Category Archives: Benicia City Council

Benicia CA: City Council adopts letter encouraging rail safety

Repost from The Vallejo Times-Herald
[Editor:  UPDATE: On Tuesday, 4/7/15, the Benicia City Council approved sending the League of California Cities letter by unanimous vote.  See original documents on the City of Benicia’s website:
      – Staff’s Agenda Report
      – Mayor Patterson’s draft letter of support (not approved)
      – League of Cities letter requesting letters of support & sample letter (sample letter approved)
– RS]

Benicia mayor to request council to send letter encouraging rail safety

By Irma Widjojo, 04/06/15, 7:58 PM PDT
Benicia, California
Benicia, California

Benicia >> Mayor Elizabeth Patterson on Tuesday night will be asking the rest of the city council to consider sending a letter to the Federal Office of Management and Budget in support of several rail safety recommendations.

League-of-CA-Cities-LogoBenicia is a member of the League of Cities, which has adopted 10 recommendation as official policy to “increase rail safety in the transport of hazardous materials.”

The recommendations include mandating speed limits and electronically controlled braking systems, increasing the federal funding for training and equipment purchases for first responders, regulating the parking and storage of tank cars and others.

The League Executive Director has requested that cities send letters to the appropriate federal rail safety rule making authority requesting that these measures be implemented, Patterson said.

Patterson — an outspoken advocate of tougher crude-by-rail safety measures — said she has asked the city attorney to “determine whether sending a letter requesting rail safety improvements would in any way create a due process issue for the city,” since Benicia is currently processing the use permit and Environmental Impact Report for the Valero Crude by Rail project.

However, the city attorney determined that there would not be an issue since “the letter does not oppose the Valero project or take any position on adequacy of the environmental review for the project.”

In November, the city attorney released a legal opinion that states that Patterson should not participate in any decision concerning the project because “the appearance of bias” could result in a legal challenge against the city.

However, the mayor, who has hired her own attorney, at that time indicated she doesn’t intend to follow the city’s advice.

The council is set to meet at 7 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall, 250 E. L St. Agendas and staff reports can be found on the City’s website.
Please share!

BENICIA HERALD LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Dr. James Egan: Deny Valero’s application

From The Benicia Herald (Benicia Herald letters appear only in the print edition)
[Editor:  Dr. Egan’s letter is a welcome contribution, expressing the growing conviction of many throughout North America, that crude-by-rail is simply unsafe under current conditions, and should be not be permitted at this time.  See also Dr. Egan’s 9/14/14 comments addressing the Valero Crude By Rail Draft EIR.  – RS]

Timely decision on crude by rail warranted: Deny Valero’s application

By James Egan, M.D., Benicia, March 10, 2015

The headline in the Feb. 5, 2015 edition of The Herald, “Another delay as crude-by-rail project debate enters 3rd year,” signals sympathy toward the Valero Benicia Refinery as regards its Crude by Rail (CBR) Use Permit Application, currently before the Planning Commission.  While it is difficult working up crocodile tears for a multi-billion-dollar international oil corporation, the energy and expense invested in forwarding this project bear acknowledgement, and a timely decision on the application should be made out of fairness to the applicant.  To that end, I would like to suggest that the Planning Commission and the City Council have enough information available to take action at any time.  The application should be denied on the basis of rail safety.

On Feb. 17 of this year a crude oil train derailed and exploded in Mount Carbon, W.Va.  Three million gallons of Bakken crude spilled from 26 ruptured tank cars, forcing the evacuation of two nearby towns.  Two days prior, another oil train derailed and caught fire in Ontario, Canada.  Last Thursday, March 5, 21 cars carrying Bakken crude derailed, split and exploded near Galena, Ill.  Another of the dozens of oil- or ethanol-train accidents involving a fire, derailment or significant fuel spill reported in the U.S. or Canada since 2006 was the Lynchburg, Va. derailment and fire in April 2014.

The significance of this particular series of railway disasters to the citizens of Benicia is that they all involved CPC-1232 tank cars, the same cars that Valero would use for the transportation of crude to its facility in Benicia, according to the Draft Environmental Impact Report.

In a Feb. 23 editorial titled, “Get rid of exploding tank cars,” the San Francisco Chronicle states that “Valero Energy Co. has agreed to haul Bakken crude to its Benicia bayside refinery in the newer CPC-1232 cars as part of its city permit application to revamp its facilities to receive crude by rail rather than by oceangoing tanker.  But that promise now appears inadequate to protect the safety of those in Benicia as well as in other communities – Roseville, Sacramento, Davis – along the line.”

The same edition of the Chronicle details a report from the Department of Transportation predicting that trains hauling crude oil or ethanol will derail 15 times in 2015 and average 10 times yearly over the next two decades, causing $4.5 billion in damage with potential fatalities of more than 200 people in a given accident.  This may actually be an underestimate based on recent major derailment rates.

Friends and foes of CBR alike agree that the transportation of crude oil by rail involves inherent risk.  Can’t we also agree that the risk should be reduced to the greatest extent possible before inviting these potentially explosive trains to Benicia?  Lowering the risk of tank car derailment, rupture and explosion now should translate into saved human lives and prevention of environmental disasters in the future.

The danger can, in fact, be mitigated.  The crude can be stabilized prior to its transportation by extraction of its most volatile components.  North Dakota has implemented standards making this mandatory for Bakken crude, but many feel that their new guidelines are overly lax.  New federal regulations due to be released in May could further address this, as would rail safety measures such as Positive Train Control and electronically controlled pneumatic brakes.  New, safer tank cars designed specifically to carry this type of crude have been designed and are in production.

Unfortunately, the new federal guidelines will likely require years for full enforcement, and complete phaseout of the existing, unreliable tank car fleet by newer, stronger cars, such as the Greenbrier HM-251, will also require years of effort.

Accordingly, if we agree that the risks of transportation of crude by rail should be absolutely minimized prior to approving the CRB project, we have to acknowledge that this is currently beyond Valero’s reach and the Use Permit Application should be denied.

Those who would roll the dice and approve the current application should consider how comfortable they will feel with that decision once they find themselves in a front row seat at the Park/Bayshore railroad crossing watching fifty tank cars containing 1,470,000 gallons of potentially explosive crude rumble by on the same spur line that has seen derailment of five train cars since Nov. 4, 2013 (in addition to the two locomotives that derailed on Sept. 7, 2014 near the port).

Kudos to Planning Commission members for the time and energy spent on fairly evaluating this project.  It would seem that as time has passed the correct path forward has become much clearer.  At this point, the ongoing health and well-being of all Benicians should hold foremost importance in the decision-making process.  Their protection is the least we can expect from our city government.

James Egan, M.D.

Please share!

San Francisco Chronicle: How crude-by-rail — and other debates — are censored

Repost from SFGate, Opinion Shop

How crude-by-rail — and other debates — are censored

By Lois Kazakoff, January 2, 2015
Valero seeks to modify its Benicia refinery to bring in two 50-car trains a day of crude oil.
How the crude-by-rail debate is censored… Valero seeks to modify its Benicia refinery to bring in two 50-car trains a day of crude oil. Photo By The Chronicle

When I wrote in November about how the mayor of Benicia was effectively muzzled from speaking about a pending city decision with nationwide importance, I thought the debate was over climate change. Now I learn the real concern is over democracy itself.

My Nov. 18 blog post concerned the City Council’s decision to make public an opinion on whether the mayor should be allowed to speak freely with voters about Valero’s application to convert its Benicia refinery to receive crude from the Baaken Oil Shale by rail. The decision is huge because fracking the crude is only profitable if the oil can reach refineries and the global market. Benicia’s refinery and port are key components to success.

Locally, Benicians and Californians living along the rail lines are fearful of train cars filled with the highly volatile crude rumbling through their communities twice a day. It’s a highly charged dispute that has drawn in Attorney General Kamala Harris, who chastised the city for only studying the effects on Benicia and not the effects along the entire rail line through California.

When the City Council voted to make public the opinion, written by an attorney hired by the city attorney, the decision was Mayor Elizabeth Patterson had overstepped her bounds.

Why? Because local politicians can advocate for new laws, but when they are holding a public hearing or ruling on a permit — acting more like judges than legislators — the permit applicant’s right to appear before an unbiased body trumps the legislator’s right to freely express an opinion.

Peter Scheer, the executive director of the First Amendment Coalition, writes in Sunday’s Insight section that this growing practice of advising City Council members to censor themselves is deleterious not just to political debate over important and engaging local issues but to democracy. By giving City Councils this dual role and then advising them to censor their own speech, we discourage civic participation  on the concerns constituents care about most.

Please share!