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.
Sen. Dodd seeks higher fines for illegal refinery emissions
Friday, February 16, 2018
SACRAMENTO – Senator Bill Dodd (D-Napa) introduced a new bill to help deter harmful emissions from oil refineries. The bill would increase fines for serious violations of emissions standards that sicken people or force shelter-in-place orders.
“There are already fines on the books for illegal refinery emissions, but the most common fine hasn’t been increased since Richard Nixon was in the White House,” said Senator Dodd. “When people are sickened by refinery emissions or forced to shelter-in-place, there should be stiffer penalties. My bill reinforces that oil companies should take proactive steps to avoid violations in the first place.”
Dodd’s bill, SB 1144, would triple existing fines for violations of emissions standards if the violations cause a health problem or impact over 25 people. Existing law doesn’t allow increased penalties for violations that injure nearby residents or for refineries with multiple violations. Currently, the maximum amount for the most common level of fines is $10,000 and hasn’t been adjusted since 1974.
Dodd’s bill would set the new fine at $30,000, and if refineries are found negligent, the amount would go up to $75,000 per day. In instances where a refinery fails to correct a known violation or intentionally violates standards, the violations would be even greater. For serial offenders with multiple serious violations within 36 months, the fines could be as much as $500,000 per day.
“Representing communities that house several refineries, I want to encourage the industry to be proactive in meeting their duty to neighboring residents,” said Senator Dodd. “This measure isn’t a silver bullet for addressing safety, but it certainly provides greater incentive to act responsibly.”
Senator Dodd’s district includes the majority of the Bay Area’s refineries. In September 2016, numerous Vallejo residents were sickened by a refinery incident that triggered over 1,500 complaints. The state’s Office of Emergency Services reported that area hospitals and medical facilities treated 120 patients for headaches, nausea, dizziness, and burning of the eyes, nose and throat. The Bay Area Air Quality Management issued a notice of violation to the refinery in Rodeo for that incident.
The funds from the fines in Dodd’s bill would be available to support more robust monitoring and enforcement. The bill is expected to come up for a committee vote next month.
Senator Bill Dodd represents California’s 3rd Senate District, which includes all or portions of Solano, Napa, Sonoma, Yolo, Sacramento, and Contra Costa Counties. You can learn more about Senator Dodd at www.sen.ca.gov/dodd.