Category Archives: Benicia CA

Dredging the Carquinez to Accommodate Oil

[BenIndy Editor: Please come to the Pinole Public library on Nov. 13 at 6pm to protest the plan to increase dredging in the Bay.  More info and sign a petition at Sunflower Alliance.  If you can’t make it, download a comment form – or comment by email to  – RS]

The Army Corps is deepening shipping channels to allow tankers access. The agency says it will clear the air. Environmentalists don’t agree.

The East Bay Express, by Jean Tepperman, Sept 11, 2019
The dredging will deepen a 13-mile stretch from San Pablo Bay to the four refineries along the Carquinez Strait. PHOTO COURTESY USGS

The federal government is preparing to deepen the shipping channels that serve four of the Bay Area’s five oil refineries. Because the channels are too shallow to accommodate fully loaded modern oil tankers, those ships travel to and from refineries only partly loaded, and sometimes wait for high tides before sailing. By reducing the number and duration of those trips, the project is likely to reduce diesel emissions affecting the already-polluted refinery communities along the Carquinez Strait. But environmentalists view it as a move to subsidize and expand oil production at a time when the future depends on ending the use of fossil fuels. And they predict it will actually increase air pollution by enabling an expansion of refinery production.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is gearing up to start the project, first authorized by Congress in 1965 and funded in 2012. The Army Corps currently maintains a 35-foot-deep shipping channel down the middle of the strait. The plan is to deepen it to 37 or 38 feet along a 13-mile stretch from the Bay to the refineries, three of which lie in northern Contra Costa County and one across the strait in Benicia.

That the project will primarily benefit the oil industry is not disputed. “The channels in the study area primarily serve crude oil imports and refined product exports to and from several oil refineries and two non-petroleum industries,” according to the Environment Impact Statement issued by the Army Corps in April. “Petroleum is the big economic driver” of the project, agreed project contact person Stu Townsley. Indeed, the Western States Petroleum Association is one partner in the project.

The Army Corps says deepening the channels will save between $7.6 and $11.3 million a year in shipping costs, savings that could be passed on to consumers. A comment letter on the project from the Center for Biological Diversity, Communities for a Better Environment, the Sierra Club, and other environmental organizations says, “In essence, the public is subsidizing the oil industry to ensure greater profit for private corporations.”

However, the Army Corps also argues that the project will provide environmental benefits. Agency economist Caitlin Bryant said her forecast predicts that the same volume of oil will be shipped with or without the project. If the ships involved are fully loaded, it will take fewer vessel trips to handle the same amount of oil, and tankers no longer will have to idle offshore waiting for high tide. Fewer trips and less idling time will mean less diesel pollution.

The project will mainly benefit shipping in a type of vessel called a Panamax. The Army Corps predicts that as the volume of petroleum shipping increases, the number of Panamax “ship calls per year” will increase. But by dredging, they can reduce the size of the increase. The Army Corps projects that the project will result in about 11 percent fewer Panamax trips in the Carquinez Strait in 2023, the first year the project will be completed, 10 percent fewer in 2030, and about 8 percent fewer in 2040, with corresponding decreases in the level of air pollution they contribute to the already-high levels of pollution in refinery communities.

But environmentalists worry that the project will enable greater volumes of oil imports and exports by “debottlenecking” shipping. The environmental groups challenged Bryant’s forecast in their letter. They pointed out that Richmond’s Chevron refinery, the only one now able to handle fully loaded tankers, is operating at 99.7 percent of capacity, while the other refineries operate at only 91.3 percent. Removing the shipping bottleneck would make it easy for the other refineries to step up production, the groups claim. And they argue that increasing oil production will not only worsen climate change but increase local air pollution, outweighing the benefits of reducing the number of tanker trips.

Critics see the project as part of a larger trend to increase oil shipping and refining in the Bay Area. “The refineries are importing more oil to make products for export, polluting all the way,” said Greg Karras of Communities for a Better Environment. Exports from Bay Area oil refineries “have increased in lockstep with the decrease in domestic oil demand,” as refineries seek new markets. The Bay Area, Karras said, is becoming “the gas station of the Pacific Rim.”

Sunflower Alliance, along with, the Rodeo Citizens Association, the Interfaith Council of Contra Costa County, Idle No More SF Bay, Communities for a Better Environment, and Crockett Rodeo United to Defend the Environment (CRUDE), have launched a petition campaign against the dredging project. They had already joined together as the Protect the Bay Coalition to fight a proposal by Phillips 66, to increase the amount of oil shipped to and from its Rodeo refinery. “It’s troubling that this project, stalled since 1965, is going forward just after P66 requested a permit to triple oil tanker deliveries to its wharf,” said Shoshana Wechsler of the Sunflower Alliance. “Is the Army Corps of Engineers trying to facilitate increased tar sands refining at P66?”

Because it’s likely that future imports will increasingly come from tar sands, oil spills, which inevitably occur, would be more destructive. Tar sands crude oil is so heavy that it sinks when spilled in a body of water. Unlike lighter oil, it can’t be cleaned up by conventional “skimming” methods and remains on the bottom, leaching toxic chemicals. The amount of tar sands crude oil traveling to the west coast of Canada is expected to triple soon. Owners of the planned Trans Mountain Pipeline just announced they’re about to re-start construction on the project, after delays caused by protests from indigenous tribes and environmental organizations. When the tar sands crude arrives at the coast, it will be shipped to refineries in the United States — including California — as well as to Asia. Bay Area refineries have already been gearing up to process this heavier, dirtier crude oil.

Community groups also worry about harm the project could cause to the local marine environment. Even with no increase in the volume of oil shipped, the Army Corps predicts an increase in the use of larger ships. Environmentalists say larger ships go faster, which increases noise in the underwater environment as well as the likelihood of “ship strikes” on marine mammals. An increase in shipping would amplify those problems.

Environmental groups also charge that the Environmental Impact Statement underestimates the harm that would be caused by the dredging itself — both from the initial channel project and the subsequent annual maintenance that will be required. An earlier report from the Army Corps acknowledged that current ship traffic and maintenance dredging already stress the endangered Delta smelt. Noise associated with the dredging would also stress sturgeon, salmon and trout, and marine mammals.

The stirred-up sediment mixes with the water, changing its temperature and chemical makeup in ways that harm fish populations. The Army Corps describes plans to minimize these impacts, including the use of less-damaging dredging equipment and limiting dredging to times of the year when it would cause the least harm to wildlife. The environmental groups say these assurances are not adequate because dredging at the planned times could still harm smelt and salmon, and because the Army Corps says it will use these methods when “practicable” — which environmentalists see as a significant loophole.

And they warn that dredging could stir up heavy metals and other toxic pollutants now settled in the floor of the channel. Townsley of the Army Corps of Engineers responded that the Corps does some routine dredging every year. “The process includes rigorous sediment testing,” he said, and “it has not identified challenges with the cleanliness of the dredged material in the channel.” The environmentalists say they should also test the water before approving the project.

Environmentalists also raise questions about the recent decision to limit the dredging project to a 13-mile stretch mostly west of Martinez, rather than continuing it to the port of Stockton, as originally envisioned. They suspect that the project stops where it does because going farther inland would worsen an already serious environmental problem: increasing the concentration of salt in the Delta. They say the corps is illegally “piecemealing” the project — doing an environmental study of just one part so as not to acknowledge the harm the full project would cause.

Sea-level rise and diversion of water to Central Valley agriculture are already making Delta water saltier. Large amounts of fresh water are being pumped in to keep the salt level down, but if it continues to increase, it will threaten agriculture and every other aspect of the Delta ecosystem. The Army Corps of Engineers acknowledges that this is a serious issue for the dredging project. It will be a factor in the decision about whether to deepen the shipping channel to 37 feet or 38 feet. Deeper dredging would save the oil industry more money but allow more salt upstream.

The Environmental Impact Statement says planners limited the project to the western section because that’s where it’s currently needed. Dredging the first 13-mile stretch is “more appropriate for the immediate problems facing existing vessels.” The dredging is planned to go just past the eastern-most refinery in Martinez.

Townsley of the Army Corps said the “rescoping was based on a number of factors, not just environmental.” A large part of the motivation for the project, he said, is the “national economic interest — why taxpayers in Kansas would find some value in it.” He said planners evaluated whether the stretch farther east has “enough maritime commerce to justify” the expense. He said it was “close to being a positive” but was rejected because of “the complexity of the study — other factors.”

The Port of Stockton is the official “nonfederal sponsor” of the project because the original plan was to deepen the channel all the way to Stockton. Spokesperson Jeff Wingfield said the port hopes the eastern phase will be completed next. That raises another fear in the environmental community. Stockton doesn’t ship petroleum, but it does export coal — and it can’t get big ships fully loaded with coal down the Carquinez Strait. Environmental and community groups fighting coal exports in Richmond — and potential coal exports in Oakland — fear shipments of coal will increase if shipping channels are deepened to Stockton.

Finally, project opponents charge that the Army Corps of Engineers has not consulted enough with the community in developing the project. They say an initial community hearing in June was poorly publicized. They also point out that Corps staff members who wrote the Environmental Impact Statement are based in Florida. They say work on the project should be done by local people who know the area and can consult with the community.

Townsley responded that developing the project was “a team effort” in which “local people were well represented.” It’s Corps policy to “get expertise wherever we can,” he said, “but we make sure we have people who understand the local conditions.”

The public comment period on the Environmental Impact Statement has officially closed, but project opponents attended an Army Corps of Engineering hearing on a related topic in July and demanded more opportunity for public input on the dredging project. Afterwards spokespeople for the project said that although the official public comment period has closed “the Corps maintains an email address at for comments related to this action. Responses to comments received through September 2019 will be included in the Final Report.”

Townsley said the Army Corps “goes through a fairly rigorous process of coordinating with other agencies and collecting comments.” All the comments and letters on this project show “exactly the way the system is supposed to work.” He added that the Army Corps plans to hold another public hearing on the dredging project, probably in late September or early October. The final report is expected after the first of the year.


    VIDEO: Benicia City Council workshop on air monitoring

    By Roger Straw, October 23, 2019

    Here is filmmaker Constance Beutel’s video of the City of Benicia’s Air Monitoring Workshop with representatives from Benicia Fire Department, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, Valero and the newly forming non profit, Benicia Community Air Monitoring Program.

    For more background and the staff report, see Mayor Patterson’s invitation, Benicia City Council workshop on Air Monitoring.


      Benicia – no student strikes at public schools or on our streets on Global Youth Climate Strike day?

      By Roger Straw, September 21, 2019

      Students evidently not active here in Benicia on Global Strike Day, September 20, 2019

      Student-led March For Our Lives crowd of 1500 at Benicia gazebo, March, 2018

      As far as I can tell, there were no student strikes at public schools or on the streets of Benicia or Vallejo on Global Youth Climate Strike day 2020.

      Police estimated that 1500 took part in the student-led Benicia March For Our Lives in 2018.  It seems gun violence in schools strikes a chord, but the threat of a planet in crisis is a little too far off for most of our kids and those who support and encourage them.

      Breathe deep.  Read the news.  And wake, young’uns.  Most of you already know: The planet is on fire and there is no PLANet B!

      Global Climate Strike protesters march, chant, and hold signs, one of which reads, “There is no planet B.”
      Activists gather in John Marshall Park for the Global Climate Strike protests in Washington, DC, on September 20, 2019. | VOX, Samuel Corum/Getty Images

      I reached out, but have not heard a thing from Benicia High School activists or teachers.

      Granted, I was undergoing minor surgery on the 20th.  I was not only unable to protest myself – I didn’t drive around town looking for signs of walkouts or rallies.  So there MIGHT have been something going on.  I really hope so.  But I think not.

      Our only local daily newspaper, the Vallejo Times-Herald, reported on a Vallejo Charter School rally (definitely NOT a strike, according to Matt Smith, Griffin Technologies Academies Superintendent ).  That rally, while informative and perhaps even empowering for students, stayed on campus, where students listened to speakers and participated in adult-led chants.


      I’m guessing our students were told that if they walked out, they would be charged with an unexcused absence, which was evidently the widespread approach here in the SF Bay Area:

      “Although schools in New York City allowed students to take the day off as an excused absence if they marched, that wasn’t the case in the Bay Area. School districts around the Bay Area issued statements saying they generally supported the students’ exercising their First Amendment rights, but that anyone who left a school facility would be given an unexcused absence.”  — Bay Area News Group report, published in the Vallejo Times-Herald

      Encouragement: there are plenty of coming events you can still take part in.  See the EVENTS calendar.
      Here are the Vallejo Times-Herald’s two stories on the Climate Strike:


      Thousands walk out in Bay Area
      Vallejo Times-Herald, Bay Area News Group report, September 21, 2019
      SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA – SEPTEMBER 20: Students (in back bananas) from different Oakland high schools take part in a climate strike march along Market Street in San Francisco, Calif., on Friday, Sept. 20, 2019. Marchers in the San Francisco Bay Area and around the world demand action on climate change. (Ray Chavez/Bay Area News Group)

      Thousands of people across the Bay Area took to the streets Friday as part of a global “climate strike” to urge political leaders to do more to address climate change.

      The demonstrations were led by students but included adult workers.

      In San Francisco, a crowd estimated at roughly 8,000 people met at the federal building on Seventh Street, where House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein have their offices, and prepared to march 1.1 miles down Market Street, past the offices of Bank of America and PG& E before ending at Embarcadero Plaza near the Ferry Building.

      Chanting and banging drums, the crowd, largely made up of young people, held signs saying “Grownups do something,” “There is no Planet B” and “Governor Newsom stand up to big oil.”

      In the East Bay, about 200 people gathered to chant and rally in the Laney College courtyard, including groups of students from Montclair Elementary and St. Paul’s Episcopal School in Oakland. Organizers planned to board BART and join up with marchers in San Francisco later in the day.

      St. Paul’s eighth grader Lily Salazar came to the demonstration as part of a field trip with dozens of her classmates, who made signs at school on Thursday.

      Salazar said she wanted to send a message to politicians: that, in the future, “We are going to be the voters,” and that the changing climate matters to them.

      “It’s our futures — if we don’t stand up now then eventually it will be too late,” Salazar said. “We’re going to have to live with it.” It wasn’t the first protest for the class. Salazar and other students also joined nationwide student demonstrations against gun violence in the spring of 2018. On the Peninsula, students walked out of class at San Mateo High School and other high schools.

      Across the United States and in other countries, similar protests took place. Events were planned at 4,500 locations in 150 countries, from France to Uganda to Kabul, Afghanistan, where 100 people, mostly young women, marched holding signs, protected by armed soldiers. The events were timed around a United Nations Climate Summit set for Monday in New York.

      They were inspired by a series of school walkouts to protest climate, started by Greta Thunberg, a 16-yearold Swedish activist who, after taking a boat across the Atlantic, testified before the House of Representatives earlier this week — where she chastised the lawmakers for not taking action on climate change — and met former President Barack Obama.

      Although schools in New York City allowed students to take the day off as an excused absence if they marched, that wasn’t the case in the Bay Area. School districts around the Bay Area issued statements saying they generally supported the students’ exercising their First Amendment rights, but that anyone who left a school facility would be given an unexcused absence. Some noted that schools cannot protect students when they leave campus and also that schools would lose state funding for each student who missed a day of school.

      Cynthia Greaves, communications manager for the Mountain View Los Altos School District, said Friday that although the district “supports the students’ civic rights to participate in the walkout, their absences will not be excused.”

      It is up to each teacher’s discretion whether students who participate in the walkout will be able to make up the class work they miss, Greaves said.

      Liv Wisely, 17, a senior at El Cerrito High School, in Contra Costa County, said teachers agreed to excuse her absences so she could attend the demonstration Friday morning. She was motivated by a sense of responsibility to future generations, she said.

      “There really is a right and a wrong side of history,” Wisely said. “In the end, you’re going to be held responsible, the same as everyone else who just stood by and watched it happen.”

      Anna Fletcher, a senior at Los Altos High and one of the organizers of her school’s walkout, called Thunberg a “big inspiration” for the decision to plan a march.

      “Some people think protesting doesn’t do anything, but it really only takes one person to make a change,” Fletcher said Climate activism has been ramping up over the last two years as the effects of climate change have become more visible.

      And… here’s the Vallejo Times-Herald story on the charter school rally:



      Griffin, MIT hear adult pleas for their help
      Vallejo Times-Herald, by Richard Freedman, Sep 21, 2019
      Students and faculty from the Mare Island Technology Academy march as they take part in the Global Youth Climate Strike on Friday in Vallejo. PHOTOS BY CHRIS RILEY — TIMES-HERALD

      While a 16-year-old Swedish girl chastised politicians on Capitol Hill this week, sister charter schools in Vallejo held a Global Climate Action Rally Day of their own.

      Activist Greta Thunberg enlightened the suits in Washington, D.C., hoisting a sign in Swedish “Skolstrejk för Klimatet” (“School Strike for Climate”).

      “I don’t want to be heard all the time, but if there is anything I can do to improve the situation then I think it’s a very small price to pay,” Thunberg told CNN.

      Young people took to the streets in protest worldwide, including thousands in New York City.

      While Griffin Technologies Academies Superintendent Matt Smith emphasized Friday’s late morning Vallejo rally and march was not a strike, he approved an extended lunch period for guest speakers and a march around each respective campus — a block from each other in north Vallejo.

      The goal, Smith said, was to “raise awareness about climate change and to mobilize students to take an active role as leaders in our society.”

      At the Griffin Academy, sixth and seventh grade students listened to an environmental chant by conservation biologist Michael Oakes before strolling around the interior of the five-acre campus.

      “I want them to feel empowered to voice their concerns,” said Griffin Technology Academy Principal Stephanie Morgado. “There’s a lot of talk about what you can and cannot do, especially concerning our demographics. They can come together for a cause.”

      Plastic consumption “and how we re-purpose all this plastic material” is a significant concern for Morgado, who sports a simple line drawing tattoo of two otters on her right arm.

      The day of rallying and marches “bring that awareness to the students and their families,” Morgado continued, calling Thunberg’s appearance before the legislators “huge.”

      “I think we downplay the power that our students have to make change and how we need to build a sense of urgency,” Morgado said.

      Climate change “impacts people beyond our sphere,” added the second year principal. “It’s not just an America issue. It’s a global issue. There’s a lack of awareness to that.”

      Natasha McCormick, an English teacher at Griffin, said the rally and march were “really exciting and super fun to watch in terms of getting engaged.”

      McCormick believes it’s up to the younger generation to, if not save the planet entirely, work to solve climate change challenges.

      “If anyone’s going to do it, it’s them,” McCormick said. “It’s certainly not the people in power.”

      The students “want to know why things are important, why they matter and why we would spend time learning about it,” McCormick said. “Legitimate questions.”

      One Griffin student, Davonna Nurzi, 12, lamented how “a lot of kids these days and adults litter and that it can go to the ocean, pollute, and injure animals and make them extinct.”

      Sixth grader Amelia Ostem held a sign, “My world’s on FIRE, how about yours?” She said she marched “because people are dying and so are the animals.”

      A block away at the sister school, MIT Academy, Principal Byron Laird took to the megaphone, shouting “Climate!” with around 500 kids responding “Change!”

      “It is a very important day,” Laird said. “The issues spoken today are not to scare you, not to alarm you .. it’s to bring an awareness to this situation that we’re dealing with. What happens today with the environment and climate affects everyone.”

      Laird handed the spotlight to Dan Feldman, a climate scientist at Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory at the University of California at Berkeley.

      “I study climate change all day long and I’m here because I want to inspire the next generation of scientists,” Feldman said, telling the students that “we’re in the business of documenting” the rise of carbon dioxide “and you’re in the business of solving it.”

      Feldman said carbon dioxide is “creating all sorts of change … some change is good, some change is not so good” like heat waves and wild fires.

      Feldman said the younger generation has given him hope for a solution.

      “I see the new generation coming together and we need to come together, not in the future, but right now,” Feldman said.

      Oakes made a quick jaunt from Griffin to MIT in hopes of encouraging the teens to get involved.

      “Whose world is it? Whose earth is it? It’s yours and it’s every other creature,” Oakes said. “Everything is connected. We’re all connected.”

      Oakes noted that 195 countries participated in recent scientific studies. “That,” he said, “says climate change is real. We’re causing it.

      “Can we make a change? Yes.”

      Oakes encouraged the students to transition to a plant-based diet to reduce the use of land, water, energy and pollution.

      It’s going to take “political will … so support candidates that support the Green New Deal,” Oakes said.

      One student was on his own mission.

      “Save the turtles,” he said.


        Benicia’s nearest Climate Strike: Saturday Sept 21, Walnut Creek

        Global Climate Rally & Environmental Fair, The Youth Are Leading the Way!

        Image may contain: text

        Civic Park Walnut Creek
        Saturday September 21st from 1-3 pm. 
        Facebook: East Bay Climate Action Network
        Also: Interfaith Council of Contra Costa

        There are other Global Climate Strike: September 20-27 events around the Bay Area!  Check out: