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 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.
Joining Trend, NY Suspends Review of Oil Train Terminal Permit
Another fight over energy infrastructure ramps up, as state regulators require company to address environmental justice, safety and climate change concerns.
By Zahra Hirji, September 23, 2016
New York environmental regulators have suspended their review of two proposals to renew and expand operations at a Port of Albany oil terminal until Global Partners LP addresses a laundry list of concerns over environmental, public health, safety and climate change.
limiting the oil terminal’s odors and emissions from toxic pollutants, such as benzene
addressing high noise levels and safety risks associated with oil trains coming to the facility
reducing the terminal’s climate footprint, among other issues.
DEC also informed Global Partners that it is combining the company’s renewal and expansion proposals and treating it like an application for a new project. This dramatic step means even after the company provides the extra information requested by the state, the application will undergo a public comment period and be considered for a comprehensive environmental and climate impact review.
The full review process could take years.
Environmentalists, Albany residents and county officials celebrated the decision, having spent more than two years raising concerns about the oil terminal’s current and proposed operations and fighting it in court.
This case joins a national trend of green and grassroots activism helping to delay and cancel dozens of proposals for new and expanding fossil fuel infrastructure, from oil sands and natural gas pipelines to oil terminals and coal mines. Earlier this month, construction of part of the Dakota Access oil pipeline was halted by the Obama administration in North Dakota, following months of protests led by the Standing Rock Sioux tribe objecting to the project’s potential threat to its drinking water and sacred sites.
“What is so gratifying about the DEC letter is that it requires Global to address every single issue we have raised since 2014,” said Chris Amato, an Earthjustice lawyer who represents the tenants association for Ezra Prentice Homes, a low-income housing development located next to the rail yard associated with the oil terminal. According to Amato, the community “is really, really happy that at long last Global is going to have to…examine the impacts.”
Ezra Prentice Homes is among the communities in the south end of Albany at risk from air pollution and potential train fires. “They are literally at the fence line” of the train tracks, Amato said. “Twenty feet separate the closest homes from oil tankers on the track.”
People in Albany’s South End, which is largely African American, had repeatedly complained to state officials about bad odors wafting from the facilities, among other concerns, since 2012.
“This is a victory for the people of the Ezra Prentice Homes and for the people in the county who live in fear of oil trains every day,” Albany County Executive Daniel McCoy said in a statement.
In response to DEC’s recent letter, Global defended its record. “We disagree with the New York DEC’s decision and believe that we have fully complied with the required permit application process,” said Mark Horan of Rasky Baerlein Strategic Communications, which represents the company. “Global has always been particularly vigilant about the safety of our neighbors wherever we operate and we will continue to work with the Albany community on these issues.”
Global Partners filed a permit request to state officials in 2011 seeking to overhaul its operations to handle more oil. The facility went from handling more than 18 million gallons of oil that year to more than 460 million gallons in 2012, according to the DEC. The facility’s oil capacity peaked in 2014 at more than 1.1 billion gallons of oil, but it has since declined as the oil market has slumped.
The source of the oil and how it traveled to the facility also changed during that time. Initially, the oil coming in was refined; it arrived from barges that came up the Hudson River and was then trucked out regionally. The company began handling unrefined, more volatile (and potentially explosive) crude arriving on trains from North Dakota.
Global sought to expand its operations further in 2013, submitting a permit modification request to add seven boilers to the site. Boilers are critical equipment for handling and storing Canadian tar sands; the thick crude is so viscous it must be heated before it can be transferred from a train car to a storage tank.
The company’s initial expansion plan flew under the radar of Albany residents and the environmental community. Global’s 2013 proposals, however, were loudly protested. And regulators responded by installing a permanent air monitor near the Ezra Prentice community in 2015. According to officials, the air showed elevated levels of benzene. Regulators cited these findings in their recent letter.
“The DEC has monitored higher-than-expected benzene levels in the vicinity of the facility that may be attributable, in part, to the storage and processing of petroleum products at the Global facility,” regulators wrote. “Global must address what measures it intends to take to limit, to the maximum extent practicable, any benzene emissions attributable to the facility.”
DEC has identified Albany’s South End, which includes Ezra Prentice Homes,as an “environmental justice” community associated with Global’s operations. In 2013, the DEC updated its environmental justice policy to include more public participation requirements for projects with potential impacts on such communities. In the recent letter, DEC specifically orders Global to take these steps.
Another task for Global, identified by DEC, is to devise a plan to limit any climate impacts associated with the future handling of oil sands, a crude that generates especially high emissions during extraction and processing.
“New York is the most aggressive state in the nation in pursuing action to ensure the public and the environment are protected from risks associated with the federally regulated transport of crude oil,” DEC spokeswoman Erica Ringewald wrote in an email.
The issue: Bay Area city can’t see past its own back yard on refinery project
The city of Benicia — the only entity capable of exerting any control over the crude-oil shipments set to arrive at a planned expansion of a Valero oil terminal — has shown in a draft environmental impact report that any impact the terminal has on communities farther up the train tracks is none of its business.
THE PROPOSED project would allow Valero to transport crude oil to its Benicia refinery on two 50-car freight trains daily on Union Pacific tracks that come right through Davis, Dixon, Fairfield and Suisun City on their way to Benicia. The rail shipments would replace up to 70,000 barrels per day of crude oil currently transported to the refinery by ship, according to city documents.
The original draft EIR, released in 2014, didn’t adequately address safety and environmental concerns. Local governments — including the city of Davis, Yolo County and the Sacramento Area Council of Governments — weighed in on the draft, urging Benicia to take a second look.
Benicia withdrew the draft and went back to work, and the new document acknowledges the risks of pollution, noise and, oh yes, catastrophic explosions from oil trains, the likes of which leveled Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, in 2013.
Disappointingly, having recognized the issues involved, the report simply says there’s no way to mitigate them and recommends moving ahead. With a bureaucratic shrug of the shoulders, the concerns of communities from Roseville to Suisun City are dismissed.
NATURALLY, SACOG disagrees, and so do we. While it’s true that there’s not a lot Benicia can do itself to mitigate the impact of its project, it can force Valero to do something about it.
SACOG urges a raft of measures that are within Valero’s control: advanced notification to local emergency personnel of all shipments, limits on storage of crude-oil tanks in urban areas, funding to train emergency responders, cars with electronically controlled pneumatic brakes, money for rail-safety improvements, implementation of Positive Train Control protocols and, most importantly, a prohibition on shipments of unstabilized crude oil that hasn’t been stripped of the volatile elements that made Lac-Mégantic and other derailments so catastrophic.
Due to federal laws, cities along the railway lines have no ability to control what goes through. Only Benicia, now, while the project is still on the drawing board, has the authority to set reasonable limits and conditions on a project that puts millions of people along the railroad in harm’s way.
We urge the Benicia City Council to use its discretionary authority in this matter to protect those of us who have no say in the process.