Tag Archives: University of California

Sacramento Bee: California state and regional agencies challenge Benicia crude oil train plan

Repost from The Sacramento Bee
[Editor: to read the State’s letter and others mentioned in this article, check out Project Review.  – RS]

California officials challenge Benicia crude oil train plan

By Tony Bizjak, September 24, 2014

Brown administration officials say Benicia has underestimated the risk posed by oil trains planned to run through Sacramento and other parts of Northern California to the city’s Valero refinery, and is calling on the city to redo its safety analysis before allowing oil shipments to increase.

A letter sent to the city last week by the state’s Office of Spill Prevention and Response and the California Public Utilities Commission expresses concerns similar to those detailed in recent letters to Benicia from the Sacramento Area Council of Governments and the cities of Sacramento and Davis.

Sacramento regional leaders have accused Benicia of not adequately exploring the explosion and fire risks of a Valero Refining Co. plan to run two 50-car trains daily through downtown Roseville, Sacramento, West Sacramento, Davis and other cities to the Benicia refinery.

Julie Yamamoto, chief of the state spill prevention agency’s scientific branch and a member of the governor’s rail safety team, said state officials felt compelled to push for Benicia to do deeper study prior to project approval.

“We felt the risk analysis was sufficiently flawed and underestimates the risks,” Yamamoto said.

In its draft environmental impact report, issued earlier this summer, Benicia only analyzed oil spill possibilities on the rail line between Roseville and Benicia, even though the trains will travel from other states or even Canada. “That is a pretty big shortfall in not considering the rest of the track to the California border, and even beyond that,” Yamamoto said. State officials also have questions about how Benicia came up with the assertion that a derailed train might spill oil only once every 111 years, and therefore the risk was insignificant.

“The derailment rate looks to us to be low compared to national data,” Yamamoto said.

Benicia city officials declined to respond this week to the concerns raised by the state and local governments, but previously indicated that they limited their spill analysis to the Roseville-Benicia track section because they do not know yet which rail lines the Union Pacific Railroad may use east or north of Roseville to bring the oil into California.

State officials countered that there are only a handful of rail lines that could be used to bring the oil into the state, and all should be included in Benicia’s project risk analysis. The state noted that those rail lines pass through “high-hazard areas” where derailments are more common. In Northern California, those hazard sections are at Dunsmuir, the Feather River Canyon and near Colfax.

By issuing its letter, the state secures legal standing to sue Benicia if that city approves the project without redoing its risk studies. State officials this week declined to address the question of whether they would consider a lawsuit.

The letter from the state is one of hundreds Benicia officials said they received in the past few months in response to their initial environmental study. Benicia interim Community Development Director Dan Marks said the city and its consultants would review the comments and prepare responses to all of them, then bring those responses to the city Planning Commission for discussion at an as-yet undetermined date.

Under the Valero proposal, trains would carry about 1.4 million gallons of crude oil daily to the Benicia refinery from U.S. and possibly Canadian oil fields, where it would be turned into gasoline and diesel fuel. Valero officials have said they hope to win approval from the city of Benicia to build a crude oil transfer station at the refinery by early next year, allowing them to replace more costly marine oil shipments with cheaper oil.

Crude oil rail shipments have come under national scrutiny in the last year. Several spectacular explosions of crude oil trains, including one that killed 47 residents of a Canadian town last year, have prompted a push by federal officials and cities along rail lines for safety improvements.

SACOG and the cities of Sacramento and Davis have called on Benicia to require UP to give advance notice to local emergency responders, and to prohibit the railroad company from parking or storing loaded oil tank trains in urban areas. Local officials want the railroad to use train cars with electronically controlled brakes and rollover protection. Sacramento also has asked Benicia to limit Valero to shipping oil that has been stripped of highly volatile elements, including natural gas liquid.

Others in the Sacramento region, however, point out that rail safety is a federal issue, not one that cannot legally be dictated locally. In a joint letter, Stanley Cleveland and James Gallagher of the Sutter County Board of Supervisors said SACOG is overreaching, and a better approach would be to work with federal railroad regulators, as well as with Valero and UP, on safety issues.

The Union Pacific Railroad also has challenged the SACOG and Sacramento city perspectives, arguing that federal law pre-empts states and cities from imposing requirements on the railroads. “A state-by-state, or town-by-town approach in which different rules apply to the beginning, middle and end of a single rail journey, would not be effective,” UP officials said in a letter this month to SACOG.

State Sen. Ted Gaines, who represents much of Placer County and other rail areas, said the Valero project has his “full support.” Benicia’s analysis, he wrote, “affirms that this project is beneficial environmentally and economically and can be done safety given the prevention, preparedness and response measures in place by both Valero and Union Pacific Railroad.”

Among other commenters:

•  350 Sacramento, a local climate change group, warned that oil trains would cause an increase in carbon emissions and slow efforts to convert to renewable energies.

•  The Capitol Corridor passenger train authority, which would share tracks with the oil trains, voiced concern about the safety of passengers, crews and communities, saying the Benicia analysis doesn’t look at the impact crude oil trains would have on Capitol Corridor or Amtrak passenger trains.

• The Sacramento Metropolitan Air Quality Management District said Benicia could ask Valero to fund local mitigation programs to reduce polluting impacts of trains in the region.

•  UC Davis noted that the rail line passes through campus near the Mondavi Center and the UC Davis Conference Center, and called for additional training and equipment for Davis to deal with the possibility of a derailment and fire.

Read more here: http://www.mercedsunstar.com/2014/09/24/3866089_california-officials-challenge.html?rh=1#storylink=cpy

 

Share...

    Oakland City Council Votes to Divest from Fossil Fuel Companies

    Via email from 350.org
    [Editor: See also “Oakland City Council votes to oppose coal, crude oil trains”  – RS]

    FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE  – June 17, 2014

    Oakland City Council Votes to Divest from Fossil Fuel Companies 

    Oakland becomes 5th California city to divest; Council, 350.org urge CalPERS to act

    Oakland, California  — The Oakland City Council today unanimously approved a measure divesting city funds from all investments in any company “whose primary business or enterprise is extraction, production, refining, burning and/or distribution of any fossil fuels.” The council recommended that city pension funds also divest and urged the California Public Employees Retirement System (CalPERS), one of the nation’s largest managers of public pensions, with $288 billion in retiree assets under management, to follow suit and eliminate fossil fuel companies from their portfolios.

    Oakland becomes the fifth city in California to pass a fossil fuel divestment resolution and the 25th city in the nation, joining the ranks of San Francisco, Seattle and Portland.  “I’m thrilled that Oakland City Council took a strong stand to divest from fossil fuels companies that emit heat-trapping greenhouse gases, and to protect our communities by opposing the transport of hazardous fossil fuels by rail through the heart of Oakland,” said Dan Kalb, Oakland City Councilmember, and author of the Council resolutions. “Divesting from a dirty energy economy will add Oakland’s voice to a growing movement that makes it clear that the old way of fueling our economy is not sustainable for our cities and our planet.”

    The move is part of a fast-growing fossil fuel divestment movement, which has spread to over 500 campuses, cities, faith communities, labor unions and pension funds around the nation, calling on institutions to take bold action against climate change by aligning investments with a clean and equitable energy future. So far, 12 colleges and universities, 27 cities, two counties, 30 religious institutions, and 27 foundations in the U.S. and around the world have pledged to divest or have done so already.

    Ophir Bruck, an Oakland resident and organizer with Fossil Free UC, the University of California divestment campaign, said Oakland’s action could embolden the Board of Regents of the nation’s leading public university to act: “This move positions Oakland as a climate leader and should encourage the UC Regents, who are exploring the possibility of divesting UC’s $88 billion portfolio from fossil fuels, to stand on the right side of history by divesting for our future.”

    Efforts on the measure were spearheaded by 350 Bay Area, a regional group aligned with the international climate change organization 350.org, which supports fossil fuel divestment efforts worldwide via its Go Fossil Free campaign.

    Added Oakland resident and 350 East Bay divestment activist Janet Cox: “I was really glad to the Council take a strong stand in support of the environment and the fight to halt devastating damage to the climate. Governments and NGOs are going to have to act if we’re going to survive climate change, and this resolution puts Oakland in the vanguard. Oakland will be able to lead on this critical issue.”

    ###

    Media Contacts:

    Ophir Bruck, 415-609-2409, ophirbruck@gmail.com, Divestment Organizer with Fossil Free UC and the California Student Sustainability Coalition

    Jay Carmona, 510-502-0752, jay@350.org, National Divestment Director

    Share...