September 22, 2017 By Matt Krogh, Extreme Oil Campaign Director, Stand.earth
Every environmental attack by the Trump Administration further emphasizes the importance of taking local action on climate. Climate inaction at the federal level isn’t new–and neither is real success on climate action at the local level.Hidden by the barrage of bad news stories about hurricanes, wildfires, and international climate agreements, are dozens of good news stories about frontline communities defeating dirty fuel projects and municipalities leading the way on zoning out new fossil fuel infrastructure. Towns and counties have local land use powers that allow them to change regulations to prevent the siting of new fossil fuel infrastructure. Around the US, activists and NGOs have been working with these city and county governments to effectively “zone out” the ability to permit new dirty fuel projects. A few of the examples:
In Whatcom County, Washington, the County Council will hold a public hearing on 9/26/17 and vote to pass an extension of the moratorium on accepting applications for new infrastructure that could be used for unrefined fossil fuel export. This will eventually become codified in the county’s land use policy.
In Tacoma, Washington, a permitting freeze similar to Whatcom’s is close to passage, with plans to alter the port’s industrial zoning to prevent new dirty fuel projects.
In Portland, Oregon, an ordinance was passed to prevent the siting of bulk crude storage in the city. The legal challenge from industry is winding through the courts, but the ordinance has a good chance of being upheld.
If implemented broadly, passing municipal land use ordinances can prevent the growth of the fossil fuel economy, and be a critical element in fighting global warming, regardless of what the Trump Administration tries to do.
We hosted a recent webcast with activists from the efforts in Whatcom County, WA and Portland, OR.
Want the local resources mentioned in the webcast? STAND.earth has got you covered. Click here.
Top 10 Stories of 2016: Benicia derails Valero’s oil-transport plan
By Daily Republic staff From page A1 | January 01, 2017
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.
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.