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.
Repost from The Contra Costa Times [Editor: Significant quote: “WesPac officials said they dropped inbound crude oil shipments by rail from their plans for several reasons, including public sentiment against it, an unstable regulatory environment surrounding those shipments, and drops in crude oil prices that have made such shipments less economically viable.” – RS]
Pittsburg: Critics blast proposed oil terminal, even without Bakken crude trains
By Sam Richards, 04/07/2015 12:31:04 PM PDT
PITTSBURG — Train loads of Bakken crude oil are no longer in the plans for a proposed oil storage terminal near the waterfront, but that does not mean the project is being welcomed to town with open arms.
The City Council voted 5-0 Monday night to approve amending the environmental report for WesPac Midstream LLC’s proposed Pittsburg Terminal Project, which would renovate and modernize a long-dormant PG&E tank farm between West 10th Street and the Sacramento River waterfront.
The key change is that the five previously planned 104-car trains of domestic oil, mostly the volatile Bakken crude, are no longer part of the project. The new EIR will reflect that.
Councilman Sal Evola stressed that the vote reflected the council’s desire for “the process” to play out and fully vet the proposal.
“Every project at least deserves its fair process,” Evola said. “I’m all for preserving our industrial base, but we have to do it safely, and fair process is needed.”
Others were less interested in process, saying the WesPac proposal to bring an average of 242,000 barrels of crude or partially refined crude oil to be unloaded daily from ships and from pipelines, and stored in 16 tanks on 125 acres, is a problem for various reasons.
Speakers told the council that vapors from the storage tanks, the possibility of spills into the Sacramento Delta and the danger of the tanks exploding — all near hundreds of downtown homes — are potential issues, and that the project should simply be rejected.
“The only way you can mitigate this project is not do it,” said Willie Mims, representing the NAACP and the Black Political Association.
And though some at the meeting Monday night are grateful that WesPac that no longer plans to bring crude oil to the terminal by rail, others told the council that leaving out rail shipments doesn’t come close to salvaging the project. Some 30 people holding up “No WesPac” signs or wearing similar T-shirts crowded the council meeting.
Without the trains, the Pittsburg Terminal Project would now take oil from ships and a pipeline from the Central Valley and store it for later processing by refineries in Martinez, Benicia, Rodeo and Richmond.
Pamela Aranz of Antioch, representing the group Global Community Monitor, was one of several speakers who criticized the WesPac proposal as a dinosaur — old-fashioned, with increasingly outmoded technology. Others said the oil terminal would be at cross purposes with a nicely developing downtown area. Developing wind and/or solar power on that land, Aranz and others said, would make better sense.
Plans for the Pittsburg Terminal Project, first proposed in 2011, had been dormant for the past year, after local groups like Pittsburg Defense Council had protested the prospect of trains carrying volatile Bakken crude oil rolling in to the city. Communities across the United States — including Pittsburg, Richmond and Berkeley — have come out in opposed to crude by rail shipments through their cities after several high-profile derailments, including one in Lac Mégantic, Quebec, in 2013 killed 47 people and destroyed part of that city.
The new environmental report, to be paid for by WesPac, will replace an earlier one that was criticized in 2014 by the state Attorney General’s office because it did not suitably analyze air pollution impacts, address the risks of accidents involving storing and moving oil, consider the project’s climate change impacts, and consider a “reasonable range of alternatives” that could reduce impacts. WesPac officials said they dropped inbound crude oil shipments by rail from their plans for several reasons, including public sentiment against it, an unstable regulatory environment surrounding those shipments, and drops in crude oil prices that have made such shipments less economically viable.
If the needed approvals come at a typical pace, renovation work at the old PG&E tanks could begin in early 2016, and likely would take between 18 and 24 months.
Representatives from several area labor union locals supported moving ahead with the environmental study. Some said Monday night they wanted the jobs, both to rebuild the terminal and to operate it. Others said they favored the environmental process determining whether the terminal would be a safe place for union workers to be.
That, Evola said, is one benefit of continuing the process. “We want to be overly transparent,” he said.
That is fine with Lisa Graham and other members of Pittsburg Defense Council.
“We’ll be shining a bright spotlight on the project in the coming months,” she said.
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.)
Repost from The Kansas City Star [Editor: Has anyone monitored the diesel fumes in and around Benicia’s Industrial Park? How much more diesel would be burnt by the daily movement of engines hauling 100 tank cars into and back out of the refinery? – RS]
Diesel fumes near Kansas City, Kan., rail yard pose health threat, report says
By Alan Bavley, 07/14/2014
Leticia DeCaigny straps a portable air-sampling device to the side of a neighbor’s deck. For two days, the small gray box with what looks like a chimney on top will gather evidence of pollution from diesel engines.
“It’s like a human lung,” sucking in air as a person would breathe, DeCaigny says as she pushes some buttons that set the device whirring.
Just a few blocks away is the BNSF Railway’s vast Argentine rail yard, where switch engines move hundreds of freight cars to assemble trains headed for destinations across the country.
For generations, the yard has been the lifeblood of this economically challenged Kansas City, Kan., neighborhood, providing jobs and attracting industry. The trains rolling by make a constant, even reassuring sound.
But DeCaigny knows neighbors who regularly smell the diesel exhaust from the locomotives and the trucks that pick up and drop off cargo. She knows neighbors who can’t go outside for long without risking an asthma attack.
And she knows about the growing body of research that links diesel exhaust to a host of health problems —lung diseases, cancer, heart attacks and premature births.
So, with the help of a national environmental organization, DeCaigny has been taking this monitor from house to house for the past eight months to gather air samples in Argentine and the adjacent Turner neighborhood, where she lives and which also borders the rail yard.
The preliminary results from November through mid-June reveal what the environmentalists she is working with consider to be unhealthy levels of diesel exhaust, levels high enough on some days to send the elderly to the hospital or to raise the death rate among residents.
They will discuss their findings at a neighborhood meeting at 6 p.m. Tuesday at the South Branch Library, 3104 Strong Ave.
BNSF officials, who have reviewed the environmentalists’ preliminary report, said it is too short on essential details about how the data were collected to judge its validity. But they said the kind of short-term sampling that was done isn’t enough to establish trends. A single “uncommon event” could throw off the readings coming from any of the sites where the monitor was placed.
Other factors, such as the weather and two busy highways — Interstate 635, which runs through the rail yard, and Interstate 70 to its north — also could affect the numbers, they said.
But Denny Larson, executive director of Global Community Monitor, which provided DeCaigny the air monitor, said air sampled at seven of the 16 sites where DeCaigny placed the monitor contained diesel pollution at unhealthy levels, enough to indicate a disturbing pattern.
“It’s starting to show it’s a regular occurrence that the diesel is creating a health threat,” he said. “There are days in Argentine and Turner when it’s really unhealthy to breathe the air, and people should know that.”
With international trade booming, environmentalists are focusing greater attention on the diesel pollution from ports and intermodal hubs, where cargo is transferred. Containerized shipping, using standardized metal boxes, makes it easy to move cargo from ship’s hold to a freight train or tractor-trailer, all powered by diesel engines.
Global Community Monitor, a nonprofit environmental justice organization, also is working with environmental groups to monitor air quality in Galena Park, Texas, which receives much of the truck traffic from the Port of Houston, and in the large Gulf port of Plaquemines Parish, La.
Environmentally conscious California, where most cargo from Asia arrives, has been in the forefront of research and regulation of diesel exhaust at its ports.
Hricko’s research has found that in California counties with major rail yards, nearby residents are more likely to be people of color, and with low incomes.
“There are already health disparities with income, but this adds an environmental factor,” Hricko said.
Of great concern to environmentalists are the very small particles that circulate in the air. The particles can come from dust, smoke from a fire or exhaust from a tailpipe. Once inhaled, they can stay trapped in the lungs and affect the heart, blood vessels and lungs.
The federal Environmental Protection Agency has air-quality regulations for particles 2.5 microns or smaller in width. Such particles are invisible to the naked eye, less than one-thirtieth the width of a human hair.
The entire state of Kansas, including Wyandotte County and the Argentine rail yard, meets EPA standards for this kind of pollution.
The closest air-quality monitoring station to the Argentine rail yard is at the John F. Kennedy Community Center, a few miles to the north.
For more than six years, there’s been “a steady, steady drop” in particulate pollution from that site, said Tom Gross, the air monitoring and planning chief of the Kansas Bureau of Air, which does the monitoring for the EPA. “We view that as good news.”
Larson, of Global Community Monitor, said, “We agree with the state of Kansas and everybody else that if you look just at 2.5-micron particulates, there’s not a problem.”
But there is no regular federal monitoring of air pollution from the soot particles, called black or elemental carbon, that are commonly associated with diesel exhaust. DeCaigney’s monitor is designed to pick up this kind of pollution.
Unlike other fine particles that disperse over large areas, elemental carbon tends to stay close to where it is produced. So high readings are most likely along roads with heavy truck traffic or in the immediate vicinity of a rail yard.
Larson’s group employed an environmental scientist to make calculations from data in two recent academic studies to come up with threshold levels for what should be considered unhealthy levels of diesel pollution. One study linked high levels of diesel exhaust to increased hospitalizations for heart and lung problems among people ages 65 and older. The other study found that death rates among all ages were higher two or three days after a spike in diesel pollution.
“When those levels reach these thresholds, there’s an immediate risk,” Larson said. “It’s from short-term exposure.”
David Bryan of the EPA’s regional office for Kansas City said his agency has spoken to Larson about the monitoring underway. “We’d be interested in seeing his organization’s results.”
Driving through Argentine, DeCaigny points out Clopper Field, a public park right by the tracks that on weekends is packed with soccer players. Nearby, overlooking the rail yard, is a high rise for seniors. “They’re right on top of it,” she said.
She drives west into Turner, up to a health clinic and a community garden and orchard, and then circles past Turner High School, all close by the rail yard.
DeCaigny’s 8-year-old son died of brain cancer two years ago. She is particularly sensitive to environmental health issues.
“Knowing that some of the results are serious, this is something that needs to be known by the community,” she said.
BNSF said it has been making changes at the Argentine yard that reduce diesel exhaust. For example, switch engines are being used that turn off their main power while idling. And the rail yard’s intermodal facility is being phased out this year as BNSF moves those operations to its new Logistics Park in Edgerton. That’s taking a half-dozen diesel cranes out of service in Argentine.
But Larson said that’s not enough. He wants BNSF to fund a larger air-quality study by the EPA at the Argentine rail yard to see what further steps may be needed to reduce diesel pollution.
“It’s very laudable to bring in a new engine, but if you want to see if your measures are effective, you need to take measurements,” he said. “They’re on the right track, no pun intended. We need to make sure they keep moving ahead.”
Read more here: http://www.kansascity.com/news/local/article727874.html#storylink=cpy