 40 miles of the county in Milpitas, downtown San Jose, Morgan Hill, Gilroy and unincorporated communities, according to Santa Clara County Supervisor Cindy Chavez.

The project would have an option to use Caltrain from San Francisco to downtown San Jose, Chavez said.

“A hundred years ago rail lines were going through prairies. Now they’re going through communities where people live, work, play and worship,” Chavez said.

With nearly 2 million residents, Santa Clara County is a more densely populated area than elsewhere on the route, Yeager said.

In addition to the human impact an oil train derailment would have, there would also be environmental consequences on air and soil quality and an already limited water supply, Yeager said.

The Board of Supervisors is scheduled to vote on a resolution against the proposal during its Tuesday meeting.

If the resolution is passed, the county plans to detail their opposition to the project in a letter to the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors.  [Editor: the resolution passed by unanimous vote. – RS]

The Santa Clara County Fire Chiefs’ Association has also written a letter to San Luis Obispo County officials for additional information, training and equipment to keep the county safe should the project move forward, Kehmna said.

Palo Alto fire Chief Eric Nickel, president of the fire chiefs’ association, said Phillips should provide the resources to train county fire personnel instead of billing taxpayers.

In an email Phillips 66 spokesman Dennis Nuss said, “We remain committed to safety and to our proposal. We understand that there may be opposition to the rail project, and we look forward to San Luis Obispo County providing responses to all issues that are raised and addressing them in compliance with CEQA.”

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    Maryland judge orders railroads to release oil train reports

    Repost from McClatchyDC

    Maryland judge orders release of oil train reports

    HIGHLIGHTS
    • Case marks first time railroads have lost on the issue in court
    • Judge not persuaded that release would harm security, business
    • Companies that filed 2014 lawsuit have until Sept. 4 to appeal

    By Curtis Tate, August 17, 2015
    Tank cars loaded with crude oil head east at Hurricane, W. Va., in May 2014. A Maryland judge has ordered the release of oil train reports to McClatchy and other news organizations. West Virginia and a handful of other states agreed to keep the the reports confidential.
    Tank cars loaded with crude oil head east at Hurricane, W. Va., in May 2014. A Maryland judge has ordered the release of oil train reports to McClatchy and other news organizations. West Virginia and a handful of other states agreed to keep the reports confidential. Curtis Tate – McClatchy

    WASHINGTON – A Maryland judge rejected two rail carriers’ arguments that oil train reports should be withheld from the public, ordering them released to McClatchy and other news organizations that sought them.

    The ruling isn’t the first time railroads have lost their bid to keep the oil train reports secret, but it is the first court decision recognizing the public’s right to see them.

    The U.S. Department of Transportation began requiring in May 2014 that railroads inform states of large shipments of crude oil after a series of derailments with spills, fires, explosions and evacuations. Since February, six more major oil train derailments have occurred in North America.

    Nonetheless, some railroads have continued to press their case that the reports should be exempt from disclosure under state open records laws. Most states shared the documents anyway, and Pennsylvania and Texas did so after McClatchy appealed. Maryland is the only state that was taken to court after it said it would release the reports.

    Norfolk Southern and CSX sued the Maryland Department of the Environment in July 2014 to stop the state agency from releasing the records to McClatchy and the Associated Press. They have until Sept. 4 to appeal the decision, issued Friday by Judge Lawrence Fletcher-Hill of the Circuit Court for Baltimore City.

    Both companies, which transport crude oil to East Coast refineries concentrated in Delaware, Pennsylvania and New Jersey, said they would review the decision.

    Dave Pidgeon, a spokesman for Norfolk Southern, said the company would “respond at the appropriate time and venue.”

    Melanie Cost, a spokeswoman for CSX, said the railroad “remains committed to safely moving these and all other shipments on its network.”

    The ruling isn’t the first time railroads have lost their bid to keep the oil train reports secret, but it is the first court decision recognizing the public’s right to access them.

    In his 20-page opinion, Fletcher-Hill was not persuaded by arguments that releasing the oil train reports would harm the railroads’ security and business interests. He also dismissed the relevance of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s May final rule addressing the safety of oil trains. The companies had argued that the final rule supported their claims.

    He also ordered the companies to pay any open court costs.

    In a statement, Maryland Secretary of the Environment Ben Grumbles said the agency was pleased with the ruling and that it is “committed to transparency in government.”

    Rail transportation of Bakken crude oil, produced through hydraulic fracturing of shale formations in North Dakota, has grown exponentially in the past five years. However, a series of fiery derailments, including one in Quebec in 2013 that killed 47 people, have raised numerous concerns about public safety, environmental protection and emergency planning and response.

    U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx issued an emergency order on May 7, 2014, that required any railroad shipping 1 million gallons or more of Bakken crude oil through a state to inform that state’s emergency response commission what routes the trains would take and which counties they would cross, as well as provide a reasonable estimate of how many trains to expect in a week.

    Beginning in June 2014, McClatchy submitted open records requests in 30 states for the oil train reports, including Maryland.

    McClatchy was able to glean some of the details in the Maryland report through a Freedom of Information Act request to Amtrak, which owns part of Norfolk Southern’s oil train route in the state. The subsequent release of oil train reports in Pennsylvania revealed more about such operations in Maryland.

    On Monday, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf released an 84-page assessment of oil train safety in the state, which examined derailment risk, tank car failures and regulatory oversight. Some Maryland lawmakers have called for the state to perform a similar assessment.

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      Pittsburg CA: Suit claims EPA failed to investigate

      Repost from the Contra Costa Times

      Pittsburg: Suit claims EPA failed to investigate complaints of environmental discrimination

      By Bay City News Service, 07/21/2015 09:43:40 AM PDT

      PITTSBURG – A consortium of environmental groups sued the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for failing to investigate complaints of discrimination in the placement of power plants or hazardous waste dumps in various locations across the country, including two power plants in Pittsburg.

      The EPA has 180 days to respond to the complaints, but according to the suit, which was filed on July 15, the federal regulator has not responded to the complaints in 10 to 20 years in some cases.

      The suit includes allegations about facilities in Michigan, Texas, New Mexico, Alabama and California.

      In Pittsburg, the suit alleges that the local regulatory agencies — the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, the California Air Resources Board, and the California Energy Commission — discriminated against residents by locating two power plants in an already environmentally over-burdened area, according to Marianne Engelman Lado, a lawyer with Earthjustice, which is representing the plaintiffs.

      “This is in a community where people have high rates of asthma or cancer and they were concerned that these plants would add to that,” Engelman Lado said.

      Californians for Renewable Energy, or CARE, filed a complaint with the EPA’s Office of Civil Rights in April 2000 charging the local agencies discriminated against the predominantly nonwhite and low-income residents by failing to consider the additional environmental burden of the two new plants, the complaint alleges.

      Permitting for the plants, the Los Medanos Energy Center LLC and Delta Energy Center, continued and the plants were approved and went online in 2001 and 2002, respectively, according to the complaint. The EPA accepted the complaint in December 2001 but has yet to conduct an investigation into the allegations, despite attempts in 2006 and 2009 by CARE to prompt the federal agency to respond, the complaint alleges.

      In June 2002, the EPA classified Los Medanos Energy Center as being in “significant violation” of the Clean Air Act and over the last five years the facility has had to pay over $3,000 in fines for violating the act, according to the complaint.

      In the meantime, residents have been suffering the consequences, Engelman Lado said.

      “The plants are still standing and they’re polluting,” she said. “They’re emitting toxins and the community is living with that everyday.”

      Engelman Lado said it’s clear the EPA has violated the law, and she’s hoping the lawsuit will result in the EPA completing their investigation.

      Engelman Lado added she’s confident that when the EPA does complete the investigation, it will make findings of discrimination.

      “We would hope, whether through a court order or by sitting down at the table, we could bring resources to bear to say, ‘What can we do to help these communities who are suffering from a lack of infrastructure or resources,'” she said.

      That could take the form of more monitoring, infrastructure to mitigate some of the negative impacts of the power plants, or more extensive buffers between the community and the plants.

      A representative from the EPA did not return a request for comment.

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        EPA Issues Final Guidance on Considering EJ During Rulemaking

        Repost from Mailing List, EPA Environmental Justice

        EPA Issues Final Guidance on Considering EJ During Rulemaking

        June 2, 2015 1:28 PM

        The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has issued final Guidance on Considering Environmental Justice During the Development of a Regulatory Action. This guidance was created to ensure understanding and foster consistency with efforts across EPA’s programs and regions to consider environmental justice and make a visible difference in America’s communities. The final guidance supersedes the agency’s Interim Guidance on Considering Environmental Justice During the Development of an Action, released in July 2010.

        Key improvements from the interim guidance include:

        • Refined discussion of the factors that contribute to potential environmental justice concerns;
        • Refined direction on when and to what extent environmental justice needs to be considered in the rulemaking process;
        • Recommendations added for how to meaningfully engage minority, low-income, and indigenous populations and tribes;

        A blog authored by Cynthia Giles and Jim Jones can be found at http://blog.epa.gov/blog/2015/06/integrating-environmental-justice-into-our-work/; a copy of the final guidance and the memo transmitting the guidance to the programs that write national rules can be found at: http://epa.gov/environmentaljustice/resources/policy/ej-rulemaking.html.

        The guidance supports EPA implementation of Executive Order 12898, Federal Actions to Address Environmental Justice in Minority Populations and Low-Income Populations (http://epa.gov/environmentaljustice/resources/policy/exec_order_12898.pdf). Rulemaking is a critical part of how we carry out our mission of protecting the environment and health of all Americans.

        All questions can be directed to: lee.charles@epa.gov


        If you are not already a member, the Office of Environmental Justice would like to invite you to join the EJ ListServ. The purpose of this information tool is to notify individuals about activities at EPA in the field of environmental justice. By subscribing to this list you will receive information on EPAs activities, programs, projects grants and about environmental justice activities at other agencies. Noteworthy news items, National meeting announcements, meeting summaries of NEJAC meetings, and new publication notices will also be distributed. Postings can only be made by the Office of Environmental Justice. To request an item to be posted, send your information to environmental-justice@epa.gov and indicate in the subject “Post to EPA-EJ ListServ”
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