Three years after the Dakota Access pipeline first started carrying oil, a federal judge ordered Monday that the pipeline must be shut down during a court-ordered environmental review that is necessary because the U.S. government violated federal environmental law, in a decision seen as a victory for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and a defeat for the oil industry and President Donald Trump, who backed it in 2017.
In 2016, the Standing Rock Sioux, Cheyenne River Sioux and other American Indian tribes sued the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for approving the Dakota Access pipeline, saying it put tribal water supplies and cultural resources at risk.
The Obama administration paused the project in 2016 after thousands of pipeline opponents protested, but Trump put it back on track after taking office in 2017.
U.S. District Judge James Boasberg wrote that the court found that the U.S. Amy Corps of Engineers violated the National Environmental Policy Act when it granted an easement to Dakota Access to create a segment of the crude-oil pipeline without writing the required Environmental Impact Statement.
Energy Transfer Partners, the parent company of the Dakota Access pipeline, argued that the project could lose as much as $643 million in 2020 and $1.4 billion in 2021 and that the shutdown would have serious consequences for the North Dakota oil industry and the entire state of North Dakota because its economy is largely dependent on revenue from oil and gas taxes; the tribes argued that the projections were “wildly exaggerated” because a collapse in oil prices, demand and production had already caused production to plummet.
The court noted the “serious effects” the shutdown would have for many states, companies and workers but wrote that, “given the seriousness of the Corps’ … error, the impossibility of a simple fix, the fact that Dakota Access did assume much of its economic risk knowingly, and the potential harm each day the pipeline operates, the Court is forced to conclude that the flow of oil must cease.”
Energy Transfer told Bloomberg Law it plans to immediately ask Boasberg to freeze the decision and will head to the U.S. Court of Appeals if the request is denied.
“Today is a historic day for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and the many people who have supported us in the fight against the pipeline,” Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Chairman Mike Faith said in a statement provided to Bloomberg Law. “This pipeline should have never been built here. We told them that from the beginning.”
The decision states that the pipeline must be shut down within 30 days and can not re-open until the report is created. The court expects it will take 13 months.
Hollywood celebrities including Jane Fonda, Mark Ruffalo, Susan Sarandon, Leonardo DiCaprio, Gal Gadot and Ben Affleck spoke out against the pipeline and Shailene Woodley was arrested at a protest.
NEB Sidesteps ‘Significant’ Impacts, Recommends Trans Mountain Pipeline Approval
By Mitchell Beer, February 25, 2019
Canada’s National Energy Board is recommending federal cabinet re-approval of the controversial Trans Mountain pipeline expansion despite its likely “significant” environmental and climate impacts, prompting multiple Indigenous and environmental opponents to vow the project will never be completed.
“The project would cause ‘significant adverse environmental effects’ on the southern resident killer whale population, and while a worst-case spill from the pipeline or an oil tanker is not likely, ‘the effects would be significant,’” CBC reports, citing NEB Chief Environmental Officer Robert Steedman.
“While these effects weighed heavily in the NEB’s consideration of project-related marine shipping, the NEB recommends that the Government of Canada find that they can be justified in the circumstances, in light of the considerable benefits of the project and measures to minimize the effects,” the NEB decision stated.
“Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, president of the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs (UBCIC), said it’s ‘ludicrous’ that economic interests are considered more important than killer whales,” National Observer reports. “We are proud British Columbians, and we have a duty to protect what we’ve all been blessed with in British Columbia in regard to the pristine beauty of the environment,” Philip said. “We will rise to the challenge.”
“I think the NEB has a long record of siding with industry over communities and other concerns…so we have every expectation that they’re going to recommend the project go ahead despite the serious problems with it,” said Stand.earth climate campaigner Sven Biggs, in the lead-up to the NEB announcement. “It’s likely there are going to be more lawsuits and more delays because of them, and if the cabinet decides to go ahead and restart construction, you’ll see protests in the streets and along the pipeline route.”
Canadian Chamber of Commerce CEO Perrin Beatty “said he was pleased the NEB sees the project as a matter of ‘national interest’, and ‘now it is up to the federal government to take the steps necessary for getting this pipeline built without any further delay’,” Observer states.
Natural Resources Minister Amarjeet Sohi called the ruling “an important milestone”, adding that Ottawa is in a “very strong position” to wrap up project consultations with affected Indigenous communities within 90 days.
“We know how important this process is to Canadians,” Sohi said in a prepared statement. “We are hopeful the work we are doing will put us in a strong position to make a decision.”
The NEB attached 16 new conditions to the approval, on top of the 156 it had already imposed, including “measures to reduce underwater noise and to protect marine species from collision, reduce the emissions of vessels, among other issues,” Observer reports. “The NEB said it applied the precautionary principle, requiring that environmental measures must anticipate and prevent environmental harm, when considering human industrial involvement with the ‘complex and interconnected ecosystem’ of the Salish Sea.”
The Board added that the pipeline “remains in the public interest of Canada,” CBC writes. “The regulator provided a list of ‘considerable’ benefits from the project including jobs across the country, government revenues, spending on pipeline materials, greater market access for Canadian oil, and training, jobs, and business opportunities for local Indigenous communities.”
It added that marine traffic off the B.C. coast is on track to increase, with or without an expanded pipeline. “The panel feels strongly that if these recommendations are implemented, they will offset the relatively minor effects of the project-related marine traffic and, in fact, will benefit the entire Salish Sea ecosystem,” Steedman said.
For the groups that have been fighting the pipeline, the decision was just another step on a long road.
“We still say no to the project,” said UBCIC Secretary Treasurer, Chief Judy Wilson. Even if one nation, one community says no, that project is not happening.”
“The troubling part for me and First Nations concerned about their water and their territories is the fact that Trudeau has stated this pipeline will be built, full stop. It makes an absolute mockery of the consultation process that was court ordered and has been accomplished today,” added UBCIC Vice President and Kwikwasut’inuxw Haxwa’mis Chief Bob Chamberlin.
“The NEB has effectively ignored the impacts on whales, Indigenous communities, and the climate. Now it is up to cabinet to reject the NEB’s recommendation and refuse to approve the project,” said Ecojustice lawyer Dyna Tuytel.
Climate Convergence Metro Vancouver responded with a Friday afternoon demonstration outside local CBC offices. “The world’s climate scientists are clear: we have 12 years to drastically reduce carbon emissions or face catastrophic consequences,” the organization stated on Facebook. “We can do this, but the clock is ticking. Instead of making urgent and meaningful investments in sustainable development and renewable energy projects, the Trudeau government is committing billions in public funds toward expanding dirty tar sands bitumen extraction.”
The news report on Common Dreams captured crossborder reaction, as well.
“I understand in British Columbia, this pipeline will provide a way of having an income,” said Noel Purser of the Suquamish Tribe, one of four Northwest U.S. Indigenous communities that challenged the project in 2013. “But is it worth the potential of a spill, that risk? Is it really worth that? Because that will impact everybody, not just here in British Columbia. It will impact us in Suquamish; it will impact our relatives in Alaska.”
“Once again, Canada’s NEB has sided with short-term Big Oil profits instead of the long-term health of the Pacific Northwest’s people, climate, and orcas,” said Marcie Keever of Friends of the Earth. “Shame on Prime Minister Trudeau, his government, and the National Energy Board of Canada for ignoring widespread opposition and serious concerns in favor of this destructive pipeline. Canada’s decision will likely bring about the extinction of the Northwest’s iconic killer whales and drive us further towards the brink of climate chaos.”
Writing in the week or so before the decision, Dogwood BC’s Kai Nagata circulated a list of the things he would and would not do once the widely-expected announcement was official.
“Here’s what I’m going to do when the news comes out: Take a deep breath, walk the dog, make dinner for my kid,” he wrote. “Here’s what I’m not going to do: Wail, gnash teeth, rend my garments, wallow in despair.”
All of that on the assumption that the outcome of the NEB’s review was already as certain as death and taxes.
“Justin Trudeau can promise hope and change and reconciliation and all that nice stuff. At the end of the day, he does what the oil companies tell him,” he wrote. “So that’s what’s wrapping up this week—another rigged review by an industry-funded, industry-staffed regulator that has never said no to a pipeline.” But “we also need to build our energy for the bigger fight ahead,” beginning when the project receives federal cabinet approval.
“That’s going to take hard work. And hard work requires us to slow down and take care of the basics: sleep, food, fresh air, our relationships with family and friends,” he wrote. But despite the “hell of a beating” communities have taken from fossil companies over the last couple of years, “I’m feeling calm and confident,” he concluded. “I hope you do, too.”
New staff report again recommends overturning Planning Commission’s unanimous decision
On Thursday, City of Benicia staff released the agenda for the crucial and perhaps decisive September 20 meeting of the Benicia City Council.
A staff report accompanying the agenda stands by the staff’s previous positions on Valero’s oil train proposal, recommending on p. 10 that Council approve Valero’s appeal, reject Benicia’s Planning Commission decision, and approve the Crude By Rail project.
The staff report fails to quote the City’s own strong defense of local land use authority as stated in its recent legal brief before the federal Surface Transportation Board (STB), and attaches the brief seemingly as an afterthought, the 10th among 10 attachments.
Although City staff follows protocol, offering Council four alternative courses of action including approval, denial, re-working the environmental report and continuing discussion – it’s recommendation is unenlightened, a repeat of previously heard pro-oil-train postures of Valero and the City’s paid consultants.
The one indication that staff is giving Council real alternatives is that they include a ready draft of a resolution to deny the project, a professional courtesy not afforded to Benicia’s Planning Commission last February.
That said, eight of the ten attachments that accompany the staff report lean heavily in favor of Valero and against opponents. A new memo by Valero Benicia executive Don Cuffel disputes the findings of environmental expert Dr. Phyllis Fox. In the memo, Cuffel touts his own experience and authority, then launches into a 6-page attack on Dr. Fox, characterizing her arguments as based on “ideology or on heated rhetoric.”
The City’s release of Cuffel’s September 13 memo at this late date will no doubt make it difficult if not impossible for Dr. Fox to rebut and defend herself and her positions prior to the September 20 meeting of Council.
The agenda also attaches a second September 13 memo commissioned by Valero that claims Benicia’s Sulphur Springs Creek is perfectly safe from potential environmental impacts, and that the “proposed project meets the requirements and intent of the City of Benicia’s stream setback ordinance.”
It is interesting that public comment on the proposal has officially been closed, and yet Valero’s latest memos are attached to the official Council agenda. Would the City have given such prominence to an afterword by Dr. Fox? Did staff choose to attach the recent critiques of Benicia structural engineer Amir Firouz or Benicia engineer C. Bart Sullivan, who have pointed out on-site impacts that have nothing to do with rail-related dangers? Of course not. When does manufactured rebuttal by the project applicant come to a close here?
Valero plays hard ball, of course, and has done so throughout the more than three years of procedings. One can only guess at the behind-the-scenes pressure applied by Valero to City staff and supposedly impartial City consultants. Who knows why our City Manager, Assistant City Manager and Principal Planner have chosen to leave our employ in recent weeks?
Opponents of the project have been waiting and watching for signals from Benicia’s new interim City Manager Steve Salomon. It is disappointing, if not alarming, to witness staff’s new (old) approach on Valero’s dirty and dangerous proposal. The lone holdovers on senior staff are City Attorney Heather McLaughlin and Community Develolpment Director Christina Ratcliffe. These two will be responsible, along with Council members, if Valero gets its way.
One can only hope that City Council members have taken note of the recent derailment disaster in Mosier, Oregon, the consistent input of outside experts, local structural engineers, California’s Attorney General and outside attorneys, and make a decision – finally on September 20 – to be done with Valero’s foolish proposal.
There is ample evidence of off-site and on-site factors that are sufficient for denial of this project. An entirely inadequate environmental review should not be certified, and a permit should not be granted.
[Re-posting today in memory of Joel Fallon, who died on August 11, 2016 (obituary). Joel was Benicia’s first and most beloved Poet Laureate, an inspiration to all who knew him and a thoughtful, visionary activist. Originally reposted from The Benicia Herald and here on the Benicia Independent.]
April 25, 2014 by Joel Fallon
WHAT AM I MISSING HERE? Are Benicians just kittens in a burlap sack, down by the riverside, resigned to the inevitable?
Let’s see if I’ve got this right.
(a) We’re in earthquake country (see evidence of the Green Valley fault in terrain on the way to Cordelia);
(b) We’re next to fragile wetlands (for spectacular views, click Google Maps/Benicia, hybrid setting, find rail line and follow to Sacramento);
(c) We’re contiguous with an important commercial waterway;
(d) We host an outfit whose headquarters has fought attempts to safeguard our environment (see Valero Energy Corporation’s position and funding regarding Proposition 23);
(e) A local outfit, under direction from its far-off headquarters, plans to process a dangerous, toxic product;
(f) The outfit is served by a rail system with a recent history of tank car derailment;
(g) Parts of this railroad system (built by Central Pacific RR in 1877), running through marshland to the Carquinez Strait, repeatedly sank into unstable marshy terrain, requiring hundreds of thousands of tons of rock, gravel and other materials to stabilize it;
(h) Other parts of the antique rail infrastructure seem poorly maintained and may be unsafe, e.g., the Benicia-Martinez rail bridge, built between 1928 and 1930 for Southern Pacific RR to replace the train ferry to Port Costa;
(i) Old tank cars are a problem — an area newspaper reports that BNSF railway officials told federal regulators in March of concerns that older, less robust tank cars will end up transporting crude oil because of Canadian rail pricing policies;
(j) Emergency responders are unprepared to handle spills or fires in the event of derailment of cars headed to any of five Bay Area refineries. State Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, after listening to testimony from emergency responders, said, “There is a potential for very serious problems and very disastrous problems.” Chief of the Contra Costa Fire District is quoted saying, “… with the sheer volume that will be coming in, we are going to see more accidents.” The 2007-08 Solano County Grand Jury, after investigating the county’s fire districts, reports a general need for more funding, heavy dependence on dedicated volunteers and the preponderance of old fire trucks, while noting the high cost of HAZMAT suits and problems with communications caused by incompatible equipment and radio frequencies.
And yet, despite this unbelievably horrific backdrop, certain elements in town warn us to hush lest Valero be forced out of the competitive (i.e., tar sands crude) market, destroying its “desire to remain in Benicia.”
Clearly, Valero Benicia Refinery cannot be faulted for all of the foregoing. Good workers deserve good jobs; they should be able to tell their grandkids they helped, rather than harmed, the environment. Valero Benicia is just one of many links in a chain of factors that could lead to the disaster so many in this community fear.
Am I “agenda driven” as charged? Bet your raggedy backside I am. My agenda involves doing homework to find threats to my home, my town, my state and my nation, and advising others of my findings (just in case they might care). If you detect it, yell “GAS” to alert the rest of the platoon; then put on your mask, while you can still breathe.
For a glimmer of the scope of Big Oil’s operations from sea to shining sea and beyond, see the astounding number of outfits similar to Valero Energy Corp. in the U.S and Canada. Find ’em in Wikipedia (“independent oil companies — Americas”). Select a company to see its history of oil spills. Wonder why the Keystone XL pipeline is planned to extend to Texas? Check out which corporations own the pipeline and the benefits associated with Foreign Trade Zones (32 FTZ in Texas compared to 17 in California, and 15 in New York).
If folks look around a bit they may discover that Big Oil, like Big Coal and other corporate behemoths, extends powerful influence throughout the land of the free and the home of the brave. Many were hoodwinked by Operation Iraqi Liberation, in which Big Oil colluded with Big Government to achieve absolute power of life and death over us and our enemy — the one with phantom WMDs and a vast, very real amount of oil.
Is this really adios, Pilgrim? — or just “I double-dog dare you”? I don’t believe it’s Valero’s style to leave town. It’s not in the corporation’s best interests and shouldn’t be its preferred option.
What are those options? They include:
Option 1. Stay put, but back away from risky tar sands crude and focus on products involving minimum environmental risk. Backing away for good business reasons is not the same as “backing down.” CVS decided to stop selling cigarettes. The firm considered it “the right thing to do for the good of our customers and our company. The sale of tobacco products is inconsistent with our purpose — helping people on their path to better health.” Barrons online says, “We think that CVS — like anyone who quits smoking — is making a good long-term decision, even if it makes things rough short-term.” Others consider it a PR coup! CVS gained the respect of millions of customers for what is perceived as a moral and ethical decision. I shop CVS more often since they made that brilliant call; so do my friends.
Backing away from tar sands crude would take similar corporate guts; but the public would be pleased with the image of a moral, ethical, highly principled corporation — a Valero that gives a damn. Sales at Valero service stations might even increase.
Option 2. Continue to pursue tar sands crude; seeking high profitability despite increased environmental risk. The downside: prices at the pump are too high. Californians are already angry; they may avoid Valero service stations and products. I’ll urge my friends to do so. Word of mouth is powerful and spreads quickly. Contempt for an outfit that doesn’t respect its customers or our environment could lead to loss of sales in the country’s most populous state. Cesar Chavez showed us boycotts work. Most folks I know didn’t buy grapes.
Option 3. “Re-purpose” Valero’s operations in Benicia (and elsewhere) to enhance instead of degrade the environment while remaining profitable. Valero is an energy outfit. Turning to alternate sources of energy is ultimately inevitable. Valero should expand its vision and not limit itself to fossil fuels. Farmers in Ireland who grew only potatoes learned about diversification too late.
(a) Pursue wind farming if feasible and profitable. A recent Mother Earth News article about mountaintop removal coal mining in Appalachia cites a 2007 study that determined placing wind turbines on Coal River Mountain would provide power to 70,000 West Virginia homes while generating $1.7 million in local taxes each year. Better than ripping off the tops of mountains and dumping enormous amounts of debris into streams and rivers.
(b) Pursue solar energy if feasible and profitable. Produce solar products for sale and/or operate a solar power facility to resell power. See an article by Don Hofmann, president of RegenEn Solar LLC, looking at mountaintop removal mining and suggesting solar power instead. He recognizes there are challenges but is optimistic about lower-cost solar cells and technology in the future. He notes that the U.S. fossil fuel industry received $72 billion in subsidies from 2002 to 2006 and asks us to imagine that kind of money put into solar development.
(c) Pursue other approaches (geothermal, tidal, et al.) if appropriate and profitable.
Option 4. Determine feasibility of combining 3a, 3b and/or 3c. If appropriate and profitable, pursue the combination.
Option 1 would be the easiest and would be enthusiastically supported by most folks in Benicia, applauded by most Californians and recognized as a principled business decision.
Option 2 is the least desirable from an environmental standpoint. While profitability is high, it may incur the contempt and wrath of the public, possibly leading to damaging boycotts and a decline in profitability.
Option 3a thru 3c may seem starry-eyed, wild and outside the box. They would require imagination, foresight and courage. It can be done. CVS is showing the way and TESLA is succeeding with electrically powered cars. Examine pluses and minuses — Valero could take a quantum leap and be regarded as an industry trailblazer. Its reputation would be enhanced. Envious competitors might scoff and want Valero to take a pratfall but ultimately they would have to follow suit.
In conclusion the priority order of Valero’s options should be:
Option 1 — Most desirable (preferred)
Option 3/4 — Most “outside the box” (defer initially, but plan for the future)
Option 2 — Least desirable (avoid).
If Valero is really in the long-term energy game, it should choose Option 1 and start thinking seriously about Option 3. If, instead, its focus is on short term — high profits while risking irreparable harm to the environment — then Option 2 is their ticket.
If Valero wants to be recognized as rich, principled, brave and famous instead of rich, unscrupulous and infamous, then it should open door No. 3 as soon as possible.
Finally: I don’t believe it is “adios” for Valero Benicia Refinery. Unfortunately, I think Valero will not choose a clean path. They will probably press on with dirty tar sands crude. After that, “¿Quien sabe?”
I don’t intend to “go gentle into that good night.” Instead I prefer to “rage against the dying of the light.”
This whole thing could be like a colonoscopy, but a lot less fun.
Joel Fallon is a Benicia resident.
The Benicia Herald’s Poetry Corner was recently dedicated to Joel Fallon…
You called them “dead Mother poems”
and scorned their cloying sentiment, easy forgiveness.
Your poem about your Mother named her Kali.
You hungered for life – anger, difficulty, competition, sex.
You insisted that wringing a tear from a stone
was superior to opening well oiled floodgates.
Now you are dead and my tears come unbidden
looking at the bookshelf, pulling a stubborn weed,
eating a pastry.
“Keep smiling” you’d instruct,
but I don’t want to brush these tears away,
each glistens with memory, swells with loss.
You are in them, like it or not.Ronna Leon was Benicia’s third poet laureate from 2010 to 2012
“Hope is the Thing with Feathers (Dedicated to Joel Fallon)” by Johanna Ely
“Hope is the thing with feathers
that perches in the soul
and sings the tune without the words
and never stops-at all”
If such a tiny bird,
perhaps left for dead,
or suffering from an injured wing,
its feathers matted and torn,
finds refuge in your broken heart,
then reach inside yourself
and touch this living thing called Hope,
gently bind its limp and useless wing
with Love’s tattered cloth,
and press it to your shattered heart
until it heals,
until this lovely creature sings again,
then let it fly,
and nest in someone else’s heart,
the old friend,
the one who just like you,
needs to hear its song.
“So, I may have been wrong after all – this damn cancer may indeed be the death of me.”
-Joel Fallon, in an email of June 30, 2016
He died on the morning of August 11.
That night, meteor showers dazzled the skies:
The Perseids, at their peak.
No reason to doubt that Joel hitched a ride
On that celestial glory train,
Meeting up with all the other streaming luminaries,
Fireball to fireball.
Mary Susan Gast served as Conference Minister of the Northern California Conference United Church of Christ, now retired, and is a member of Benicia’s First Tuesday Poetry Group