Category Archives: Local land use authority

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!

VALLEJO TIMES-HERALD: Valero won’t sue city of Benicia over rejection of crude-by-rail project

Repost from the Vallejo Times-Herald

Valero won’t sue city of Benicia over rejection of crude-by-rail project

By Katy St. Clair, 12/22/16, 4:06 PM PST

BENICIA >> The Valero Corporation announced it will not be suing the city of Benicia for rejecting its controversial crude-by-rail project, which would have allowed the company to transport thousands of gallons of crude oil into town.

The project would have moved up to 70,000 barrels of crude a day to Benicia, passing through places like downtown Sacramento and Davis.

Valero first submitted an application for the project to the city of Benicia in December of 2012, but the Planning Commission rejected the bid in March of this year. Valero then appealed to the Benicia City Council, which also rejected the plan in a unanimous vote in September, citing fears of derailment or spills as its main concern.

“The margin of error was just too small and the risk of catastrophic failure too great,” Councilman Tom Campbell said.

In the wake of the city’s veto, Valero seemed primed to fight the decision in court. Benicia City Attorney Heather Mc Laughlin told the city council on Tuesday night that she had previously “heard word” from the Valero attorney that they were “thinking of filing suit.”

It’s been reported that Valero officials believed Benicia’s rejection of the plan was illegal.

It now appears that Valero is backing off talk of litigation. Mc Laughlin announced that Valero’s attorney contacted her and said they will not be going forward with a lawsuit, after all.

“It’s like the best Christmas present ever,” she said to the council. “Yesterday they called and said that they were not going to file suit against the city because they want to maintain positive relations with the city.”

Valero did not respond to requests for comment.

Mayor Elizabeth Patterson released a statement Wednesday saying she is “pleased” with Valero’s decision not to sue.

“They are a valuable business in our community,” she said. “I look forward to the promise of those good community relations now that we can put this ill-advised project behind us.”

Please share!