Tag Archives: Steve Young

SACRAMENTO BEE: Tom Steyer & Steve Young – Benicia should block oil trains

Repost from the Sacramento Bee

Benicia should block oil trains

By Tom Steyer and Steve YoungSpecial to The Bee, March 14, 2016 9:30AM

HIGHLIGHTS
•  Valero wants to bring trains carrying crude through Sacramento region to Benicia refinery
• Even without a catastrophe, oil trains pose a serious threat to public health and safety
• With clean energy and efficiency, California doesn’t need to take the risk

Railroad tracks lead to Valero’s refinery in Benicia. The company wants to ship oil there with two, 50-car trains a day.
Railroad tracks lead to Valero’s refinery in Benicia. The company wants to ship oil there with two, 50-car trains a day. Manny Crisostomo Sacramento Bee file

If approved, proposed new oil train terminals at refineries in California would turn our railways into crude oil superhighways. Mile-long oil trains would haul millions of gallons of toxic, explosive crude through downtown Sacramento and dozens of other California cities and towns. An estimated 5 million Californians live in the one-mile evacuation zone along oil train routes.

In Benicia, city officials are close to a final decision on the proposed Valero oil train terminal. It’s essential that City Council members, who hold a hearing on Tuesday, understand why oil trains are too dangerous for our communities. There is no sure way to protect public health while transporting crude oil by rail.

Tom Steyer

Valero wants to bring two 50-car trains carrying about 3 million gallons of oil to its Benicia refinery every day. The environmental review of the proposal cites the “potentially significant” hazard of a spill and fire.

In 2013, the oil train explosion in Lac Megantic, Quebec, demonstrated the danger. It killed 47 people, destroyed dozens of buildings and poisoned a local lake. Three years later, residents still live with fear and anxiety, and scientists have recorded an “unprecedented” spike of fish deformities.

Steve_Young
Steve Young

But it doesn’t take a catastrophe for oil trains to pose a serious threat to public health and safety. They disrupt traffic, delay emergency response and bring more poisoned air and increased disease. That’s why six counties and 22 cities around Sacramento have already said no to these trains. But the safety of all Californians living in the blast zone lies in the hands of Benicia city officials who will decide whether to approve Valero’s permit.

On Feb. 11, after days of testimony from experts and community members, the city Planning Commission voted unanimously to deny the permit. Valero has appealed to the Benicia City Council, which will make the final decision.

Something similar is happening in San Luis Obispo County, where the county staff and the California Coastal Commission recommended that the county reject the Phillips 66 oil train terminal proposal. The county Planning Commission must decide soon, but the final decision will rest with county supervisors.

Last year, NextGen Climate, the Natural Resources Defense Council, ForestEthics and Communities for a Better Environment released a report on oil industry plans to ship dirty Canadian tar sands crude to West Coast refineries. The report found that heavy crude would increase carbon pollution by as much as 26 million metric tons – the equivalent of adding 5.5 million cars to the road.

The good news is that we don’t have to live with these oil risks barreling through town. We can make our communities safer by transitioning to clean energy. A recent report by the Union of Concerned Scientists revealed that improvements in fuel efficiency and energy technology could help us cut oil consumption in half by 2030.

There’s no place for extreme tar sands or Bakken crude in California’s emerging clean energy economy – and there’s no place in our communities for dangerous, unnecessary crude oil trains.

Tom Steyer is founder of NextGen Climate and can be contacted at info@nextgenclimate.org.  Steve Young is a Benicia planning commissioner and can be contacted at steveyoung94510@gmail.com.
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    Benicia Blocks Oil-By-Rail Plan

    Repost from the East Bay Express
    [Editor:  I am posting this excellent review by Jean Tepperman belatedly, with thanks for East Bay Express’ regional coverage of a Benicia story with huge regional and national implications.  I’ve not read a better review of the Feb. 8-11 Benicia Planning Commission hearings.  – RS]

    Benicia Blocks Oil-By-Rail Plan

    By Jean Tepperman, February 12, 2016
    Valero Refinery in Benicia. - WIKIMEDIA COMMONS
    Valero Refinery in Benicia. – WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

    The little town of Benicia is looking to become the next link in the chain barring crude oil from traveling by rail to the West Coast. After four evenings of contentious hearings, the Benicia Planning Commission on Thursday unanimously rejected Valero refinery’s proposal to build a rail spur that would allow it to import up to 70,000 barrels a day of “North American crude oil” — meaning extra-polluting crude from Canada’s tar sands and the highly explosive crude from North Dakota’s Bakken shale fields. Both fossil fuels have been involved in numerous derailments, explosions, and fires, including a 2013 fire and explosion in Lac Megantic, Quebec that killed 47 people.

    Starting on Monday, planning commissioners, led by Commissioner Steve Young, grilled staff members about their decision to recommend approval of the Valero project, identifying inconsistencies and pointing to problems that the project would create, from blocking traffic to increasing pollution to potential oil spills and other emergencies that the city would not be able to cope with. The central issue that emerged, however, was whether the city had the authority to make decisions about the project.

    The staff report actually said the benefits of the project did not outweigh the potential harm. Shipping crude oil by rail, the staff found, would have “significant and unavoidable” impacts on air quality, biological resources, and greenhouse gas emissions. These impacts would conflict with air quality planning goals and state goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. But the city can’t prevent any of this, the staff report said, because only the federal government has the authority to regulate railroads.

    Bradley Hogin, a lawyer whom the city hired on contract to advise on this project, said federal law prevents local governments from interfering with railroads, a principle referred to as “preemption.” According to the interpretation of “preemption” described by Hogin and city staff, local governments are not permitted to take actions that “have the effect of governing or managing rail transport,” even indirectly. And they are not allowed to make decisions about a project based on impacts of rail shipping connected with that project.

    “Hogin is making a case that would affect cities across the nation dealing with crude by rail,” said environmental activist Marilyn Bardet in an interview. “They were going to create a legal precedent on preemption here.”

    Bardet reported that public testimony by representatives of environmental organizations and “two young women from the Stanford-Mills Law Project made it clear that “there are many people who would disagree with Hogin’s interpretation.”

    Roger Lin, lawyer with Communities for a Better Environment, said in an email that, contrary to Hogin’s claims, the California Environmental Quality Act actually requires local governments to consider “indirect or secondary effects that are reasonably foreseeable and caused by a project, but occur at a different time or place.” Valero is not a railroad, he said, so the “preemption” doctrine does not bar the city from using its land-use power to reject the project.

    However “preemption” is interpreted, Bardet said, “the commissioners seemed uncomfortable with being told they would have to approve the project based on considerations they couldn’t accept.” Late in the hearing process, commission chair Donald Dean said, “I understand the preemption issue on a theoretical legal level, but I can’t understand this on a human level.”

    Bardet expressed appreciation for the commissioners’ concern. “My sense was that these guys are real human beings,” she said. “They all listened carefully. None of them was asleep.”

    Project opponents packed the hearing room for four straight nights, filling two overflow rooms on the first night. People came from “uprail” communities, including Davis and Sacramento, as well as allies from across the Bay Area, Bardet said.

    Opposition to the project has been led by a community group, Benicians for a Safe and Healthy Community, formed in 2013 when the city seemed ready to approve the project without requiring any environmental impact study. “We joined with other refinery communities in the Bay Area Refinery Corridor Coalition” and in a coalition working to persuade the Bay Area Air Quality Management District to pass tough new regulations on refinery pollution, Bardet said. She said support from the National Resources Defense Council and Communities for a Better Environment was also important. “The grassroots came alive together,” she said.

    Many of these organizations, like the Benicia group, are concerned, not only about the hazards of shipping crude by rail, but by the impact of refining the extra-polluting crude oil from Canada’s tar sands, Bardet said. She noted that the city’s environmental review of the project made no mention of this issue, although it is well established that refining dirty crude oil, like oil from tar sands, emits more health-harming pollution as well as more greenhouse gases.

    Valero is expected to appeal the planning commission decision to the city council, which could meet to decide on the issue as early as mid-March. “The city council is going to be hard-pressed to reject the views of their own planning commission,” Bardet said.

    She emphasized the significance of this decision for the national and international issue of shipping crude oil by rail. “The whole world is watching,” she said. “I just got a message from a guy in New Jersey congratulating us.”

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      Benicia Planning Commission & public weigh in on Valero CBR

      The Benicia Planning Commission completed the third of its public hearing sessions on Valero’s Crude By Rail proposal last night, and closed the hearing at a decent hour, around 10:15pm.  Thanks to everyone who attended and contributed!

      In an unusual move, the Commission chose to hear from Commissioners first, then the public.  City staff refused to allow commissioners to engage the EIR consultant or staff in questions and answers.  Commissioners’ comments and questions were to be added without response into the public record, just as any member of the speaking public.

      (Editor: My review of Commissioner comments appears first.  See farther below for a summary of select citizen comments.)

      Those in attendance opposing Valero’s proposal were highly encouraged by the quality and quantity of comments pointing out the many inadequacies and omissions of the Draft EIR.  Every Commissioner asked serious questions, as did members of the public.

      The first to speak was Commissioner Steve Young, who read from prepared notes.  The Benicia Independent obtained a copy of Mr. Young’s 14-page written comments, downloadable here.  Young asked 35 penetrating questions covering in detail:

        • Environmental Impacts of Transporting Bakken Shale or Tar Sands oil
        • Possible Increase in amount of oil refined and associated increases in emissions
        • Lack of Disclosure of Documentation for Greenhouse Gas (GHG ) Calculations
        • GHG Emissions in Bay Area vs. GHG Emissions in Benicia
        • Calculation of GHG emissions for trains
        • Air Quality Impacts
        • Cumulative Impacts
        • Traffic Impacts
        • Impact on FAST Transit
        • Emergency Preparedness
        • Emergency Planning and difficulty in fighting oil fires of Bakken Crude
        • Financial responsibility of cleanup
        • Explosiveness of Bakken Crude
        • Rail Cars, Tracks and Positive Train Controls
        • Rail Cars – Positive Train Controls
        • Likelihood of Oil Spill

      With apologies for any errors or misunderstandings to the other Commissioners, I will try to summarize their spoken concerns.

      Commissioner Belinda Smith was openly disappointed that she was not allowed to engage the consultant and staff in questions and answers.  She raised questions about

        • the adequacy of the site description
        • the condition of roads on the site
        • groundwater runoff
        • numbers of trains that would share the rails
        • timing of train crossings
        • train deliveries during “turnarounds”
        • numbers of trains carrying other hazardous materials
        • the “no-project alternative”
        • tank car design from North Dakota to Roseville
        • noise impacts on birds and other businesses in the Industrial Park
        • bird count review after impact and mitigations if they don’t return
        • Indirect emissions: definition of “immediate” and “other” vicinities
        • rainwater protection from contamination, runoff and containment
        • Benicia firefighter training for emergencies
        • Lack of detailed analysis of cumulative impacts

      Commissioner Suzanne Sprague agreed with many of Young’s and Smith’s comments and questions, adding only that, as an attorney, she had concerns about the DEIR’s omission of analysis of case law regarding outlying communities and federal preemption.

      Commissioner Cohen-Grossman raised four issues:

        • What impact will the project have on the new bus hub on in the Industrial Park?
        • Why would the DEIR even mention a possible impact and then not discuss it because of federal preemption?  (Example: the alternate project analyses)
        • Traffic: Benicia’s General Plan calls for level of service D, but the DEIR only uses outlying roads in its analysis.
        • Huge increase in volume of hazardous materials shipments will require emergency readiness.  Sept. 29 Solano County meeting.

      Commissioner George Oakes offered comments on financial issues:

        • Financial responsibility – who owns the crude at every step, from its source in the upper midwest to Valero?
        • Who indemnifies the product along the rail lines?
        • Who in the City is indemnified?
        • How much insurance does each person handling the crude (from offloading laborers to executives) need?
        • The railroad in the Lac-Megantic disaster had only $25 million insurance and went bankrupt quickly.  The people are paying.  How to guard against this here?

      Commission Chair Don Dean listed several concerns:

        • Regarding cumulative impacts of hazardous materials in the event of accidents: the DEIR (§ 5-17) analyzes two accidents at the same time but doesn’t make sense.  Cumulative impacts are additive  not multiplicative.
        • How can we understand impacts or cumulative impacts without knowing the nature of the material being shipped?  Information in the document is not sufficient even in light of preemption.
        • Biological resources (§ 5-1) has more information in this section about hazardous materials than in the HM section…

      Ten citizen comments critical of the DEIR and Valero’s proposal raised significant questions for the project consultant.  The Commission heard from Adela Fernandez, Charles Davidson, Greg Karras (Communities for a Better Environment), Dr. Jim Stevenson, Shiela Clyatt, David Jenkins, Paul Reeve, Shoshana Wechsler (Sunflower Alliance), Donna Wapner (public health educator) and Linda Lewis (local realtor).  Especially significant comments included the following:

      Greg Karras, for 30 years Senior Scientist for Communities for a Better Environment:

        • The proposed offloading racks would be located too close to onsite refinery hazards, for instance, only 50′ from a large storage tank, 100′ from another.  Multiple tank fires would be a possibility.  It is highly unusual these days to see a project proposed with such onsite refinery hazards.
        • False assumption that ONLY marine emissions will be offset by local train emissions.  Offsets not real.  Significant local impacts AND global climate impacts.
        • California pipeline crude will also be replaced by North American crude.  This is a tar sands project with huge impacts, ignored by DEIR.
        • Hidden information on the mix of crude sources.

      Dr. Jim Stevenson spoke on the nature of risk.  Risk has to be understood both quantitatively and qualitatively.  The DEIR discusses cumulative risk in quantitative terms but does not analyze the potential for catastrophic (qualitative) impacts, involving chemical releases and massive explosions.

      Shiela Clyatt spoke about the economic impacts, including the possibility of businesses leaving the Industrial Park due to traffic congestion issues and safety concerns.  Other economic impacts would include a general drop in property values as Benicia takes on a riskier image for home buyers.

      David Jenkins, a business owner in the Industrial Park, spoke very personally about the impact Valero’s proposal would have on his business.  He outlined concerns including possible storage of tank cars while not offloading; traffic congestion; lack of control over Union Pacific (including the distinct possibility of MORE than two trains per day; massive spills and explosions.  He also called for signed warranties by Valero and UP guaranteeing financial coverage of all damages in the event of accidents.

      Shoshana Wechsler gave the most inspiring speech of the night, raising significant and detailed technical questions about the DEIR while setting Valero’s proposal and Benicia’s decision-making into a wider global context.  Read it here.

      Donna Wapner offered comments from her perspective as a public health educator (Health Science professor at Diablo College).  She highlighted the DEIR’s lack of mention of potential earthquake impacts, and pointed to the massive and lingering economic impacts following Three-Mile Island and Love Canal, mentioning that there are STILL 1000 lawsuits in play today over the Love Canal toxic waste dump disaster.

      Linda Lewis, a Benicia realtor, agreed with the comments expressed earlier by Dr. Jim Stevenson, and simply asked, “Can you guarantee I will be safe?  And my community?”

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