Tag Archives: San Francisco Baykeeper

Vallejo Times-Herald: State officials say Benicia underestimated oil train risks

Repost from The Vallejo Times-Herald

State officials say Benicia underestimated oil train risks

Officials urge city to redo Valero refinery project safety analysis
By Tony Burchyns, 09/25/2014

State officials say Benicia has underestimated the risks of running oil trains through Roseville and other parts of Northern California to the Valero refinery.

In letter to the city last week, officials from the state Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Office of Spill Prevention and Response and the Public Utilities Commission called on the city to redo its safety analysis before allowing the refinery to receive two 50-car oil trains a day.

The letter follows similar critical comments from the Sacramento Area Council of Governments, the cities of Davis and Sacramento and the University of California at Davis. Environmental groups such as the Natural Resources Defense Council and San Francisco Baykeeper also have sent letters to Benicia expressing concerns about the project.

The state officials’ letter said that total potential derailments attributable to the plan, including those outside California, should be considered in the risk study. Officials also said that the city’s draft environmental impact report paid insufficient attention to train accidents other than derailments.

“The analyses of environmental impacts, including the risk and consequences of derailments, should not be limited to the section of track between Roseville and Benicia, and track at the refinery itself,” officials wrote. “The analyses should also cover the many miles of track, the distance of which will vary depending on entry point into the state, between the state border and Roseville.”

Valero’s project description identifies North America, Texas and other locations as possible sources of crude, but direct routes through Southern California and other areas of the state and country are not analyzed.

City officials have said their analysis was limited to the Union Pacific line between Benicia and Roseville because the other rail routes are unknown or haven’t been disclosed.

The letter also criticized the city’s finding that the risk of train spills of more than 100 gallons between Rosville to Benicia would be once in 111 years. Critics have said the analysis is flawed because it relies on rail safety data that predates the nation’s crude-by-rail boom.

The letter asserts that the city’s derailment and accident rate calculations are problematic and the legal enforceability of Valero’s commitment to use tank cars that meet that highest safety standards is unclear.

Benicia has declined to comment thus far on the numerous letters received during the report’s public comment period that ended Sept. 15. However, the city plans to respond to the comments before the project’s next public hearing, which has yet to be set.


    Benicia Valero Crude-by-Rail comment period closes with a landslide of criticism

    By Roger Straw

    The Benicia Independent makes it easier for you to read comments of INDIVIDUAL state and regional agencies and organizations. See our updated Project Review page (or just see below).

    Something UNUSUAL happened in Benicia on September 15, the final day of the public comment period on the Draft EIR on Valero’s Crude By Rail proposal. I understand that opponents of a project will almost always wait until the last day to submit public comments. But not only did a remarkable NUMBER of critical comments arrive in the City of Benicia’s inbox on September 15 – there was a dramatic landslide of comments from significant governmental agencies and environmental organizations, including…

    Also highly significant on September 15 were written comments from four of Benicia’s Planning Commissioners: Steve Young, George Oakes, Susan Cohen Grossman and Belinda Smith.

    Prior to September 15, the City also received critical comments from the

    These documents are also downloadable from Project Review.


      Highly critical reviews at close of public comment period: Valero DEIR fatally flawed

      Check out these AMAZING critiques of Valero’s Draft EIR.

      Here in Benicia on Friday, September 15, the final day of the public comment period, we congratulated Benicians For a Safe and Healthy Community’s DEIR subcommittee for their extraordinary effort – it’s long, but you have to at least scan through it a bit.  Incredible detail and thoroughness, representing untold hours of expert volunteer labor!

      If that wasn’t enough, as the day went by we were astounded when we received copies of critical comments from nearby environmental groups.  In light of these studies, no one will be surprised if the City and Valero choose to re-write and recirculate the document.  Some are saying Valero might simply withdraw the proposal.  These highly technical reviews are overwhelming, and prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that Valero’s DEIR is fatally flawed.  See below…  (note: many of these are very large downloads – please be patient!)

      A number of individuals also submitted comments and questions at the close of the comment period.  These will be made available on our Project Review page when they are collated and published by the City.


        Letter from railroad attorneys to Governor Brown: in effect, ‘You can do nothing’

        Letter from Union Pacific & BNSF attorneys to Governor Brown

        By Roger Straw, Editor, The Benicia Independent

        On September 15, 2014, San Francisco Baykeeper offered highly critical comments to the City of Benicia on Valero’s Draft EIR. With their comments, Baykeeper attached a VERY interesting letter from attorneys for the two railroads that operate in California, claiming that preemption under The Federal Rail Safety Act and the Interstate Commerce Commission Termination Act render the State of California pretty much helpless in protecting against oil spill prevention and emergency response.

        The letter specifically holds that the Federal Clean Water Act is useless as a preemption workaround.

        Addressed to Dana Williamson, Cabinet Secretary in Governor Brown’s office and dated July 3, 2014, the letter addresses issues discussed in a June 18, 2014 meeting between Ms. Williamson and the lawfirm Latham & Watkins.   The letter is signed by Maureen E. Mahoney of Latham & Watkins LLP, Counsel for Union Pacific Railroad Co. and BNSF Railway Co.

        Note that this document is lawyer-talk, and I am not versed in legalese, so I hope my interpretation in the previous paragraph is accurate.  I’m advised by a local activist attorney that the document is significant, so am posting it here to highlight the rail industry’s views and their efforts to influence decision-makers in Benicia and elsewhere in California.