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
By Eddie Scher, ForestEthics, Wednesday Dec 9, 2015
[Pittsburg, CA] On November 16, WesPac Energy formally withdrew its proposed 242,000 barrel-per-day oil storage and transfer facility in Pittsburg, California. The crude oil facility would have included a marine port for oil tankers, more than a dozen oil storage tanks, an oil train offloading terminal, and multiple pipelines to local refineries.
To celebrate the victory local activists will attend the upcoming city council meeting at Pittsburg City Hall on Monday, December 14 at 7:00pm.
Members of the coalition of citizen organizations working to protect the people and environment of Pittsburg released the following statements:
“We knew that WesPac was not good for our community and having them as our neighbor would do nothing to make Pittsburg a better place to live” saysKalli Graham, co-founder of the Pittsburg Defense Council. It was time for us to roll up our sleeves and take action. We had homes to protect and families to keep safe. We did everything we could to tell everyone who would listen that this project was wrong. We canvassed our neighborhoods, lobbied our city and county officials and educated our community on the dangers this project would have on our town. We organized a grassroots movement, created a non-profit organization and rallied our community into action. We stood together as neighbors to fight this project until we’d stalled it for so long that it was no longer viable. We took a stand against the biggest, dirty industry this planet has known so far and we WON!”
“The citizens of Pittsburg stood toe to toe with the oil industry, they did not blink, they did not flinch, and today they have won,” says Ethan Buckner, ForestEthics extreme oil campaigner. “Thanks to the leadership of Kalli Graham and the Pittsburg Defense Council, and thousands of Pittsburg residents, it is clear that oil trains, tankers, tank farms, and pipelines are not welcome here. Here’s a message to Phillips 66, Valero, and other oil companies with dangerous oil trains projects in the works: The people of California and across North America don’t want your extreme oil, we want clean energy and climate solutions.”
“The WesPac crude by rail project was clearly designed to import dirty Canadian tar sands to Bay Area refineries,” says Andrés Soto, Richmond organizer with Communities for a Better Environment. “This victory is not enough. To protect us from future dirty oil projects, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District must adopt strict limitations on refinery emissions now.
“Thanks to the people of Pittsburg for sending this clear signal to the City of Benicia and Valero that Valero’s dangerous crude by rail project is not only a bad idea, it is no longer economically viable,” says Katherine Black, organizer with Benicians for a Safe and Healthy Community.
“WesPac’s own environmental review documents, inadequate as they were, showed that the project would harm this community and the environment by polluting the land, air, and water” says Jackie Prange, Staff Attorney at Natural Resources Defense Council. WesPac made the right choice to give up now rather than face defeat in court.”
“I’ve often considered the WesPac project to be the Bay Area’s Keystone XL – a perfect example of new fossil fuel infrastructure that would enable the oil industry to grow,” says community organizer Martin Mackerel. I couldn’t be happier that we stopped this project from being built. I hope our victory inspires others to block all new fossil fuel infrastructure in their backyards. Together we can stop this industry from murdering humanity’s future.”
“WesPac’s dangerous and grandiose plans for a mega-oil terminal in Pittsburg have been thwarted not only by market forces—OPEC and faltering oil barrel prices—but by a force of nature commonly known as People Power, the combined efforts of nameless individuals driven not by profit motives but by fierce love of community and desire for ecological sanity,” says Shoshana Wechsler of the SunFlower Alliance.
“The WesPac oil storage facility would have posed significant pollution threats to San Francisco Bay. San Francisco Baykeeper is proud to have been part of the team that stopped WesPac, and we’ll continue our work to protect the Bay from the expansion of oil refining and oil transport in the Bay Area,” says Sejal Choksi, San Francisco Baykeeper.
“Pittsburg is a strong community, and one that determined that we were not going to allow the hazardous WesPac project to be placed in our backyard,” says Gregory Osorio of the Pittsburg Ethics Council. “Many people worked countless hours – first Lyana Monterrey who started the organizing in Pittsburg before the WesPac project was on ANYONE’s radar. To George Monterrey for his ‘fire’, and Danny Lopez, the graphics artist for the movement. The credit for this victory belongs to the nonprofit environmental groups such as Forest Ethics, NRDC, Sierra Club, and Sunflower Alliance, who all made enormous contributions. We wish to thank everyone who labored tirelessly to keep this potentially catastrophic project from being dumped in our backyard.”
BLM postpones Utah auction to ‘accommodate’ climate activists
By Phil Taylor, E and E News, November 17, 2015
The Bureau of Land Management late last night announced it is postponing today’s scheduled oil and gas lease sale in Salt Lake City to appease activists who are fighting to keep those minerals in the ground.
BLM had planned to lease up to 37,580 acres scattered around the center of the Beehive State for future oil and gas development, but the agency said it needed more time to “better accommodate the high level of public interest in attending the sale.”
It marks the first time that the “Keep it in the Ground” climate movement — which seeks to end the sale of federally owned oil, gas and coal — has disrupted a BLM lease auction.
BLM said it intends to reschedule the sale in the “near future.”
“As a public agency, we understand the importance of transparency,” said BLM spokeswoman Megan Crandall. “Given the large interest, we chose to postpone the sale and will be working to find the best way to accommodate the public and those who wish to attend and participate in the auction when it is held.”
It was the third consecutive BLM lease sale to be confronted by climate protesters who believe the burning of federally owned fossil fuels will undermine the nation’s efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Roughly 50 people gathered last week outside BLM’s Colorado headquarters in Lakewood to protest the agency’s sale of 90,000 acres in the Pawnee National Grassland, according to the Western Energy Alliance.
BLM moved forward with that auction, selling 106 parcels covering 83,534 acres for $5 million.
Protesters also demonstrated outside a Nov. 3 lease sale in Wyoming.
Crandall said there was not enough room in BLM’s downtown Salt Lake City auction room to accommodate members of the public who wanted to attend. The room is about 28 feet wide by 60 feet long and also has to accommodate up to 30 bidders and reporters, she said.
BLM planned to live-stream the auction, but many activists insisted on attending in person, she said.
The “Keep it in the Ground” campaign is backed by some major environmental groups including the Natural Resources Defense Council and is buoyed in Congress by legislation from Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) that would end new leasing and renewals of nonproducing federal leases for oil, coal and gas.
The movement is riding the momentum of President Obama’s recent rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline and Royal Dutch Shell PLC’s decision to abandon oil exploration in the Arctic Ocean. It now seeks to stop BLM from leasing fossil fuels in the West and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management from opening the Atlantic Ocean to offshore drilling.
In Salt Lake City this morning, roughly 40 activists displayed theatrical bidding paddles, held up photos of their grandkids and sang folk songs including John Prine’s “Paradise,” according to Tim Ream, an organizer from WildEarth Guardians who is based in San Francisco and attended this morning’s protest. Organizing groups included WildEarth, the Center for Biological Diversity, Women’s Congress for Future Generations, 350.org, the Rainforest Action Network and Elders Rising for Intergenerational Justice.
Ream said BLM informed him last week that some members of the public would be turned back from the auction room regardless of whether there was space. This morning’s protest was led primarily by older activists who had no intention of disrupting the sale, he said.
“They wanted to touch the hearts of those who are selling and buying our public lands,” he said. “They realized two years in prison is too high a price.”
Ream was referring to the two-year prison sentence handed down in 2011 to activist Tim DeChristopher for his decision to pose as a bidder at a BLM lease sale in Utah in late 2008 and snatch up $1.8 million in leases with no intention of paying for them.
Vaughn Lovejoy of the group Elders Rising was among those who attended this morning’s rally.
“We’d like to see if there’s a way to inspire my generation … to spend this piece of our life doing something for the future rather than hanging out on cruise ships or golf courses,” he said.
Ream said activists will also stage protests at BLM’s upcoming oil and gas lease sales in Reno, Nev., on Dec. 8 and in Washington, D.C., on Dec. 10. “We’re going to keep on hitting every one of these lease sales,” he said.
The American Petroleum Institute has criticized the movement and Merkley’s legislation as a “political stunt,” warning that halting federal sales of fossil fuels would hike energy costs and hurt the federal government’s coffers.
The Mineral Leasing Act requires BLM to hold regular oil and gas auctions.
Kathleen Sgamma, vice president of government and public affairs at the Western Energy Alliance, whose members depend heavily on public lands leasing, said this morning that the Salt Lake City protesters are ignoring how increased production of natural gas has helped the nation transition away from coal that is more harmful to the climate when burned.
“Apparently, BLM is seeking a larger venue to accommodate the expected crowd of protesters whose goal is to disrupt the sale,” she said. “These same professional protesters bragged that they were traveling to other lease sales to try to disrupt them, but they’re on a fool’s errand.”
Sgamma noted that Interior Secretary Sally Jewell has rebuffed the “Keep it in the Ground” movement as unrealistic.
“There are millions of jobs around the country that are dependent on these industries, and you can’t just cut it off overnight,” Jewell said in September during a breakfast organized by The Christian Science Monitor (Greenwire, Sept. 15).
The following hugely significantletters were sent to the City of Benicia today, just ahead of its 5pm deadline for public comments on Valero’s Revised Draft EIR.
– Natural Resources Defense Council
– Communities for a Better Environment
– San Francisco Baykeeper
– Center for Biological Diversity
– Sierra Club
… and others [28 pages, 140KB]