County supervisors declare end to moot oil project approved in 2014
BY JOHN COX, Jan 22, 2019
A pair of controversial oil projects killed years ago by poor market conditions was finally declared dead last week by the Kern County Board of Supervisors.
The projects, valued at $170 million, were supposed to transform the former Big West refinery on Rosedale Highway, in one case by turning it into a rail terminal that was supposed to take in two mile-long trains, or 150,000 barrels, per day of crude from across the continent. The related project would have upgraded the 67,000-barrel-per-day refinery, which has not operated since 2012.
After the board voted unanimously to approve the project Sept. 9, 2014, the plan came under legal attack by environmental groups that considered it polluting and dangerous. Prior to the vote there was a series of rail accidents in which trains carrying oil from North Dakota derailed and exploded, in one case killing nearly four dozen people in Canada. The Bakersfield project wasn’t limited to receiving only oil from North Dakota, which was considered uniquely volatile.
The environmentalists ultimately prevailed in court and, as part of a settlement released Sept. 19, a judge ordered the board to rescind its approval of the projects. Supervisors did so Tuesday by signing off on a consent-agenda list that included the oil projects.
Refining industry observers have said the projects likely would not have proceeded anyway. When oil prices plummeted in 2014, there was no longer enough operating margin — and apparently still isn’t — to cover the cost of transporting huge amounts of oil across the country. Separately, the company that proposed the project, Houston-based Alon USA, now part of Delek US Holdings Inc., headquartered in Tennessee, opted not to move forward with a broader overhaul of the refinery.
Environmental groups said the projects’ official end ensures local residents won’t be harmed by refining emissions or oil-train explosions.
“Families throughout Kern County can breathe easier knowing that this ill-conceived, extremely dangerous project has been stopped,” Angela Johnson Meszaros, an attorney with the environmental group Earthjustice, said in a news release.
Repost from KQED NEWS Public Radio [Editor: This is a GREAT audio report. Only 12 minutes – well worth the time! – R.S.]
Big Oil, Small Town: Valero’s Election Influence in Benicia’s Politics
12 min – Ted Goldberg & Devin Katayama, Jan 14, 2019
Valero spent $200,000 in last year’s Benicia city council election to help elect two candidates who were less critical of the company than others. That’s created tension between the oil refiner and the city, leading people to question how much influence Valero should have in local politics. On Tuesday Benicia will discuss the possibility of new campaign finance laws that could limit corporate influence in its small town.
The city council meeting agenda and packet with staff reports and recommendations are available on-line here.Items of interest include:
[excerpt…] The second item of interest for consideration is Council Member Campbell’s two-step process request to consider updates to the city’s campaign ordinances.
Staff is recommending the council provide direction on whether the Santa Clara model and any other proposed updates should be considered and whether updates should be discussed and reviewed by an ad hoc group or by the Open Government Commission prior to consideration by the Council.
Other ideas that can be considered are:
“Public Campaign Financing Won Big on Tuesday”:That was one of the headlines after last year’s elections that nationally had the highest turnout for 50 years. Voters overwhelmingly passed Fair Elections matching funds systems in Denver, Colorado with 69% of the vote, in Baltimore, Maryland with 76% of the vote, and in New York City with 72%. Great news in the fight to get politicians out of the Big Money fundraising game!
To what extent can cities utilize this strategy? For instance, some cities have adopted ordinances for candidates who pledge voluntary campaign expenditures limits but the candidate is targeted by an outside committee known as PACs spending nearly ten times what a candidate can spend. So the city provides public funds to supplement the targeted candidate not equal to what is being spent by the PAC but helpful.
Common Cause discusses public financing in this booklet.
When we set up the Open Government Commission, the first batch of applicants had many great ideas – many of which have been adopted – but not including having a city website similar to the City of Livermore for guidance on how to be a “smart voter”. While the League of Women Voters does this and other organization, it may make sense to have the resources available on a city webpage.
Another concept is “participatory-budgeting” government which engages the public in decision making. Why this idea is included in a discussion about campaigning is that a more engaged public is a more informed public. At the end of the day, that is the goal so that voter decisions are based on information and not fear or “bad for Benicia” speak. Some ideas to blend the public financing and “participatory” government could be explored further upon council direction.