Tag Archives: Valero Crude by Rail

Kamala Harris sent 2 important letters to the City of Benicia

By Roger Straw, August 11, 2020

Future Vice President Kamala Harris remembered in Benicia for her strong support

Kamala Harris, former California Attorney General and current Vice Presidential running mate for Joe Biden

Joe Biden’s nominee for Vice President, California Senator Kamala Harris, has a remarkable connection for many of us here in Benicia.  Her support for a safe and healthy world was incredibly important in the 2016 defeat of Valero Benicia’s dirty and dangerous oil train proposal.  The story should be told now, to honor Harris’ candidacy and to encourage support for a Biden/Harris ticket among all who care about clean air, land and water.

During our 3½ year battle to defeat Valero Benicia’s Crude By Rail proposal, then California Attorney General Kamala Harris wrote two letters challenging Valero’s project and the City of Benicia’s environmental review.  Her support was critical in support of local organizing efforts by Benicians for a Safe and Healthy Community and others far and wide.

Harris’ first letter came on October 2, 2014.  The letter is summarized and linked here:

CALIFORNIA ATTORNEY GENERAL LETTER CRITICAL OF VALERO DEIR

OCTOBER 8, 2014, Summary, from p. 2: Unfortunately, the DEIR for this Project fails to properly account for many of the Project’s potentially significant impacts pursuant to the California Environmental Quality Act(CEQA). Specifically, the DEIR: 1. … Continue reading California Attorney General letter critical of Valero DEIR→

Harris’ support added incalculable weight to the credibility of local and regional organizers, and caught the attention of news agencies across the country:

BLOOMBERG: CALIFORNIA AG REJECTS TRADE-SECRET CLAIMS FOR CRUDE-BY-RAIL

OCTOBER 22, 2014, Repost from Bloomberg News By Victoria Slind-Flor – California Attorney General Kamala Harris expressed reservations about the trade-secret provisions in a proposal for a crude-by-rail project in Benicia, California. In a letter to the city’s Community Development Department, she said the draft environmental impact report for … Continue reading Bloomberg: California AG Rejects Trade-Secret Claims for Crude-by-Rail→

RAILROADS FILE SUIT AGAINST STATE OF CALIFORNIA

OCTOBER 9, 2014, Repost from The Sacramento Bee – By Tony Bizjak and Curtis Tate – The battle over crude oil trains in California intensified this week, reaching into the legal sphere with potential national repercussions. The state’s … Continue reading Railroads file suit against state of California→

A year and a half later, on April 14, 2016, Harris sent a second letter asserting that Benicia’s Planning Commission and City Council have every right to deny a land use permit for Valero’s proposed Crude by Rail offloading rack.  I highlighted her convincing prosecutorial language in my headline:

CALIFORNIA ATTORNEY GENERAL: “FOR BENICIA TO TURN A BLIND EYE…”

APRIL 15, 2016, By Roger Straw – California Attorney General Kamala Harris: letter disagrees with City of Benicia staff, consultants and Valero Today the City of Benicia received a letter from California Attorney General Kamala Harris disagreeing with City staff, consultants and Valero Refinery. The letter asserts that Benicia’s Planning Commission and City Council have every right to deny a … Continue reading CALIFORNIA ATTORNEY GENERAL: “For Benicia to turn a blind eye…”→

And again, her challenge was picked up by media outlets far and wide.  A sampling:

EAST BAY EXPRESS: ATTORNEY GENERAL HARRIS: BENICIA HAS POWER TO REJECT OIL FACILITY

APRIL 15, 2016, By Jean Tepperman – In a strongly-worded letter sent Thursday to City of Benicia officials, California Deputy Attorney General Scott J. Lichtig wrote that Valero, the City of Benicia’s planning staff, and an outside attorney advising the … Continue reading EAST BAY EXPRESS: Attorney General Harris: Benicia Has Power to Reject Oil Facility→

SACRAMENTO BEE: CALIFORNIA ATTORNEY GENERAL KAMALA HARRIS CHALLENGES BENICIA OIL PLAN

APRIL 14, 2016, By Tony Bizjak – HIGHLIGHTS: • Harris said Benicia has the right to say no, is not pre-empted by federal law • Two 50-car oil trains would travel daily through downtown Sacramento • Valero spokesman: ‘We remain confident … Continue reading SACRAMENTO BEE: California Attorney General Kamala Harris challenges Benicia oil plan→

Finally… Benicia wasn’t the only recipient of Harris’ environmental support during those days.  See also…

DIANE BAILEY: CALIFORNIA ATTORNEY GENERAL LETTER, PROTESTS IN PITTSBURG 1/21/14

JANUARY 18, 2014, Repost from Diane Bailey’s blog, Switchboard, Natural Resources Defense Council California Attorney General Tells Major Oil Terminal Developer, WesPac, to Hold Up in Pittsburg Posted January 17, 2014 by Diane Bailey in Environmental Justice, Health and the Environment, Moving Beyond Oil The California Attorney General, Kamala D. Harris, sent a stark letter to the City of Pittsburg this week warning of … Continue reading Diane Bailey: California Attorney General Letter, Protests in Pittsburg 1/21/14→


For a trip down memory lane, see my permanent archive: The successful effort to STOP oil trains in Benicia, California

(beniciaindependent.com/crude-by-rail-archive/)

Roger Straw

SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE: Benicia’s rejection of oil trains could reverberate across country

Repost from the San Francisco Chronicle

Benicia’s rejection of oil trains could reverberate across country

By Kurtis Alexander, 9/21/16 5:11pm
The Valero refinery is seen in the background behind signage for a railroad crossing on Wednesday, October 22, 2014 in Benicia, Calif. Photo: Lea Suzuki, The Chronicle
The Valero refinery is seen in the background behind signage for a railroad crossing on Wednesday, October 22, 2014 in Benicia, Calif. Photo: Lea Suzuki, The Chronicle

Benicia’s rejection of plans to bring trains filled with crude oil to Valero Corp.’s big refinery in the city was hailed Wednesday by critics of the country’s expanding oil-by-rail operations, who hope the flexing of local power will reverberate across the Bay Area and the nation.

Of particular interest to environmentalists and local opponents, who for years have argued that Valero’s proposal brought the danger of a catastrophic spill or fire, was a last-minute decision by U.S. officials that Benicia’s elected leaders — not the federal government — had the final say in the matter.

Word of that decision arrived just before the City Council, in a unanimous vote late Tuesday, dismissed Valero’s proposal for a new $70 million rail depot along the Carquinez Strait off Interstate 680. Valero had said the project would not only be safe but bring local jobs, tax revenue and lower gas prices.

“We’re pleased with the decision and the implications it will have across the country,” said Jackie Prange, a staff attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council, one of several groups opposed to the project. “This issue is live in a number of sites across the country. This is definitely a decision that I think cities in other states will be looking to.”

As oil production has boomed across North America, so has the need to send crude via railroad. The uptick in tanker trains, though, has been accompanied by a spate of accidents in recent years, including a 2013 derailment in the Quebec town of Lac-Megantic in which a 72-car train exploded and killed more than 40 people.

The authority of communities to limit oil trains has been clouded by the assertion of some in the petroleum industry that local officials don’t have jurisdiction to get in the way. Companies like Valero have contended that railroad issues are matter of interstate commerce — and hence are the purview of the federal government.

Shortly before Tuesday’s meeting, however, Benicia officials received a letter from the U.S. Surface Transportation Board, which wrote that Valero, based in Texas, was not a railroad company and that the proposed rail terminal fell under city jurisdiction.

“It’s what I was waiting for to help me make my vote more defensible,” said Councilman Alan Schwartzman at the meeting.

Earlier this year, Valero had asked the Surface Transportation Board for “preemption” protection for the project after Benicia’s Planning Commission rejected the proposal. The plan proceeded to the City Council upon appeal.

The plan called for oil deliveries from up to two 50-car trains a day, many passing through several Northern California communities en route from the Bakken shale formation in North Dakota. Those trains would carry as many as 70,000 barrels of oil.

The company billed the project as a way to keep gasoline prices low in the absence of a major oil pipeline serving the West Coast. Crude is currently brought to the Bay Area mostly by boat or through smaller pipelines.

On Wednesday, Valero officials expressed frustration at the city’s decision.

“After nearly four years of review and analysis by independent experts and the city, we are disappointed that the City Council members have chosen to reject the crude by rail project,” spokeswoman Lillian Riojas wrote in an email. “At this time we are considering our options moving forward.”

The vote directly hit the city’s pocketbook. Nearly 25 percent of Benicia’s budget comes from taxes on the oil giant, and the city coffers stood to grow with more crude. The refinery employs about 500 people, according to city records.

But the city’s environmental study showed that oil trains presented a hazard. The document concluded that an accident was possible on the nearly 70 miles of track between Roseville (Placer County) and the refinery, though the likelihood was only one event every 111 years.

The document also suggested that much of the crude coming to the Bay Area from North Dakota, as well as from tar sands in Canada, was more flammable than most.

Several cities in the Bay Area and Sacramento area joined environmental groups in calling for rejection of the project.

“The council’s vote is a tremendous victory for the community and communities all throughout California,” said Ethan Buckner of the opposition group Stand, who was among more than 100 people who turned out for the council’s verdict. “At a time when oil consumption in California is going down, projects like this are unnecessary.”

At least two other plans are in the works for oil delivery by rail elsewhere in the region — in Richmond and Pittsburg. A handful of other proposals have been put forth in other parts of California, including the expansion of a rail spur at a Phillips 66 refinery in San Luis Obispo County, which is scheduled to be heard by the county planning board Thursday.

Prange, with the Natural Resources Defense Council, said this week’s finding by the Surface Transportation Board gives cities the confidence to reject the proposed oil trains, if they wish to do so.

“It reaffirms the power of local government to protect their citizens from these dangerous projects,” she said.

U.S. oil deliveries by rail have grown quickly, from 20 million barrels in 2010 to 323 million in 2015, according to government estimates. In response, federal transportation officials have worked to improve the safety of oil-carrying cars with new regulations.

But over the past year, rail deliveries nationwide have slowed, in part because of the stricter rules as well as local opposition, falling crude prices and new pipelines.

Critics have complained that the tightened rules have fallen short, pointing to incidents like a June train derailment in Mosier, Ore., which spilled hundreds of thousands of gallons of crude into the Columbia River. Leaders in Oregon are discussing a statewide ban on crude trains.

Kurtis Alexander is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer.

Recent updates on the Benicia Independent

By Roger Straw, July 22, 2016

benindylogo08a(150px)In addition to RECENT POSTS (see at left), here are some recent updates and additions to the main pages here on the Benicia Independent …

    • BACKGROUND PAGE – Updates at bottom of page on Valero’s appeal of the Planning Commission’s unanimous denial, City Council hearings, a vote to delay until September 20, 2016, and documents related to the Surface Transportation Board
    • PROJECT DOCUMENTS: Valero appeal to the City Council and Petition To Surface Transportation Board, including A flood of STB filings at deadline on 7/8/16
    • PROJECT REVIEW: Public Comments 2016, including hearing transcripts and written comments

Letter from the Mayor of Oroville opposes Valero-Benicia oil trains

By Roger Straw, The Benicia Independent, December 18, 2015

City of Oroville, California – and others – oppose Valero Crude By Rail

Late this afternoon, the City of Benicia posted yet another batch of letters opposing Valero Crude By Rail.

The first letter in this document is significant: it comes from the mayor of the City of Oroville, CA, which is located near the Feather River Canyon and at the head of the California State Water Project.  The letter concludes with

The Oroville City Council and the citizens of the City of Oroville ask Valero to reconsider their proposal to deliver North American crude oil by railcar “uprail” from the Nevada border and down through Roseville to the Benicia refinery due to the potential devastation of California wildlife, water resources, and air quality.

The remaining 12 letters are CREDO Action letters from individuals all over California, also opposing Valero CBR. (These 12 can be added to the previous 2,062 similar letters sent by CREDO supporters.)  I don’t have an exact count, but there were also a LOT of letters generated by the Center for Biological Diversity and by ForestEthics.  We aren’t alone here in Benicia!

For these letters and many others, see our Project Review page.