Tag Archives: Placer County CA

DAVIS ENTERPRISE: Benicia hears oil-train concerns from Davisites

Repost from the Davis Enterprise
[Editor:  I know Lynne as a strong advocate against Valero’s Crude By Rail proposal.  Her fair-minded coverage of both sides of the debate in this article is amazing and admirable.  A good overview of the hearing on Monday.  – RS]

Benicia hears oil-train concerns from Davisites

By Lynne Nittler, April 06, 2016

BENICIA — Davis was well-represented at a Benicia City Council hearing Monday for Valero Oil’s crude-by-rail project. Of the approximately 48 people who spoke, 12 came from Davis or Dixon, and another six were from Sacramento.

The speakers voiced their opposition to the oil company’s proposal to expand its refinery and accept 100 rail cars daily full of North American crude oil on a route that comes directly through downtown Davis.

The hearing continues with more public testimony tonight plus April 18 and 19 at the City Chambers in Benicia.

The evening began with a rally of those opposed to the project counter-balanced by a gathering of Valero workers and supporters of the project. A busload of 23 people from Sacramento stopped to pick up seven more in Davis, arriving just as the hearing began in the packed chambers.

Officials were allowed to speak first, beginning with Yolo County Supervisor Don Saylor, who also represented the Sacramento Area Council of Governments. He traced Yolo County’s effort over the past three years to communicate the serious safety concerns and to offer possible mitigation measures that were acknowledged but not addressed in the EIR.

He said 500,000 of the 2.4 million residents in the SACOG area — the counties of Yolo, Sacramento, Sutter, Yuba, Placer and El Dorado — live in the blast zone of the railroads, i.e., within a quarter-mile radius of the tracks. Of those, 260,000 are residents, 200,000 work in the area and 28,000 are students.

While acknowledging that Valero and its jobs are important, Saylor emphasized that this project “requires a shared commitment to protecting public safety.” He said the project should not be approved until the safety concerns are resolved.

Matt Jones of the Yolo Solano Air Quality Management District represented all seven districts that have responded jointly in writing to three versions of the environmental impact report for the Valero project. He said the EIR documents the impacts correctly, but fails to offer or respond to any mitigations, even when the Sacramento Metropolitan AQMD offered staff time to work out an off-site mitigation plan.

Jones reminded the Benicia council that San Luis Obispo County is examining a similar crude-by-rail proposal, and Phillips 66 has voluntarily offered such off-site mitigations.

Eric Lee, a city of Davis planner, made a plea for Benicia council members to uphold the decision of their Planning Commission, which voted on Feb. 11 not to certify the final environmental impact report and denied Valero’s permit.

He added that Davis believes that legally, the local jurisdictions are not pre-empted by federal rail regulations and that up-rail cities are entitled to have their comments addressed in the EIR.

He concluded by saying that the city of Benicia has a legal obligation to safeguard the public.

“I continue to be concerned about the Valero crude-by-rail project regarding the significant air quality impact,” state Sen. Lois Wolk, D-Davis, wrote in a letter to the Benicia council, read by her representative, Alex Pader. Wolk recommended specific steps, and if said they cannot be met, then the project should not move forward.

She reminded the council members that her own obligation is to protect the public from harm, which she has done with two pieces of legislation on oil-train safety, and said their obligation to safeguard the public is no less.

Marilyn Bardet, spokeswoman for Benicians for a Safe and Healthy Community, encouraged the council members to use their ethical judgment, and read all the material from the past years, plus what is pouring in now, to inform themselves at this crucial juncture in the decision-making process. She urged them to uphold the decision of the Planning Commission.

After a break, a mix of speakers pro (12) and con (16) spoke for up to five minutes each.

One Valero proponent said America has a tremendous thirst for oil; therefore, don’t we have a responsibility to produce it?
Jasmine Powell, a resident of Benicia, said Valero never risks its outstanding safety record as indicated by its high OSHA ratings.

Michael Wolfe, senior vice president of an engineering services firm, said California crude is increasingly scarce and Alaskan crude is running out as well. Valero is seeking to purchase North American oil to avoid importing more foreign oil. California already imports more foreign crude than any other state, Wolfe said.

Seven other Valero workers and supporters spoke of their trust in Valero’s high safety standards.

On the other side, Frances Burke of Davis spoke of the Planning Commission’s work as “epic,” and made an eloquent plea for the up-rail communities not to be dismissed as collateral damage.

Don Mooney , an environmental lawyer from Davis, said in his 25 years in environmental law, he had not seen a case with more uniform opposition, where so many have stood opposed for the same reasons.

Katherine Black simply read the list of officials and organizations opposing the project for five minutes, including all seven air quality management districts, all 22 cities and six counties who belong to SACOG, the California Office of Spill Prevention and Response and the California attorney general.

The Benicia City Council will hear more testimony tonight.

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“Uprail” government agencies critical of Valero Benicia environmental report

Repost from the Fairfield Daily Republic

Safety still a primary concern with Valero rail transport plan

By Kevin W. Green, November 07, 2015
The Valero oil refinery operates, Friday, Sept. 25, 2015, in Benicia.  (Steve Reczkowski/Daily Republic file)
The Valero oil refinery operates, Friday, Sept. 25, 2015, in Benicia. (Steve Reczkowski/Daily Republic file)

FAIRFIELD — Most of those who provided formal comments on the revised draft environmental impact report for the Valero crude-by-rail project in Benicia focused on a need for increased safety and possible mitigation measures.

The city of Benicia Planning Department received plenty of input leading up to last week’s deadline for submitting written comments on the revised report.

The proposed project would allow Valero to transport crude oil to its Benicia refinery on two 50-car freight trains daily on Union Pacific tracks that come right through downtown Davis on their way to Benicia. The trains also pass through Dixon, Fairfield and Suisun City.

The rail shipments would replace up to 70,000 barrels per day of crude oil currently transported to the refinery by ship, according to city documents. The Valero refinery would continue to receive crude by pipeline, the city said.

Among the written comments submitted on the revised impact report was an eight-page response from the Sacramento Area Council of Governments. The agency responded on behalf of the 22 cities and six counties in its jurisdiction, including the city of Davis and Yolo County.

“Our earlier letter expressed grave concern that the DEIR concluded that crude oil shipments by rail pose no ‘significant hazard’ to our communities, and we urged the city of Benicia to revise the DEIR to fully inform decision-makers and the public of the potential risks of the project,” SACOG said in its remarks.

The agency’s response included a list of eight measures its board of directors indicated that, at a minimum, should be followed.

Those directives include advance notification to county and city emergency operations offices of all crude oil shipments; limits on storage of crude oil tank cars in urbanized areas of any size; and appropriate security for all shipments.

Other directives outlined need for support, including full-cost funding for training and outfitting emergency response crews; and use of freight cars with electronically controlled pneumatic brakes, rollover protection and other features that mitigate what the agency believes are the risks associated with crude oil shipments.

Finally, the agency calls for the implementation of Positive Train Control to prioritize areas with crude oil shipments.

Solano County Resource Management Director Bill Emlen, a former Davis city manager, noted in his response that he had no specific comment on the revised report, but that the county stands behind its initial remarks about the original draft report.

In those remarks, dated Sept. 8, 2014, Emlen said the county wanted more done to address potential derailments.

The original draft EIR admitted the project “could pose significant hazard to the public or the environment,” but minimized the chances of that happening.

“Although the consequences of such a release are potentially severe, the likelihood of such a release is very low,” the report said.

Emlen disagreed that the accident risks associated with the crude-by-rail proposal are “less than significant” without mitigation.

Valero plans to use a type of tank car designated as CPC-1232 to transport oil between Roseville and Benicia and there will be a 40 mph speed limit through federally designated “high-threat urban areas,” including cities along the route, according to the draft report.

Emlen said it appears Valero’s use of the CPC-1232 tank cars is voluntary, rather than mandatory. He also pointed out that the federal designation for high-threat urban areas extends only 10 miles east of Vallejo and 10 miles west of Sacramento, which leaves out most of Solano County.

Emlen cited a derailment and spill that took place in Virginia with a train using CPC-1232 tank cars and traveling 23 mph.

“Therefore, the use of CPC-1232 tank cars at low speeds does not alone mitigate the potential impact from a train derailment,” he said.

Other cities that submitted a written response on the revised draft included Davis, Albany, Gridley and Briggs. Other counties that responded included Yolo, Placer and Nevada counties.

An original draft EIR was issued for the project in June 2014. Benicia said it issued the revised draft EIR in response to requests made in that original report. The city released the revised document Aug. 31 for a 45-day review period. It later extended the deadline for submitting written comments from Oct. 16 to Oct. 30.

The Benicia Planning Commission also gathered public input on the revised document at a Sept. 29 meeting.

The Valero project involves the installation of a new railcar unloading rack, rail track spurs, pumps, pipeline and associated infrastructure at the refinery, according to a city report. The crude would originate at sites in North America.

Union Pacific Railroad would transport it using existing rail lines to Roseville, and from there to the refinery, the city said.

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BENICIA HERALD: Long-awaited reissue cites ‘significant’ environmental impacts; public given 45 days to comment

Repost from the Benicia Herald

Revised, expanded crude-by-rail report released

Long-awaited reissue cites ‘significant’ environmental impacts; public given 45 days to comment

By Nick Sestanovich, September 1, 2015

“Because no reasonable, feasible mitigation measures are available that would, if implemented, reduce the significance below the established threshold, this secondary hazards- and hazardous materials-related impact would be significant and unavoidable.”  – The Recirculated Draft Environmental Impact Report on Valero’s Crude-by-Rail Project

The long-awaited revision of the draft Valero Crude-by-Rail Project Environmental Impact Report was released Monday, almost a full year after California’s attorney general and others publicly challenged the scope and accuracy of the document.

The new report cited additional negative environmental effects of the project pertaining to air quality, greenhouse gases, protected species and more, expanding its scope to cover impacts for more “uprail” communities — and finding “significant and unavoidable” effects that would result from approval of the project.

The “recirculated” report (RDEIR) is just the latest development in Valero’s three-year battle to bring crude oil deliveries to its Benicia refinery by train. The proposal for a use permit to extend Union Pacific Railroad lines into its property so crude oil could be delivered by rail car, initially submitted to Benicia Planning Commission in late 2012, triggered an uproar over environmental and safety concerns, which prompted the drafting of an Environmental Impact Report.

The document, released in 2014, was criticized by many, including Attorney General Kamala Harris and state Sen. Lois Wolk, D-Davis, who felt the report’s focus on the 69 miles of rail between Benicia and Roseville didn’t adequately convey the scope of the project’s potentially negative impacts.

The RDEIR addressed these concerns by expanding the range of its focus beyond Roseville to three new routes: the Oregon state line to Roseville; the Nevada state line to northern Roseville; and the Nevada state line to southern Roseville.

In the process, the report uncovered more significant environmental impacts.

The refinery has said it expected 50 to 100 additional rail cars to arrive up to twice a day, brought in at a time of day when there would be little impact on traffic. The trains would carry 70,000 barrels of North American crude each day, replacing shipped barrels from foreign sources, the refinery said in its use permit application.

The DEIR had initially noted that greenhouse gas emissions generated by the Crude-by-Rail Project would be “less than significant.” The RDEIR updated the risk level of direct and indirect greenhouse gas emissions to “significant and unavoidable,” specifically if trains used the line from Oregon to Roseville, which would travel a round-trip distance of 594 miles per day.

Additionally, the RDEIR found that the project would conflict with Executive Order S-3-05, signed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2005, which aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050.

The revised report also found that nitrogen-oxide levels would increase in the Yolo-Solano region, among other areas, and that nitrogen emissions in Placer County “would exceed the cumulative 10-pounds-per-day significance threshold.”

Biological resources are another area of concern. According to the report, crude-by-rail trains could have “potential impacts to biological resources along any southern route,” that “could include collision-related injury and mortality to protected wildlife and migratory bird species.”

Finally, the RDEIR said, other hazards exist: If a train were to crash and result in a small oil spill, there would be a 100-percent chance of 100 gallons or more being released. Similarly, should a train crash in a high fire danger area, the risks would be inevitable.

As the report notes, “Because no reasonable, feasible mitigation measures are available that would, if implemented, reduce the significance below the established threshold, this secondary hazards- and hazardous materials-related impact would be significant and unavoidable.”

Conversely, other areas of concern such as noise pollution and earthquakes, were found to have little or no significant impact.

“Valero’s effort to rush through their dangerous project and their long record of constant violations and fines of Bay Area Air Quality Management District emissions rules give many of us pause to reflect on the many risks associated with this project,” said Andres Soto, a Benicia resident and member of Benicians for a Safe and Healthy Community, a group formed to opposed the Crude-by-Rail Project.

“It is only due to the volume and detail of scope of all of the public comments received on the original Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) that Benicia chose to recirculate a seriously flawed DEIR. California Attorney General Kamala Harris and many uprail communities, as well as many Benicians, including BSHC, identified many critical shortcomings with the original DEIR.

“Valero has shown nothing but intransigence and misinformation in the face of this opposition to its flawed proposal, thus we do not expect much to have changed in the RDEIR from the DEIR that would convince us that Valero and Union Pacific Railroad can make this project safe enough for Benicia. The risk of catastrophic explosions along the rail line and in Benicia, and the plan to process dirtier extreme crude oils strip-mined from Canadian tar sands and fracked in the Bakken shale formation is just too dangerous for our safety and our environment.

“We hope that after thoroughly reviewing the RDEIR, our Planning Commission and City Council will have the wisdom to deny this project for the good of Benicia, our neighboring communities and the good of our planet.”

A Valero representative was asked to comment on the newly released report but did not respond by press time Monday.

Copies of the RDEIR are available at Benicia Public Library, 150 East L St.; at the Community Development Department at Benicia City Hall, 250 East L St.; and as a PDF download on the city’s website, www.ci.benicia.ca.us.

Public comments on the RDEIR will be accepted by the city until Oct. 15 at 5 p.m. Comments may be submitted in writing to Amy Million, principal planner of the Community Development Department, 250 East L St., Benicia, CA 94510; or they may be given at formal public hearings on the project by Benicia Planning Commission, the first of which will be at 6:30 p.m. Sept. 29 at City Hall.

Additional Planning Commission meetings to receive comments on the RDEIR are scheduled for Sept. 30, Oct. 1 and Oct. 8.

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