Category Archives: Berkeley

BERKELEY MAYOR TOM BATES: Letter opposing Valero Crude By Rail

By Roger Straw, April 18, 2016

BERKELEY MAYOR TOM BATES: Letter opposing Valero Crude By Rail

The Benicia Independent is in receipt of a letter sent today to the City of Benicia by Berkeley, CA Mayor Tom Bates.  Mayor Bates writes in opposition to certification and permitting of Valero’s proposal.

Here is the complete text of Mayor Bates’ one-page letter:

Berkeley_logo
Office of the Mayor

April 18, 2016

Mayor Elizabeth Patterson City Council Members Tom Campbell, Mark Hughes, Alan Schwartzman, Christina Strawbridge Principal Planner Amy Million City of Benicia Benicia, California

Dear Mayor Patterson; Council Members Campbell, Hughes, Schwartzman, Strawbridge; and Ms. Million:

I ask you to uphold the Benicia Planning Commission’s decision to withhold certification from the Valero Refining Company’s Crude-by-Rail project. I believe the risks of this dangerous rail spur far outweigh possible benefits.

I agree with Attorney General Kamala Harris and environmental and community groups and that the Interstate Commerce Commission Termination Act does not prevent the City from assessing the transportation and public-safety risks when considering the project under its land-use authority.[1] The issue is one of local land use not pre-empted by federal regulation.

Another chief reason for not approving the project is that the CEQA analysis did not assess all of the project’s potential environmental impacts, including its impacts on other cities.[3] Allowing up to two 50-car trains of crude oil a day to come into the Valero refinery exposes Benicia and other communities to major safety risks, especially given the history of train derailment in recent times, both nationally and internationally.[2] An oil spill could be catastrophic to the local environment and waterways. Moreover, the transport of crude oil will emit toxic pollutants not adequately assessed in the environmental review, thus contaminating the air breathed by your residents and those of other communities as well.

The Berkeley City Council has reviewed the issue of transporting crude oil on the freight lines in the East Bay and has gone on record in unanimous opposition to such transport because of the unacceptable level of hazardous risk, including to Berkeley. The Union Pacific tracks are embedded in our West Berkeley community where people live, work and go to school.

I ask that you not approve this rail spur until the volatile organics are removed from these crude oil shipments and the railroads are upgraded to modern standards to handle such shipments.

Sincerely,
Tom Bates, Mayor


[1] http://beniciaindependent.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/AttyGenl_Kamala_Harris_Comments_Received_April_13-14_2016.pdf
[3] http://beniciaindependent.com/topics/final-draft-environmental-impact-report-feir/
[2] http://ww2.kqed.org/science/2014/07/11/benicia-extends-public-comment-period-on-bay-area-crude-by-rail/

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    Berkeley report finds overwhelming opposition to project that would bring crude-by-rail through Bay Area cities

    Repost from the Contra Costa Times

    Report finds overwhelming opposition to project that would bring crude-by-rail through Bay Area cities

    By Tom Lochner, 03/04/2016 04:44:34 AM PST

    Berkeley report on SLO hearingsBERKELEY — A crude-by-rail project in Central California that could bring up to five trains a week through Berkeley and other East Bay shoreline cities has garnered overwhelming opposition among local politicians and the public, an observer for the city reports.

    Ray Yep, a member of the Public Works Commission working with Councilwoman Linda Maio, represented Berkeley at hearings before the San Luis Obispo County Planning Commission last month on the Phillips 66 Rail Spur Project. The proposal calls for bringing out-of-state crude oil, likely the tar sands variety, to the Phillips 66 Santa Maria refinery via 80-car trains, via a 1.3-mile spur that would connect the refinery with the Union Pacific mainline.

    Possible access routes to the refinery from outside the area would be from the south via the Los Angeles Basin, and from the north via the East Bay and South Bay along Amtrak’s Capitol Corridor tracks.

    As early as 2014, the Berkeley and Richmond city councils voted to oppose the transport of crude oil through the East Bay.

    Hearings were held Feb. 4 and 5, with at least one more hearing before the planning commission votes on the project. The next hearing is 9 a.m. March 11.

    At the Feb. 4 hearing, the county staff gave a presentation, ending with a recommendation to deny the project. A county attorney followed with a discussion of federal pre-emption, characterizing it as a “gray area,” according to the Berkeley report.

    Phillips 66 has challenged the county’s standing to evaluate Union Pacific mainline issues — including possible effects on the communities it traverses. In an ensuing presentation, the company held that mainline issues fall under federal regulations, the Berkeley report noted.

    Phillips 66 said the rail spur project is needed because of declining of oil production in California, and that it would keep the refinery in operation and provide local jobs and taxes, according to the Berkeley report. The company declared willingness to reduce the volume of trains to three per week, which critics have derided as a tactic to facilitate approval without addressing the danger of fire, explosion and pollution.

    Without approval of the rail spur project, 100 trucks would transport crude oil daily from Kern County to the Santa Maria refinery, according to the report.

    About 300 people submitted speaker cards at the Feb. 4 hearing and 69 spoke that day, from as far away as Crockett, Davis and Sacramento, according to the Berkeley report. Some 430 speaker cards were submitted at the Feb. 5 hearing.

    The report noted that 17 elected officials spoke, all but one against the project.

    Maio is expected to present the report to the City Council on Tuesday. It is available online at bit.ly/1QsQL6w.

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      Earthjustice lawsuit against Kinder Morgan & BAAQMD – case overview

      Repost from EARTHJUSTICE … because the Earth needs a good lawyer …

      Challenging Crude-by-Rail Shipments to California’s Bay Area

      The City of Richmond, home to a Chevron refinery and tank farm, is already burdened by intense pollution caused by the fossil fuel industry.The City of Richmond in California’s Bay Area is already burdened by intense pollution caused by the fossil fuel industry.  Chris Jordan-Bloch / Earthjustice

      CASE OVERVIEW

      Earthjustice, on behalf of Communities for a Better Environment, the Asian Pacific Environmental Network, the Sierra Club, and the Natural Resources Defense Council, has filed a lawsuit against Kinder Morgan and the Bay Area Air Quality Management District to halt the shipment of highly explosive and toxic crude oil into the City of Richmond, a community already burdened by intense pollution caused by the fossil fuel industry.

      The Air District issued Kinder Morgan a permit to operate its crude-by-rail project in early February, without any notice to the public or environmental and health review.  The case asks the court to halt operations immediately while the project undergoes a full and transparent review under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).

      Members of the Richmond community, perhaps even members of the BAAQMD’s Board of Directors, did not know that a permit to transport crude oil had been issued for over a month.  According to longtime resident of Richmond and CBE organizer Andres Soto, the community is tired of being blind-sided and ignored.

      Berkeley and Richmond city councils have voted to oppose crude-by-rail plans that involved trains running through their cities. The number of trains carrying crude oil around the country has risen dramatically in the last two to three years, due to the increased drilling in both the Alberta tar sands in Canada and the Bakken shale oil area of North Dakota.

      The California Public Utilities Commission, office of Rail Safety, released a report in November 2013 listing a number of alarming railway safety concerns associated with the increased movement of crude oil by rail through California. The report specifically identifies California’s railroad bridges as a significant rail safety risk.

      Bakken crude is extremely explosive and toxic. In January of 2014, the U.S. federal agency that regulates hazardous materials on the rails issued an alert, stating that Bakken crude may be more flammable than other types of crude. And in July of 2013, a train carrying crude oil derailed and exploded in a town in Quebec, Canada, killing 47 local residents and destroying most of the downtown area.

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        California cities’ crude-by-rail opposition makes national news

        Repost from The Miami Herald

        As oil shipments rise on rails, California cities fight to be heard

        By Curtis Tate and Tony Bizjak
        McClatchy  Newspapers                           
         A tanker truck is filled from railway cars containing crude oil on railroad tracks in McClellan Park in North Highlands on Wednesday, March 19, 2014. North Highlands is a suburb just outside the city limits of Sacramento, CA.
        A tanker truck is filled from railway cars containing crude oil on railroad tracks in McClellan Park in North Highlands on Wednesday, March 19, 2014. North Highlands is a suburb just outside the city limits of Sacramento, CA.        Randall Benton    /     MCT 

        SACRAMENTO, Calif. — As rail shipments of crude oil have risen in Northern California, so has opposition in many communities along rail lines and near the refineries they supply.

        Concerned about the potential safety and environmental hazards of 100-car trains of oil rolling through population centers, leaders from Sacramento to San Jose say they’re banding together to present a unified voice for “up-line” cities: communities that could bear some of the highest risks as California turns toward rail shipments to quench its thirst for fuel.

        “What I suspect will come out of this is more of a regional understanding and interest in the topic,” said Mike Webb, director of community development and sustainability in Davis.

        The federal government regulates rail shipments, but the rules haven’t caught up to the surge in oil traffic on the nation’s rail network. That’s left local leaders at the forefront of pushing for changes in state and federal laws.

        Last week, the city councils of Berkeley and Richmond voted to oppose crude shipments on rail lines through their towns. The resolutions call for state lawmakers and members of Congress to seek tougher regulations.

        Several environmental groups filed a lawsuit last week against pipeline operator Kinder Morgan and the Bay Area Air Quality Management District. The groups said the agency quietly issued a permit to Kinder Morgan for a crude-by-rail facility in February without reviewing potential environmental and health impacts.

        “We don’t accept that as a forgone conclusion,” said Diane Bailey, a senior scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council, one of the groups in the lawsuit.

        But it may be an uphill fight. State officials anticipate that within two years, California will receive a quarter of its petroleum supply by rail. That could potentially mean several trains of crude oil passing daily through Sacramento, West Sacramento and Davis.

        The Sacramento Bee reported last week that crude oil had been transferred from trains to trucks at the former McClellan Air Force Base in Sacramento since last year without the knowledge of local emergency response officials and without a required air quality permit.

        Webb said Davis’ goal is to be part of the review process to make sure the city’s concerns are heard.

        “Our primary objective and interest is in the health and safety of our community,” he said.

        A group of community activists in Benicia and Martinez has been trying to stop two oil refiners, Tesoro and Valero, from expanding their crude oil deliveries by rail. And they’re pressing local, state and federal officials to push for tougher oversight of crude oil shipments by rail following a series of derailments with catastrophic fires and spills.

        They’re focused on two types of crude oil that are moving by rail in the absence of new pipelines. First is tar sands, a thick, gritty crude that’s produced in western Canada. Tar sands production generates more carbon dioxide emissions, environmentalists say, and is more difficult to clean up when spilled in water because it’s heavy and sinks.

        The second is Bakken crude, extracted through hydraulic fracturing of shale rock. Most of the Bakken formation lies in North Dakota, and most of the oil produced there moves out of the state by rail. The oil has proved more volatile than conventional types.

        Since last summer, three major derailments have involved Bakken crude. The first, in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, killed 47 people in an inferno that also leveled the center of the small lakeside town.

        Subsequent derailments in Alabama and North Dakota, though not fatal, showed that disaster could strike again.

        “People are afraid that anybody along the rail line could become the next Lac-Megantic,” said Andres Soto, a community activist in Benicia.

        Part of the frustration at the local level is the lack of information about how much crude oil is being shipped on rail lines. The companies involved in transporting and refining oil are not required to provide much information on the shipments and usually don’t.

        “There is so little oversight,” Bailey said. “This is a new area and people are scratching their heads, saying, ‘Wow, this isn’t covered.’”

        West Sacramento Fire Chief Rick Martinez, who has experience fighting oil fires, said national attention on the issue may provide a platform for cities to push for better real-time information on what materials are coming through town, so emergency responders know what to expect as they head to a call.

        “Is there way through technology to get more information to local agencies?” he asked. “We are trying to take advantage of the interest to pose the questions.”

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