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.
Repost from The Sacramento Bee [Editor: The SACOG letter can be viewed here. (Note that this download is in draft form, but the letter was approved as is.) Of interest also is this 10-page Union Pacific letter addressed TO the SACOG Board, encouraging no action. A recording of the Board meeting is available here. – RS]
Sacramento leaders will send a letter to Benicia today formally challenging the Bay Area city to do a better job of studying train derailment risks before it approves an oil company’s plans to ship crude oil on daily trains through Sacramento-area downtowns to a Benicia refinery.
Acting collectively through the Sacramento Area Council of Governments, which represents 22 cities and six counties, Sacramento representatives say they are protecting the region’s interests in the face of a proposal by Valero Refining Co. to transport an estimated 2.7 million gallons of crude oil daily on trains through Roseville, Sacramento, West Sacramento and Davis. Valero officials say the oil will be refined into gas for cars in California, as well as diesel fuel and jet fuel.
“We are not taking a position on whether the project should proceed,” said Don Saylor, a Yolo County supervisor and SACOG member. “We are pointing out, as we have the responsibility to do, the public safety issues in our region. There are ways those issues can be identified and mitigated.”
Benicia officials have been collecting public comments and questions about their environmental review of the Valero project plans, and said they will respond to all comments after the comment period closes Sept. 15.
The SACOG group also is drafting a letter to federal regulators, encouraging them to make hazardous materials transport on rail safer, particularly shipments of volatile crude oil produced in North Dakota’s Bakken region. Crude oil train shipments have increased dramatically in recent years, leading to several derailments and explosions, including one that killed 47 in a Canadian town last year.
Railroad officials nationally say derailments are very infrequent. A study commissioned by Benicia determined that a derailment and spill would be a rare occurrence on the line between Roseville and Benicia. But Sacramento leaders contend Benicia has underplayed derailment possibilities, and has not adequately studied the consequences of a spill and fire.
“We think there are serious safety concerns that should be addressed by Benicia, not downplayed,” said Sacramento Councilman Steve Cohn, chairman of the SACOG board.
The Benicia trains would travel on tracks just north of downtown, through the downtown Sacramento railyard, and over the I Street Bridge.
Elk Grove Mayor Gary Davis was one of two SACOG members who voted to oppose sending the letter. “I thought it is a little outside our scope. It’s a slippery slope,” he said.
SACOG’s main role is to serve as the region’s transportation planning agency and to administer a portion of the region’s federal transportation funding allotment.
Sutter County Supervisor James Gallagher also voted against sending the letter, saying many safety issues are in the federal government’s purview, not Benicia’s. He said he doesn’t want to discourage production of domestic oil that creates jobs and reduces reliance on foreign oil.
[Editor: The Yolo County Board of Supervisors submitted an incredibly important letter to the City of Benicia critical of the Draft EIR for Valero Crude by Rail. In their letter, the Board lays out the importance under California law of taking into account indirect impacts beyond those of the immediate project, including “upstream” communities along the rails in Placer, Sacramento, Yolo, Solano, and Contra Costa counties. Benicia organizers offer profound thanks to our “uprail” neighbors whose health and safety concerns are also ours. Below is a brief excerpt. For the full document in PDF format, click here. – RS]
July 15, 2014
VIA CERTIFIED MAIL AND E-MAIL
Amy Million, Principal Planner
Community Development Department
250 East L Street
Benicia, CA 94510
RE: Valero Benicia Crude by Rail
Dear Ms. Million:
Yolo County has reviewed the City of Benicia’s Draft Environmental Impact Report (“DEIR”) related to the project at the Valero Oil Refinery that would result in the daily delivery of 70,000 barrels of oil by rail to the Refinery (the “Valero Project”). The Valero Project would move approximately 80% of Valero’s crude deliveries from ocean tankers to railways that traverse through our local communities and sensitive environmental resources. Notwithstanding the change in where the oil is traveling, the DEIR pays little attention to the potential upstream effects of increased oil by rail shipments through Placer, Sacramento, Yolo, Solano, and Contra Costa counties.
As discussed below, the DEIR provides only a brief review of the environmental, safety, and noise effects on upstream communities. This DEIR justifies this cursory analysis because the effects are “indirect” and not in the Project’s immediate vicinity. […continued…]