Tag Archives: Lynne Nittler

Expert letters pouring in, critical of Valero Crude by Rail

The following hugely significant letters were sent to the City of Benicia today, just ahead of its 5pm deadline for public comments on Valero’s Revised Draft EIR.

    Davis, California: Brave the blast zone to make a point – Saturday, July 11

    Repost from The Davis Enterprise
    [Editor:  Details at CoolDavis and Yolano Climate Action.  – RS]

    Brave the blast zone to make a point

    By Lynne Nittler, July 08, 2015
    Lac Megantic
    Protesters in Portland carry placards bearing the names of 47 people who died two years ago when an oil train derailed in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, Canada. Courtesy photo

    There is no safe way to transport extreme tar sands and Bakken crude oil. Two years after Lac-Mégantic, oil trains keep exploding and carbon pollution keeps rising. Oil trains are a disaster for our health, our safety and our climate.

    On Saturday, July 11, Davis residents will remember the 2013 oil derailment that took 47 lives in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, Canada. Davis faces the threat of a similar accident. Currently, at least one oil train per week passes through Davis headed to the Bay Area.

    Two more 100-car trains per day are planned for the near future for the Valero Refinery in Benicia and the Phillips 66 refinery in San Luis Obispo … unless citizens stop them.

    The ForestEthics map at www.Blast-Zone.org shows endangered homes and businesses along Second Street in Davis, including the police station, Carlton Plaza senior community and Rancho Yolo. The entire Davis downtown is vulnerable, along with parts of UC Davis campus and apartments complexes along Olive Drive.

    Saturday’s vigil and rally highlight public opposition to oil trains passing through Davis. Too many residents live in the oil train blast zone, the 1-mile evacuation zone recommended by safety officials in the case of an oil train derailment and fire. ForestEthics calculates that nationwide, 25 million Americans live in the blast zone.

    “My home is in the oil train blast zone,” says Frances Burke, a downtown resident and oil train activist. “I have to breathe the extra particulates in the air from each additional daily train. Meanwhile, the new federal regulations do little to protect me.

    “In the event of an accident, first responders can only evacuate people from fireballs that happen despite trains moving at slower speeds in the supposedly safer tank cars. Oil trains are too dangerous for communities.”

    Wearing fiery red, yellow and orange shirts, Davisites are invited to meet at the train station and walk through the Davis blast zone downtown to the Rotary Stage in Central Park.

    “Five times in the first five months of 2015 we’ve watched oil trains derail and explode into toxic fireballs,” said Elizabeth Lasensky of Yolo MoveOn, as she made her sign for Saturday’s event. “The Department of Transportation reported in July 2014 that we can expect 10 to 12 derailments a year! It’s only a matter of time before an oil train derails in a major urban area, and the railroads don’t carry sufficient liability for such a disaster!”

    After rousing songs by the Raging Grannies, Davis Mayor Dan Wolk will speak of the City Council’s resolution opposing oil by rail, available at http://citycouncil.cityofdavis.org/Media/Default/Documents/PDF/CityCouncil/CouncilMeetings/Agendas/20140422/04B-Opposing-Oil-By-Rail.pdf followed by Councilman Lucas Frerichs, speaking about the Sacramento Area Council of Governments’ nearly unanimous decision to confront the issue: http://www.sacog.org/calendar/2014/08/rail/pdf/2-Valero%20EIR%20Comments.pdf. SACOG is made up of 22 cities and six counties.

    At the state level, Sen. Lois Wolk will share the legislative response to the sudden surge of crude-by-rail transport into California, which is aimed at protecting the public as well as sensitive habitat and waterways.

    Yolo County Supervisor Jim Provenza and Damien Luzzo will focus on the extraction side of the issue in Yolo County. Luzzo offers his story about how he came to oppose fracking at http://tinyurl.com/CAFrackWars and the Pledge of Resistance at http://tinyurl.com/FrackingPledgeOfResistance.

    “With well over 100 pledges signed on and 500 visitors online, this fracking pledge of resistance is starting to take off,” Luzzo says of his plan to make California fracking-free. “My article explaining the origins of the pledge has attracted over 1,000 people. The word is definitely getting out there.”

    Information on oil trains and the proposed ban on fracking in Yolo County will be available at the Cool Davis booth at the Farmers Market in Central Park.

    “The truth is, we don’t need any of the extreme oil,” says Reeda Palmer of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Davis. “The explosive Bakken and the toxic tar sands crude that moves by rail is a small percent of total U.S. oil consumption.

    “As we move our economy to clean energy, we can’t allow oil companies to bring Bakken, tar sands and other fracked oil — the dirtiest, most dangerous sources of oil — onto the market to pollute the atmosphere when we have clean alternatives.”

    Given the unresolved dangers of crude oil transport by rail and the overload of carbon emissions already in the atmosphere, a more prudent path is to leave all extreme crude in the ground, transition to clean, renewable energy and practice energy conservation in an effort to live sustainably on a finite planet.

    — Lynne Nittler is a Davis resident, the founder of Yolano Climate Action Central and an active member of Cool Davis.

      What does a Central Coast oil refinery have to do with Davis?

      Repost from The Davis Enterprise

      What does a Central Coast oil refinery have to do with Davis?

      By Dave Ryan, November 23, 2014

      In communities up and down the West Coast, groups of environmentalists, neighbors and local governments are doing whatever they can to mitigate or outright stop railroad terminals being built at coastal refineries at the end of rail lines that cut through cities and sensitive environmental areas.

      Davis residents joined the fight earlier this year against the Valero oil refinery in Benicia, and now are adding their voices to a chorus opposing a Phillips 66 facility in San Luis Obispo County.

      A local collection of environmental watchdogs called the Yolano Climate Action Group was one of the first to realize the potential public safety threat of Bakken crude oil trains traveling from out of state, through Roseville, Davis and to Benicia.

      The group successfully petitioned the city of Davis Natural Resources Commission in January to oppose the Valero project. The commission then was successful in persuading the City Council a few months later to begin monitoring the project and round up support from government agencies like Yolo County and the Sacramento Area Council of Governments to lobby Benicia for a more complete environmental impact report.

      “It was Davis that alerted the entire region,” said Lynne Nittler, a coordinator for the Yolano Climate Action Group.

      Meanwhile, Davis’ state and federal representatives have been doing what they can, within the limits of strong federal pre-emption laws for railroads.

      Trains carrying the hazardous materials have derailed and exploded in recent years, most notably in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, where a July 6, 2013, derailment caused a fire and wiped out a portion of the town, killing 47 people and forcing 2,000 others to flee. A subsequent derailment and explosion just outside Casselton, N.D., in January also alarmed the public.

      If the Valero refinery railroad terminal is built at Benicia, Davis would see trains estimated to be 100 cars long filled with volatile Bakken shale crude oil traveling straight through downtown along the same route the Amtrak Capital Corridor uses to carry commuters.

      Phillips 66 terminal

      But Davis faces another possible threat, as well.

      Far to the south and west of Davis are the Central California coast communities of San Luis Obispo County, housing the Phillips 66 oil refinery near the Nipomo Mesa and — potentially — another rail terminal.

      That terminal would attract more trains filled with Canadian tar sands crude oil, traveling through Roseville, Davis, Oakland, San Jose and Salinas to Phillips 66. While somewhat less volatile than Bakken shale crude, tar sands crude is mixed with chemical thinners that make it potentially explosive.

      Laurence Shinderman leads an activist group in Nipomo opposing the Phillips 66 railroad terminal called the Mesa Refinery Watch Group. The group’s ranks swelled from a handful in recent months to 250 residents spearheading a letter-writing campaign targeting the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors.

      The county is leading the environmental review process for the railroad terminal. Yolano Climate Action Group, the city of Davis and SACOG have submitted their concerns, as well.

      Shinderman said Nittler has been helping from the start, giving advice to the Mesa Refinery Watch Group.

      The mission among the Davis group is to get people to go from NIMBY to NOPE, or from saying, “Not In My Back Yard” to “Not On Planet Earth,” Nittler said.

      It represents a shift in thinking from opposing a particular project to a wider understanding of what environmentalists consider a dangerous trend of oil by rail along the West Coast.

      In San Luis Obispo County, the rail line that would carry the oil runs through the Cal Poly SLO campus and over a bridge adjacent to a county drinking water treatment facility.

      “The reality is there is human error, there are guys who are going to fall asleep at the switch,” Shinderman said. “You can’t mitigate for human error. The railroad is hiding behind the skirt of federal pre-emption and saying, “Ah, you can’t do anything.’ ”

      Federal protection

      Under federal code, any laws governing railroads must be uniform across the country, “to the extent practicable.”

      That forbids the vast majority of local tinkering, but a small “savings clause” says a state may regulate some railroad activity provided the situation is geared at a local, but not statewide, safety hazard; is not in conflict with federal law; and does not “unreasonably” restrict railroad commerce.

      The party claiming federal pre-emption has the burden of proof in any case.

      In the matter of the railroad terminals, local cities and counties are ostensibly in charge of the approval — or disapproval — of the projects.

      Even there, federal law may give the oil companies and the railroads a recourse in court if the terminals aren’t built.

      According to the Association of  American Railroads, rail safety is a top priority. In accordance with a 2014 emergency order from the federal Department of Transportation, rail companies are required to notify state emergency response agencies about the routes of trains carrying large amounts of Bakken crude.

      The association also notes that railroads train thousands of first responders, including using a $5 million specialized crude-by-rail training and a tuition assistance program, which is estimated to serve 1,500 first responders in 2014.

      “If an incident occurs, railroads swiftly implement well-practiced emergency response plans and work closely with first responders to help minimize injuries or damage,” reads a position statement on the association’s website.

      The association said the industry is also advocating for safer rail cars that are less prone to disaster. The association claims that in 2013, freight railroads “stepped up the call for even more rigorous standards for tank cars carrying flammable liquids” that included asking that existing tank cars be retrofitted to meet higher standards or be “phased out.”

      Nittler said that was a smokescreen, and the federal government does not impose rules the industry doesn’t agree to first.

      Even according to AAR, the federal Railroad Safety Advisory Committee that develops safety standards for rail transport uses a “consensus process” to impose new safety standards.

      Legislative help

      Davis’ Democratic congressman, Rep. John Garamendi, is a member of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. He said the committee is in the process of crafting new rules for railroads.

      “I have and will continue to push them to write the strongest possible guidelines,” Garamendi said in an email.

      At the state Capitol, state Sen. Lois Wolk, D-Davis, is part of efforts to pass laws that levy taxes on railroads to provide money for first responders.

      “The volume of crude oil being imported into California has increased 100-fold in recent years, and Valero has plans to ship 100 train cars of crude oil per day through the heart of my district to its refinery in Benicia,” Wolk wrote in an email.

      “… Currently, local governments along these transport corridors don’t have sufficient funding to protect their communities. When the Legislature reconvenes in January, I will push for funding for developing and maintaining adequate state and local emergency response to accidents and spills involving rail transports of crude oil and other hazardous materials.”

      Union Pacific and Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroads filed suit against the state in October, claiming that California or any other state does not have the authority to impose safety requirements on them because federal law already does that.

      That may put a damper on a new North Dakota law passed Thursday that requires companies to stabilize the volatility of Bakken crude before shipping it out of the state. Texas already requires such handling.

      In the meantime, Nittler is busy trying to drum up support for a letter-writing campaign to the SLO Board of Supervisors before a 4:30 p.m. deadline Monday for comments on its draft environmental review.

      “If they don’t build it, they won’t come,” Shinderman said.