Category Archives: Local land use authority

How Benicia Valero Crude By Rail was defeated

Reflections by Roger Straw, Benicia CA, November 18, 2016

We Won!  3 (or 10 or 12, or 40?) factors…

What happened in Benicia was amazing. It’s well worth our time as community activists and organizers to reflect a bit on how David went up against Goliath and won.  (Continued…)

Please share!

FAIRFIELD DAILY REPUBLIC: Top 10 Stories of 2016: Benicia derails Valero’s oil-transport plan

Repost from the Fairfield Daily Republic

Top 10 Stories of 2016: Benicia derails Valero’s oil-transport plan

By Daily Republic staff From page A1 | January 01, 2017
Tank cars sit on the railroad tracks, near Cordelia Road and Chadbourne Road on January 1, 2016. (Robinson Kuntz/Daily Republic file)
Tank cars sit on the railroad tracks, near Cordelia Road and Chadbourne Road on January 1, 2016. (Robinson Kuntz/Daily Republic file)

BENICIA — City Hall reverberated from the cheers when the City Council in September voted unanimously to turn down a Valero plan that would have allowed up to 70,000 barrels of crude oil to be shipped by rail to its refinery.

It is a topic that also made the Daily Republic’s top stories list in 2015.

Valero receives its crude oil by ship, and wanted to employ the less expensive rail option.

What ultimately became a simple land-use decision for the council, turned Benicia into one of the latest battlegrounds on the environmental and urban safety debate over transporting crude oil by rail.

Proponents noted the advances in railcar safety and emergency service preparedness, while opponents pointed to all the disasters – many deadly – that have occurred, some during the local debate.

Valero had applied for a permit to add additional rail, pipeline and to make other changes to its off-loading capabilities at the refinery, a request denied by the city Planning Commission in February. A series of public hearings were held before the City Council, but a decision was delayed while Valero took its case to the federal Surface Transportation Board, arguing the city lacked authority to make the decision.

The agency, just hours prior to the council’s decision, ruled that the city was not addressing a transportation issue, which would have triggered the long-held rail pre-emption laws, but rather was addressing the permit application only.

Valero, which represents about 25 percent of all local city tax revenue, has not indicated what its next move might be.

The Valero oil refinery operates, Friday, Sept. 25, 2015, in Benicia.(Daily Republic file)

 

Please share!

Editorial: Celebrate, but watch on the tracks!

By Roger Straw, December 22, 2016

Why did Valero decide not to go to court?

rds2_2016-09-08
Roger Straw, The Benicia Independent

On December 20, Benicia’s City Attorney announced that she had been advised by Valero’s attorney that the refinery is no longer planning to sue the City of Benicia over its failed Crude By Rail proposal.

While this is welcome news, worthy of celebration and thanksgiving, Valero’s decision surely was more nuanced than the simple reason given, that it wants to maintain good relations with the City.

Everyone in the city is happy about that – we all want good relations, and no one wanted the issue to drag on in the courts, at great expense in time and money.

But it must be noted that a Benicia lawsuit by Valero would have failed, on multiple grounds. Valero’s best legal advice must have been to quit, or risk additional losses. That advice would’ve been resisted if at all possible, not only for local refinery interests, but on behalf of the wider oil and rail industries.

Valero Benicia was a potential precedent-setting case, with implications for major corporate financial holdings all across the US and Canada. There must have been immense pressure on Valero to sue. The industries needed to win a case claiming that federal preemption laws are enough to overrule local land use regulatory authority.

But with immense activist opposition setting the pace; with California’s Attorney General weighing in and a dozen environmental attorneys, engineers and environmental analysts offering significant commentary during the review process; and with the Federal Surface Transportation Board denying Valero’s last-ditch petition, a lawsuit had little chance of success.

Valero lost that argument here, but no one should rest easy. The oil and rail industries will surely look for another situation where they can more successfully press their unlimited right to endanger health and welfare under federal preemption laws.

The growing movement against oil trains needs to remain active and alert.

For more, see

Please share!