Category Archives: Environmental pollution

Attorney General letter may be terminal for ORCEM / Vallejo Marine Terminal

By Roger Straw, November 30, 2018
Nov. 7 2018 letter from Deputy Attorney General Erin Ganahl

Take heart, Vallejoans!  The letter sent to your City by the Attorney General may just do the trick.  (See Times-Herald Nov. 12 coverage.)

I remember back in Benicia’s crude-by-rail days, when Deputy Attorney General Scott Lichtig of Attorney General Kamala Harris’ staff wrote to the City of Benicia.  He wrote first in 2014 urging revision of an “inadequate”  Draft EIR, and again in 2016, defending the City’s right to deny a land use permit.  Lichtig advised our city leaders, “For Benicia to turn a blind eye to the most serious of the Project’s environmental impacts, merely because they flow from federally-regulated rail operations, would be contrary to both state and federal law.”

There were a LOT of us who worked long and hard to defeat Valero’s dangerous and dirty oil train proposal.  Local activists and folks from far and wide disagreed with City staff and Valero’s execs and highly paid attorneys.  We criticized, protested and sent volumes of comments over the course of 3 ½ years.  Scientific and environmental experts and friendly attorneys weighed in.  But it was eye-opening for everyone when the Attorney General’s office got involved.

But… note that the AG letter wasn’t enough.  It’s important here for us to not dwell on the past or get too optimistic.  Stay tuned via Fresh Air Vallejo and keep up the good work.

…because ORCEM/VMT wants to run 552 trucks a day up and down Lemon Street!  We stand in solidarity with residents, business owners and all of our neighbors in Vallejo.  And it’s important to realize that the truck exhaust will travel by air west to east, settling, surely, in Glen Cove and Benicia.

Let’s hope the Vallejo City Council has the backbone Benicia had in 2016, to DENY THIS PROPOSED CATASTROPHIC PROJECT!

    Vallejo city manager critical of ORCEM / Marine Terminal’s deceptive paid advertisement

    Repost from the Vallejo Times-Herald
    [Editor –  Good news that Vallejo’s City Manager has raised eyebrows about ORCEM’S paid advertisement masquerading as news in the Times-Herald’s Nov. 22 edition.   View the Attorney General’s scathing 13-page letter.  Let’s hope the Vallejo City Council has the backbone Benicia had in 2016, to DENY THIS PROPOSED CATASTROPHIC PROJECT!  For more critical perspective, see Fresh Air Vallejo.  For official project documents, see Vallejo’s City website.   – R.S.]

    Vallejo city manager addresses Orcem, VMT insert

    By John Glidden, November 29, 2018 at 2:05 pm
    Vallejo City Manager Greg Nyhoff

    Vallejo City Manager Greg Nyhoff reiterated Tuesday night that a Final Environmental Impact Report (FEIR) being completed for a controversial south Vallejo project won’t be released until early next year.

    Toward the end of the Vallejo City Council meeting, Nyhoff addressed the contents of a four-page advertising insert paid for by the project applicants and published in the Times-Herald on Nov. 22.

    He took issue with a statement printed on top of the insert asserting that the FEIR being prepared for the Vallejo Marine Terminal, Orcem Americas project would be released “within a matter of days.”

    “I just want to clarify — it looks like it’s official news. That’s not the case,” Nyhoff said to the councilors. “No — this report won’t be coming out within a matter of days.”

    VMT and Orcem representative Sue Vaccaro said via email on Wednesday that the Times-Herald’s deadline to submit artwork for the insert was Nov. 9, several days prior to Nyhoff’s original announcement during the Nov. 13 council meeting that release of the FEIR would be delayed.

    “By that time, due to the two weeks of lead time required in accordance with the newspaper’s specifications, there was not an opportunity to update that two-line reference,” Vaccaro wrote. “In short, we were acting in good faith based on the City Manager’s comments at the time the artwork was submitted for print … obviously, had we known what was coming out from the Attorney General’s Office and subsequent delay ordered by the City Manager, we wouldn’t have made that reference.”

    However, in a phone interview on Thursday, Nyhoff disagreed, noting that despite previously saying in September that the FEIR would be released toward the end of November, both the city and applicants knew the report wouldn’t be released in November — even before the DOJ letter was sent to the city.

    “Everyone still knew we weren’t going to meet that deadline,” Nyhoff explained. He said the city and consultants are still waiting to hear back from the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD), which is still reviewing information about the project.

    Nyhoff said during the council meeting, and again on Thursday, that City Hall will also be looking into additional claims made in the insert, including the $1 million benefits program, and the Lemon Street maintenance program being offered by the applicants.

    He said it’s important to make sure Lemon Street is going to be taken care of, due to the large volume of trucks trips — about 552 — expected daily. Nyhoff said analyzing truck traffic and its impact to surrounding streets near Lemon is also needed.

    Earlier this month, the California Department of Justice sent city officials a 13-page letter warning that environmental documents, a draft final environmental impact report (DFEIR), an Environmental Justice Analysis (EJA), and Revised Air Analysis prepared for project are misleading and violate state law.

    “The environmental documents for the project fail to provide adequate legal support for the City of Vallejo to approve the project,” Erin Ganahl, deputy attorney general for the State of California, wrote on behalf of state Attorney General Xavier Becerra. “The DFEIR fails to adequately disclose, analyze, and mitigate the significant environmental impacts of the project; the EJA improperly concludes that the project would not disproportionately impact low-income communities of color, and thus misleads decision makers and the public by minimizing the projects significant environmental justice concerns.”

    The Vallejo Planning Commission voted 6-1 in 2017 to reject the VMT/Orcem project, agreeing with City Hall that the project would have a negative effect on the neighborhood, that it would impact traffic around the area and the proposed project was inconsistent with the city’s waterfront development policy. The project also has a degrading visual appearance of the waterfront, City Hall said at the time.

    City officials argued in 2017 that since a rejection was being recommended, an FEIR was not required.

    Orcem and VMT appealed the Planning Commission decision, and in June 2017, when reviewing the appeal, a majority of the council — Jess Malgapo, Rozzana Verder-Aliga, Hermie Suna, and Pippin Dew-Costa — directed City Hall to complete the impact report.

    Once the FEIR is completed, Nyhoff previously said the report will be circulated for at least 60 days prior to the council taking up the appeal again.

      Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh on the environment

      Repost from DeSmog Blog

      How Supreme Court Pick Brett Kavanaugh Could Return US Policy to the Era of Robber Barons

      By Sharon Kelly • Wednesday, September 5, 2018 – 11:39
      Brett Kavanaugh
      Judge Brett Kavanaugh. Credit: C-Span screen shot

      As Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination hearings get under way, understanding his appointment’s potential impacts for corporate regulation and the climate means looking back all the way to 1890.

      That was when a nearly 50-year stretch known to legal historians as the “Lochner era” kicked off — a time better known in U.S. history as the age of the robber barons.

      The Lochner era gets its name from a 1905 Supreme Court case, Lochner v. New York, which threw out state limits on the number of hours bakers could work in a week. This case’s reasoning was later overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court in a 1937 case that rejected a half-century of judicial thinking — doctrines that had led the court to toss out laws governing working conditions, creating food safety standards, and barring child labor.

      In 1937, as the Great Depression raged, the Supreme Court faced pressure from President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, frustrated after the Court rejected 11 of 13 early New Deal programs as unconstitutional. The Constitution doesn’t say how many justices are allowed to sit on the Supreme Court — and FDR threatened to add enough justices to change the court’s leanings.

      Not long after FDR’s threat, Justices Owen Roberts and Charles Evans Hughes joined majorities that rejected Lochner and found the new National Labor Relations Board constitutional — a move that’s gone down in legal history as the “switch in time that saved nine.” (Nine being the number of justices sitting on the Court.)

      During the Lochner era, the Supreme Court followed a “non-delegation doctrine” that required Congress to play an active role in the most minute details of decision-making and policy-setting.

      Bringing it back could have huge significance for how the U.S. regulates the environment, food safety, the Internet — and global climate change.

      Bringing Lochner Back?

      After the Lochner era ended, the Supreme Court allowed Congress, which writes the laws, to delegate the details of rules and regulations to government agencies in the executive branch, which enforces laws. So, for example, the U.S.Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) can decide just how much of a given chemical is safe in a city’s drinking water — and change those rules as new hazards are uncovered — without getting both houses of Congress to sign off on every detail.

      Taken to the extreme, uprooting its ability to delegate could require Congress to write or approve every new federal rule and regulation, a herculean task in a country of over 300 million people. The House and Senate’s 535 members would also have to tackle jobs currently performed by dozens of federal agencies like the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), and the Department of Agriculture (USDA).

      But there are signs that the Supreme Court might allow the non-delegation doctrine to slip back into the law. In March, the Supreme Court agreed to review a case called Gundy v. United States, limiting its review to non-delegation issues.

      And with Justice Kavanaugh shifting the court far to the right, that relatively obscure case might represent a major opportunity for corporations to chip away at the foundations of America’s regulations, including its environmental protections.

      “This is a really important sleeper case,” Sean Hecht, a law professor at University of California, Los Angeles told McClatchy in June, before Kavanaugh was nominated on July 9. If the Supreme Court handed down a broad ruling, “[p]arties would feel emboldened to say, you can’t make us do this under the Clean Air Act, or Clean Water Act, or the Endangered Species Act, because Congress wasn’t precise enough in the policy guidance it gave the agency.”

      The Gundy case, which involves a dispute over the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act, directly relates to criminal, not civil law — but legal observers warn that reviving non-delegation in any context could open the doors to hard right-wing judicial activism in much broader contexts.

      “There are many on the right that want to upend nearly a century of law,” said Lisa Graves, co-director of the watchdog group Documented and a former Deputy Assistant Attorney General, warning that Kavanaugh’s appointment could kick off a move back towards the Lochner era.

      Kochs and Kavanaugh: The Laissez-Faire Link

      The Lochner era’s laissez-faire philosophy — a hands-off, “let it be” approach that promotes slashing corporate regulation in the name of limiting government power — is one that many Koch-affiliated organizations and right-wing think tanks share today.

      The Federalist Society, whose top donors include David Koch, Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation, and Koch Industries, according to The Hill, has for years sponsored and hosted debates on reviving the non-delegation doctrine.

      Kavanaugh, a long-time Federalist Society member who briefly resigned at the start of his tenure with the G.W. Bush White House Counsel, has remained active at Federalist Society events, though in 2001 he sought to distance himself from the conservative legal group in the press.

      The Federal Society role here is extraordinary,” said Graves. Leonard Leo, who has served for years as the society’s executive vice president, took a leave to advise President Trump on judicial nominees. He helped craft the list used by the Trump administration to decide who to appoint to Supreme Court vacancies.

      By speaking at and attending many of the Federalist Society events, Kavanaugh maintained a close connection to the group after he became a judge in D.C.’s U.S. Court of Appeals.

      Judges are like jewels in the crown of the Federalist Society,” Graves said. “In essence, his involvement lends the prestige of his office to that organization.”

      When it comes to climate change, Kavanaugh can see that there is a problem. “The earth is warming. Humans are contributing,” he said in 2016. “There is a huge policy imperative. The pope’s involved.”

      But in 2016 during oral arguments for a lawsuit against the Clean Power Plan, Kavanaugh’s reasoning against Obama’s signature climate change program took on a Lochner-esque tone as he argued that Congress hadn’t clearly delegated authority for Obama’s EPA to regulate carbon emissions under the Clean Air Act. “Global warming is not a blank check, either, for the President,” Kavanaugh said.

      During hearings on his appointment to the D.C. Circuit, Kavanaugh called Lochner a “classic example of judges superimposing their personal views on the decision-making process in an improper manner.”

      Yet after ascending to the D.C. Circuit in 2006, Kavanaugh proceeded to follow the example of the Lochner justices,” Slate reported in July.

      Judge Kavanaugh isn’t anti-environmental, but he tends to be anti-agency,” Michael Gerrard, director of the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia University, told Inside Climate News. “He’s often struck down regulation that he didn’t think Congress had authorized explicitly enough.”

      Things Heat Up in Alaska and Maine

      The two Republican Senators seen as most likely to shift course on Judge Kavanaugh’s appointment to the Supreme Court are Senators Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski. They hail from two of America’s northern-most states. And those two northern states, Alaska and Maine, have already begun to feel the consequences of a changing climate.

      In Alaska, the climate has been warming so fast, the Washington Post reported in January, that computers rejected data from Barrow, Alaska’s climate monitoring stations because the temperatures were so high that the algorithms assumed something had gone wrong with the monitors (it hadn’t.) Some parking lots and airport runways in the state are now equipped with cooling systems to keep the pavement from buckling as permafrost melts — a problem that’s putting building foundations at risk too.

      Meanwhile Maine’s iconic lobsters are under threat not only from ocean acidification, but also from warming seas and invasive marine life. The state’s been experiencing a “marine heatwave” that’s raised ocean temperatures more than 10 degrees above normal levels.

      Neither Collins nor Murkowski, who both have broken from party lines in the past, has a stellar track record on climate issues, but polls in their home states have shown strong public support for action.

      The impacts of a Supreme Court appointment can be expected to long outlast the Trump administration’s time in office — potentially adding years or decades of delays if a later EPA seeks to take action on the climate.

      To some degree, limits on government powers are right in line with a more moderate conservative view.

      But the non-delegation doctrine is linked to some of the furthest excesses of unchecked capitalism, Supreme Court justices have pointed out. “Once we start down the road of saying Congress cannot tell even a private agency to go and make some standards, which we all know will be followed, once we start down that road there is no stopping place,” Justice Steven Breyer warned during oral arguments in 2014.

      And that would serve the goals of some among the most extreme right-wing activists in the U.S. today. Trump’s former chief strategist Steve Bannon called for the “deconstruction of the administrative state,” the New York Times reported in February 2017.

      A full revival of Lochner would go a long way towards achieving that goal — and the consequences for the climate could be dire.