Tag Archives: Yolo County Supervisor Don Saylor

Ruling by Little-Known Federal Agency Paves Way for Communities to Say No to Oil-by-Rail

Repost from Desmog Blog

Ruling by Little-Known Federal Agency Paves Way for Communities to Say No to Oil-by-Rail

By Justin Mikulka, September 28, 2016 – 03:58
Oil tank care behind a fence with sign reading 'Think first'
Oil tank care behind a fence with sign reading ‘Think first.’ Main image credit: Justin Mikulka

The community of Benicia, [California,] in the crosshairs of history, made one of those decisions that will make a difference for the country. They stood up and said the safety of our communities matters.”

That was Yolo County Supervisor Don Saylor talking to The Sacramento Bee about the vote by the Benicia City Council to deny a new oil-by-rail facility that oil company Valero was seeking.

But that vote would have been meaningless if not for a recent decision on September 20 by the Surface Transportation Board (STB) that gave Benicia the legal authority to have some say over what happens within its borders.

Created in 1996, the STB is a federal agency which serves as “an independent adjudicatory and economic-regulatory agency charged by Congress with resolving railroad rate and service disputes and reviewing proposed railroad mergers.”

The STB decision helped clear up some of the gray areas around the issue of “pre-emption,” in which railroads are not subject to any local or state authorities or laws because local and state laws are “pre-empted” by federal law.

In 2013 the STB ruled in favor of Norfolk Southern Railway Company, saying once again that federal pre-emption of state laws protected the rail company from lawsuits filed in the state of Virginia.

The basic idea of pre-emption is that for interstate commerce to work, the federal government needs to be the sole regulator of railroads.

As we have reported previously on DeSmog, pre-emption can effectively place rail companies above local law. This has led to developments such as the case of Grafton, Massachusetts, where the construction of the largest propane transloading facility in the state occurred without the need for local approval, construction permits, or even environmental review.

Regarding the Grafton facility, the New England Center for Investigative Reporting wrote that, “Residents were dumbfounded: The location was in the middle of a residential neighborhood, less than 2,000 feet from an elementary school and atop the town’s water supply.”

This above-the-law approach has served rail companies well. And until the recent STB decision, it also appeared to protect oil companies who were moving oil by rail.

But this latest decision about Benicia appears to deliver a real blow to oil companies when it comes to oil-by-rail transfer facilities. Since the companies who receive the oil from the rail cars aren’t railroads, the STB ruled that they are not protected by federal pre-emption. In the decision the STB refers to Valero as a “a noncarrier” which is why the STB ruled they are not able to claim pre-emption.

This allowed Benicia to say no to an oil-by-rail facility in their community. And it has also changed the discussion about this industry as a whole.

San Luis Obispo County, California, has now delayed further the decision about a new oil-by-rail facility in order to consider the latest STB ruling.

Ethan Buckner was one of the organizers for environmental advocacy group Stand, which was working to stop the Benicia facility.

This is a victory for the right of communities to say no to refineries’ dangerous oil train projects. The federal government has said once and for all that there is nothing in federal law that prevents cities from denying these oil companies’ dangerous rail projects,” Buckner said. “The oil industry keeps telling communities they have no right to say no to oil trains, but this ruling once and for all refutes this.”

Jackie Prange was one of the lawyers working on the Benicia case for the Natural Resources Defense Council and explained the potential impact of the STB decision to the San Francisco Chronicle.

We’re pleased with the decision and the implications it will have across the country,” said Prange. “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.”

They are definitely paying attention in San Luis Obispo County, as well as in Albany, New York.

Albany is the largest oil-by-rail hub on the East Coast.

Opponents of its oil trains recently had cause for celebration. On September 16, the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation announced that the two companies operating oil-by-rail facilities at the Port of Albany would now be required to undergo full environmental reviews before the agency would renew the companies’ permits.

Chris Amato is a lawyer for Earthjustice who has been working on this issue for years. He believes the STB decision supports what Earthjustice has been saying all along about Global Companies, which owns one of Albany’s oil-by-rail facilities.

The decision by the Surface Transportation Board confirms what we have been saying since 2014: that Global’s claim that state regulation of their operations is pre-empted by federal railroad law is simply wrong,” Amato explained to DeSmog. “Global can no longer attempt to shield their operations from scrutiny under their flawed legal theory.”

Opponents of the Albany oil-by-rail operations have been asking the state to step in for years, but the state has also hidden behind the issue of federal pre-emption. In 2014 the Albany Times Union reported that “Gov. Andrew Cuomo has been deflecting calls for the state to block the trains, saying rail transportation is controlled by the federal government, not the state.”

It would appear that the STB ruling negates New York’s current position and offers an option for the state to have authority over oil-by-rail facilities in Albany.

While the amount of oil moving by rail is roughly half of what it was two years ago, that is mostly due to the current low price of oil. And it hasn’t stopped oil companies’ continued efforts to build out more oil-by-rail infrastructure.

Meanwhile, oil trains continue to derail and explode, as happened in Mosier, Oregon, in June, and opposition to the oil-by-rail industry continues to grow.

This STB decision appears to be a game-changer in the oil-by-rail story. With it, perhaps now more politicians will agree that “the safety of our communities matter” — much more so than oil company profits.

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ENDORSEMENT: Don Saylor for California Assembly (with appreciation for Dan Wolk)

Editor:  The Benicia Independent endorses Don Saylor of Davis for Assembly District 4 this November (Don Saylor.org). Lynne Nittler’s letter speaks for me – see below. Another good candidate, Davis Mayor Dan Wolk, has expressed strong concerns about oil train safety and joined with the Davis City Council in opposing crude by rail, but has not risen to the level of diligence, outreach and follow-through that Mr. Saylor has shown on Valero’s proposal (DanWolk.org).  Many thanks to both for their efforts.  – RS

Yolo County Supervisor Don Saylor for California Assembly, District 4

By Lynne Nittler, in her email of May 15, 2016
Don Saylor for California Assembly District 4
Don Saylor for California Assembly District 4

Yolo County Supervisor Don Saylor stands out as an uprail public official committed from early on to stopping the dangerous transport of crude oil through our natural habitat and populated areas.  He wasted no time in directing his staff to research and compose a letter insisting that uprail concerns had to be addressed in the EIR.  On the draft EIR, Yolo County wrote a second letter detailing the impacts of the unsafe oil trains, and when the response was inadequate, added a third letter response to the revised draft EIR.

Meanwhile, as President of Sacramento Area Council of Governments (SACOG), Don Saylor also led the 22 cities and 6 counties of SACOG to respond to the regional threat of oil trains with a series of hard-hitting letters during the EIR process.

His deep concerns even took him to Washington DC where he conferred with our local Congressman John Garamendi on stabilizing crude at the loading site as perhaps the only acceptable method of making the Bakken crude safe to transport by rail.

Don continues to monitor the volatile issue closely, as 500,000 of the 2.4 million SACOG residents live at risk in the blast zone.   Most recently, he took time to testify before the Benicia City Council in hopes of convincing them of the enormous impacts to uprail communities and to our state.

We are fortunate to have such a diligent public official.  While an independent PAC of outside oil corporations including Valero as well as other PACS have intruded with huge campaign contributions to one candidate for the District 4 Assembly race (including Lake and Napa Counties, most of Yolo County, and part of Colusa, Solano, and Sonoma Counties ), Don Saylor has not been chosen for such outside support.

If elected, we can count on Don to work and vote as he always has for programs that benefit our region.  Don Saylor will continue to keep a watchful eye on oil trains if he is elected to the CA Assembly.

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KCRA TV3 ON BENICIA CITY COUNCIL HEARING: Residents remain concerned over crude oil trains in NorCal

Repost from KCRA TV3, Sacramento

Valero crude oil gets another shot at NorCal railways

Benicia City Council begins another week of public comment on new proposal

By Vickie Gonzalez, Apr 05, 2016, 12:41 AM PDT
KCRA 2016-04-05
[Link takes you offsite to KCRA’s video.]
BENICIA, Calif. (KCRA) —Crude oil traveling through Northern California is getting another chance of becoming a reality as an oil company offers a new proposal to the Benicia City Council.
Valero wants two 50-car trains to transport tens of thousands of barrels of crude oil daily to its refinery in Benicia, passing through cities like Davis, Sacramento and Roseville, a request that has met with stiff controversy.

The Benicia City Council began a week of public comment on the proposal Monday after the city’s planning commission voted down Valero’s request in February despite the city hall’s support, causing the oil refinery to appeal the decision.

Valero Health, Safety and Environment Director Chris Howe said if the permit is approved, the added energy supply could be up and running following six months of construction.

Yolo County Supervisor Don Saylor said the oil would pass through Davis and Sacramento stations, which are the top two trafficked passenger rails from San Francisco to Chicago.

“Right across the rail you see low-income housing. Just feet from us is the downtown core and there is student housing,” he said.

Saylor serves on the board for the Sacramento Area Council of Governments.

He said of the 2.4-million residents in the six county region of Sutter, Yuba, Placer, Yolo, Sacramento and El Dorado counties, close to 500,000 are within a quarter-mile radius of a railway:

-260,000 are residents
-200,000 work in the area
-28,000 are students in the area

“That quarter-mile is relevant because that’s the blast zone,” Saylor said.

The supervisor appreciates the energy value this could bring, as well as the potential jobs, but it shouldn’t come at the expense of safety.

“If there is cost associated with improved safety, then that cost seems a reasonable factor for Valero,” Saylor said.

A major issue is railways are federally governed. Local jurisdictions are prohibited from imposing additional safety requirements and Valero maintains it has met every federal regulation.

However, Saylor wants the oil refinery to take added safety measures and bear the burden of risk as opposed to the community doing so, something Valero is not required to do.

Monday’s public comment at Benicia City Hall included groups of Davis and Sacramento residents who made the trek to Solano County.

“I think it’s often (that) decisions are made in favor of big money and power,” Davis resident Jean Jackman said.

A bus of dozens of Davis residents were among the organized groups.

“Those oil tanker cars are not certified for the highly flammable crude oil that they are planning to transport,” Davis resident Kathleen Williams-Fosseahl said.

Valero said that’s not true and will use higher-quality trains to transport crude oil, a much-needed staple in California regardless of the opposition.

A decision ultimately will be made by the city of Benicia. The city council is expected to vote later this month. Public hearings are scheduled to continue through the week.

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