Tag Archives: Yolo-Solano Air Quality Management District

DAVIS ENTERPRISE: Benicia hears oil-train concerns from Davisites

Repost from the Davis Enterprise
[Editor:  I know Lynne as a strong advocate against Valero’s Crude By Rail proposal.  Her fair-minded coverage of both sides of the debate in this article is amazing and admirable.  A good overview of the hearing on Monday.  – RS]

Benicia hears oil-train concerns from Davisites

By Lynne Nittler, April 06, 2016

BENICIA — Davis was well-represented at a Benicia City Council hearing Monday for Valero Oil’s crude-by-rail project. Of the approximately 48 people who spoke, 12 came from Davis or Dixon, and another six were from Sacramento.

The speakers voiced their opposition to the oil company’s proposal to expand its refinery and accept 100 rail cars daily full of North American crude oil on a route that comes directly through downtown Davis.

The hearing continues with more public testimony tonight plus April 18 and 19 at the City Chambers in Benicia.

The evening began with a rally of those opposed to the project counter-balanced by a gathering of Valero workers and supporters of the project. A busload of 23 people from Sacramento stopped to pick up seven more in Davis, arriving just as the hearing began in the packed chambers.

Officials were allowed to speak first, beginning with Yolo County Supervisor Don Saylor, who also represented the Sacramento Area Council of Governments. He traced Yolo County’s effort over the past three years to communicate the serious safety concerns and to offer possible mitigation measures that were acknowledged but not addressed in the EIR.

He said 500,000 of the 2.4 million residents in the SACOG area — the counties of Yolo, Sacramento, Sutter, Yuba, Placer and El Dorado — live in the blast zone of the railroads, i.e., within a quarter-mile radius of the tracks. Of those, 260,000 are residents, 200,000 work in the area and 28,000 are students.

While acknowledging that Valero and its jobs are important, Saylor emphasized that this project “requires a shared commitment to protecting public safety.” He said the project should not be approved until the safety concerns are resolved.

Matt Jones of the Yolo Solano Air Quality Management District represented all seven districts that have responded jointly in writing to three versions of the environmental impact report for the Valero project. He said the EIR documents the impacts correctly, but fails to offer or respond to any mitigations, even when the Sacramento Metropolitan AQMD offered staff time to work out an off-site mitigation plan.

Jones reminded the Benicia council that San Luis Obispo County is examining a similar crude-by-rail proposal, and Phillips 66 has voluntarily offered such off-site mitigations.

Eric Lee, a city of Davis planner, made a plea for Benicia council members to uphold the decision of their Planning Commission, which voted on Feb. 11 not to certify the final environmental impact report and denied Valero’s permit.

He added that Davis believes that legally, the local jurisdictions are not pre-empted by federal rail regulations and that up-rail cities are entitled to have their comments addressed in the EIR.

He concluded by saying that the city of Benicia has a legal obligation to safeguard the public.

“I continue to be concerned about the Valero crude-by-rail project regarding the significant air quality impact,” state Sen. Lois Wolk, D-Davis, wrote in a letter to the Benicia council, read by her representative, Alex Pader. Wolk recommended specific steps, and if said they cannot be met, then the project should not move forward.

She reminded the council members that her own obligation is to protect the public from harm, which she has done with two pieces of legislation on oil-train safety, and said their obligation to safeguard the public is no less.

Marilyn Bardet, spokeswoman for Benicians for a Safe and Healthy Community, encouraged the council members to use their ethical judgment, and read all the material from the past years, plus what is pouring in now, to inform themselves at this crucial juncture in the decision-making process. She urged them to uphold the decision of the Planning Commission.

After a break, a mix of speakers pro (12) and con (16) spoke for up to five minutes each.

One Valero proponent said America has a tremendous thirst for oil; therefore, don’t we have a responsibility to produce it?
Jasmine Powell, a resident of Benicia, said Valero never risks its outstanding safety record as indicated by its high OSHA ratings.

Michael Wolfe, senior vice president of an engineering services firm, said California crude is increasingly scarce and Alaskan crude is running out as well. Valero is seeking to purchase North American oil to avoid importing more foreign oil. California already imports more foreign crude than any other state, Wolfe said.

Seven other Valero workers and supporters spoke of their trust in Valero’s high safety standards.

On the other side, Frances Burke of Davis spoke of the Planning Commission’s work as “epic,” and made an eloquent plea for the up-rail communities not to be dismissed as collateral damage.

Don Mooney , an environmental lawyer from Davis, said in his 25 years in environmental law, he had not seen a case with more uniform opposition, where so many have stood opposed for the same reasons.

Katherine Black simply read the list of officials and organizations opposing the project for five minutes, including all seven air quality management districts, all 22 cities and six counties who belong to SACOG, the California Office of Spill Prevention and Response and the California attorney general.

The Benicia City Council will hear more testimony tonight.

    BENICIA HERALD: Long-awaited reissue cites ‘significant’ environmental impacts; public given 45 days to comment

    Repost from the Benicia Herald

    Revised, expanded crude-by-rail report released

    Long-awaited reissue cites ‘significant’ environmental impacts; public given 45 days to comment

    By Nick Sestanovich, September 1, 2015

    “Because no reasonable, feasible mitigation measures are available that would, if implemented, reduce the significance below the established threshold, this secondary hazards- and hazardous materials-related impact would be significant and unavoidable.”  – The Recirculated Draft Environmental Impact Report on Valero’s Crude-by-Rail Project

    The long-awaited revision of the draft Valero Crude-by-Rail Project Environmental Impact Report was released Monday, almost a full year after California’s attorney general and others publicly challenged the scope and accuracy of the document.

    The new report cited additional negative environmental effects of the project pertaining to air quality, greenhouse gases, protected species and more, expanding its scope to cover impacts for more “uprail” communities — and finding “significant and unavoidable” effects that would result from approval of the project.

    The “recirculated” report (RDEIR) is just the latest development in Valero’s three-year battle to bring crude oil deliveries to its Benicia refinery by train. The proposal for a use permit to extend Union Pacific Railroad lines into its property so crude oil could be delivered by rail car, initially submitted to Benicia Planning Commission in late 2012, triggered an uproar over environmental and safety concerns, which prompted the drafting of an Environmental Impact Report.

    The document, released in 2014, was criticized by many, including Attorney General Kamala Harris and state Sen. Lois Wolk, D-Davis, who felt the report’s focus on the 69 miles of rail between Benicia and Roseville didn’t adequately convey the scope of the project’s potentially negative impacts.

    The RDEIR addressed these concerns by expanding the range of its focus beyond Roseville to three new routes: the Oregon state line to Roseville; the Nevada state line to northern Roseville; and the Nevada state line to southern Roseville.

    In the process, the report uncovered more significant environmental impacts.

    The refinery has said it expected 50 to 100 additional rail cars to arrive up to twice a day, brought in at a time of day when there would be little impact on traffic. The trains would carry 70,000 barrels of North American crude each day, replacing shipped barrels from foreign sources, the refinery said in its use permit application.

    The DEIR had initially noted that greenhouse gas emissions generated by the Crude-by-Rail Project would be “less than significant.” The RDEIR updated the risk level of direct and indirect greenhouse gas emissions to “significant and unavoidable,” specifically if trains used the line from Oregon to Roseville, which would travel a round-trip distance of 594 miles per day.

    Additionally, the RDEIR found that the project would conflict with Executive Order S-3-05, signed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2005, which aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050.

    The revised report also found that nitrogen-oxide levels would increase in the Yolo-Solano region, among other areas, and that nitrogen emissions in Placer County “would exceed the cumulative 10-pounds-per-day significance threshold.”

    Biological resources are another area of concern. According to the report, crude-by-rail trains could have “potential impacts to biological resources along any southern route,” that “could include collision-related injury and mortality to protected wildlife and migratory bird species.”

    Finally, the RDEIR said, other hazards exist: If a train were to crash and result in a small oil spill, there would be a 100-percent chance of 100 gallons or more being released. Similarly, should a train crash in a high fire danger area, the risks would be inevitable.

    As the report notes, “Because no reasonable, feasible mitigation measures are available that would, if implemented, reduce the significance below the established threshold, this secondary hazards- and hazardous materials-related impact would be significant and unavoidable.”

    Conversely, other areas of concern such as noise pollution and earthquakes, were found to have little or no significant impact.

    “Valero’s effort to rush through their dangerous project and their long record of constant violations and fines of Bay Area Air Quality Management District emissions rules give many of us pause to reflect on the many risks associated with this project,” said Andres Soto, a Benicia resident and member of Benicians for a Safe and Healthy Community, a group formed to opposed the Crude-by-Rail Project.

    “It is only due to the volume and detail of scope of all of the public comments received on the original Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) that Benicia chose to recirculate a seriously flawed DEIR. California Attorney General Kamala Harris and many uprail communities, as well as many Benicians, including BSHC, identified many critical shortcomings with the original DEIR.

    “Valero has shown nothing but intransigence and misinformation in the face of this opposition to its flawed proposal, thus we do not expect much to have changed in the RDEIR from the DEIR that would convince us that Valero and Union Pacific Railroad can make this project safe enough for Benicia. The risk of catastrophic explosions along the rail line and in Benicia, and the plan to process dirtier extreme crude oils strip-mined from Canadian tar sands and fracked in the Bakken shale formation is just too dangerous for our safety and our environment.

    “We hope that after thoroughly reviewing the RDEIR, our Planning Commission and City Council will have the wisdom to deny this project for the good of Benicia, our neighboring communities and the good of our planet.”

    A Valero representative was asked to comment on the newly released report but did not respond by press time Monday.

    Copies of the RDEIR are available at Benicia Public Library, 150 East L St.; at the Community Development Department at Benicia City Hall, 250 East L St.; and as a PDF download on the city’s website, www.ci.benicia.ca.us.

    Public comments on the RDEIR will be accepted by the city until Oct. 15 at 5 p.m. Comments may be submitted in writing to Amy Million, principal planner of the Community Development Department, 250 East L St., Benicia, CA 94510; or they may be given at formal public hearings on the project by Benicia Planning Commission, the first of which will be at 6:30 p.m. Sept. 29 at City Hall.

    Additional Planning Commission meetings to receive comments on the RDEIR are scheduled for Sept. 30, Oct. 1 and Oct. 8.

      Solano County focuses on rail safety

      Repost from the Fairfield Daily Republic

      Solano focuses on rail safety

      By Barry Eberling,  September 30, 2014

      FAIRFIELD – Solano County wants to let people know about its rail emergency plans and to identify weaknesses, even as a Valero pursues a controversial proposal to ship crude oil by rail through the region.

      The county held a rail safety workshop on Monday billed as a “community conversation.” About 60 people attended the evening meeting in the county Board of Supervisors chamber.

      This meeting came against the backdrop of a proposal by Valero to transport crude oil by rail on the Union Pacific tracks to its Benicia refinery. The tracks passed through the heart of Fairfield, Suisun City and Dixon, as well as the wetlands of Suisun Marsh. Crude rail derailments in other areas have caused explosions.

      County Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Linda Seifert said there are already various hazardous materials that pass through Solano County by rail on the way to factories and other destinations. Local governments cannot regulate these freight rail trips because of interstate commerce laws, she said.

      County Emergency Services Manager Don Ryan and Dixon Fire Chief Aaron McAlister talked about the local response system for emergencies. They talked about how local emergency responders work together, with a mutual aid system in place. Various fire departments and other emergency responders train together on possible disasters ranging from hazardous materials spills to shooter situations.

      “The fire rescue system in California, the mutual aid system, is one of the finest in the country,” McAlister said.

      Chris Howe of Valero Refinery talked about the crude-by-rail proposal and stressed the safety measures that Valero takes and the emergency resources that it has. He noted that Vallejo called on Valero to help respond to a major asphalt spill within that city.

      “Preventing accidents is a top priority of ours and it’s something we focus on constantly in our business,” Howe said. “We handle flammable materials every day. That’s our business.”

      Union Pacific spokeswoman Liisa Stark talked about the inspections done by her company by running equipment with computers and sonar over the tracks. She talked of detection boxes along tracks that can tell if a train has a hot wheel bearing or other problems.

      “I just can’t say enough about how much we invest in time and energy to ensure we continue to run safely,” she said.

      Investigative journalist Antonia Juhasz said that crude-by-rail trips have increased from 9,500 carloads in 2008 to 400,000 last year. Bakken crude oil coming from North Dakota is more flammable, volatile and dangerous than other crude, she said.

      “This is a new phenomena,” she said. “This is a new problem.”

      She showed a photo of a fireball in the sky from a crude oil derailment on Jan. 1 in Casselton, North Dakota. She showed a photo of a April 30 crude oil derailment in Lynchburg, Virginia that left an oil slick 17 miles long in the James River. Altogether, she showed photos of 10 derailments in the United States and Canada, all during 2013 or this year.

      “We don’t know how to regulate it yet,” Juhasz said.

      Danny Bernardini spoke on behalf of state Sen. Lois Wolk. Wolk has sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Transportation containing suggestions and recommendations for crude-by-rail shipments. Among other things, she recommended the speed of these trains within all cities be set at 30 mph and that shippers and carriers have sufficient insurance or financial means to cover the costs of crashes and spills.

      Also speaking were Paul Hensleigh of the Yolo-Solano Air Quality Management District, Brandon Thomson representing Rep. John Garamendi and Solano County Resource Management Director Bill Emlen.

      Then the gathering broke into three groups and members of the public talked about their concerns.

      Karen Schlumpp of Benicia expressed concern about the time it might take for regulations to be passed and implemented to deal with the new crude-by-rail issues.

      “After tonight, I’m feeling like we’re on a huge catchup on a train that’s already rolling,” Schlumpp said.

      Katherine Black of Benicians for a Safe and Healthy Community expressed skepticism that crude-by-rail shipments can be done safely.

      “This is too dangerous,” she said. “It’s like preparing for an atomic bomb.”

      The meeting lasted for two-and-a-half hours. Participants wrote down their concerns and ideas and turned them into the county.

      “This is an essential conversation that needs to happen,” Emlen told the gathering.