Category Archives: Public protest

BENICIA HERALD: Council denies Valero Crude-By Rail Project

Repost from the Benicia Herald
[Editor:  See also the Benicia Herald’s “Community, environmental groups react to crude-by-rail decision.”  – RS]

Council denies Valero Crude-By Rail Project

By Donna Beth Weilenman (Martinez News Gazette), September 22, 2016
Valero Crude-By-Rail proponents and opponents fill Benicia City Hall Tuesday to hear the City Council’s decision on the project. (Photo by Donna Beth Weilenman/Martinez News Gazette)

Benicia City Council has unanimously denied a use permit for the controversial Valero Crude-By-Rail project, citing a federal board decision as well as a June 3 derailment that spilled 42,000 gallons of crude oil and caused a fire that burned 14 hours.

But the matter didn’t end Tuesday with the vote. The Council has asked its legal staff to rephrase its findings in a document the panel will see for approval Oct. 4. Valero Benicia Refinery will have 30 days after that to decide how to proceed.

Valero had appealed to the Council a Feb. 11 Planning Commission decision to deny both an environmental report on the project as well as the use permit the refinery had sought.

After several meetings, several members of the Council said they needed answers to their questions, some posed by constituents, before they were ready to vote.

Meanwhile, Valero sought a declaratory order from the federal Surface Transportation Board, and the Council agreed to wait until Tuesday to give the Board time to respond.

At 2 p.m. Tuesday, city staff learned the federal board denied the refinery’s request and instead issued guidelines. While Benicia has little say in the governance of railroads, the board concluded the Planning Commission decision “does not attempt to regulate transportation by a ‘railroad carrier.’”

Because Valero isn’t a rail carrier and its employees, rather than those from UP, would be offloading the crude into the refinery, the board said the Planning Commission’s decision had not tried to regulate the railroad.

“If the offloading facility were eventually to be constructed but the EIR or land use permit or both, including mitigation conditions unreasonably interfering with UP’s future operations to the facility, any attempt to enforce such mitigation measures would be preempted,” the Board’s decision said.

Scott Lichtig, California’s deputy attorney general, expressed a similar opinion in his April 14 letter.

“Because the project applicant Valero is not a rail carrier and not acting pursuant to STB authorization, ICCTA (Interstate Commerce Commission Termination Act) simply has no application to Valero and its proposed refinery upgrades,” he wrote.

Councilmember Christina Strawbridge, who said she had been doing her own “homework” about the matter and who had been carefully weighing both sides, said it was a derailment in late spring that made her reject the refinery’s application. Later, the other councilmembers joined her in voting against the refinery’s project.

The Council decision is the latest step in the project that proposed extending Union Pacific Railroad track into Valero Benicia Refinery land so than up to 70,000 barrels of oil could be brought in daily by train rather than by tanker ships.

The refinery, which produces about 10 percent of the gasoline consumed in California, originally applied for the use permit in late 2012. It not only proposed the rail extension, but also replacing and moving tank farm dikes and a concrete berm and moving underground infrastructure. The project also called for new roadwork.

A mitigated negative declaration was written and circulated between May 30 and July 30, 2013, but the city decided that document wasn’t thorough enough to meet California Environmental Quality Act requirements for such a project and ordered a draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) instead. That document was circulated between June 17 and Sept. 15, 2014.

After hearings and public comments, that report was revised and circulated Aug. 31 to Oct. 30, 2015, and a final environmental report was given public airing this year at Benicia Planning Commission meetings Feb. 8-11.

During that time, those who opposed the project citing environmental concerns staged protests, including walks to the five Bay Area refineries on both sides of the Carquinez Strait.

They argued that a derailment could damage Suisun Marsh, sensitive lands, such as Sulphur Springs Creek, the marshland between Benicia Industrial Park and the Carquinez Strait near Valero’s property and small and large towns next to tracks uprail from Benicia.

Detractors also insisted that the project would affect Benicia Industrial Park traffic, particularly on Park Road and ramps on Interstate-680.

They cited nearly two dozen train derailments, in particular the July 6, 2013, Lac-Megantic tragedy in which a runaway unattended Montreal, Maine and Atlantic (MMA) Railway train loaded with Bakken Formation sweet crude oil overturned in the small Quebec city.

During the derailment, the fuel caught fire and exploded, killing 47 and destroying 30 buildings.

Union Pacific and Valero representatives stressed UP’s safety record. UP spokespersons said the railroad has stronger safety practices that, among other things, requires employees to remain with an idling train. The refinery promised it would use improved, reinforced rail cars to carry its crude blend.

Refinery emergency personnel trained with Benicia municipal emergency responders to learn about the rail cars’ configuration.

Supporters reminded the Council that Valero employs about 500, and backs community projects. In addition, its projects mean jobs, not only at the refinery but for contracted industrial workers.

They also worried that denial of the project might cause the company to close the refinery, which could harm Benicia’s economy. Valero sales and utility user taxes represents more than 20 percent of Benicia’s General Fund.

Train and refinery spokespersons kept reminding the Council that because railroad operations are part of interstate commerce, they are under federal regulation, not local control.

Then a train, traveling below the area’s speed limit, derailed June 3 near the Oregon-Washington border. Although the Union Pacific locomotive was pulling the improved oil cars, the accident spilled 42,000 gallons of crude rail and ignited a fire that lasted 14 days. That began raising new questions about the safety of the reinforced tank cars and Union Pacific’s track inspection methods.

Federal investigators said Union Pacific was to blame, since it didn’t find broken bolts along the track, although a UP spokesperson, Justin Jacobs, had said the railroad’s May 31 inspection had detected no broken or damaged bolts.

During the long consideration of the divisive issue, Councilmembers themselves found themselves under fire. In previous months, Mayor Elizabeth Patterson, who sent emails about her personal findings about related matters, had her “e-alerts” and her objectivity questioned.

Tuesday night, Councilmember Alan Schwartzman responded to a recent Benicia Herald letter from project opponent Andres Soto, who had suggested Schwartzman had taken Valero money for his campaign. Schwartzman denied the accusation and criticized Soto’s behavior at past meetings. ”It’s disrespectful,” he said.

Councilmember Mark Hughes supported Schwartzman, saying he, too, had had his integrity questioned.

“Show a reasonable level of respect,” he urged, adding that Benicians didn’t like that style of campaigning.

But in Tuesday’s vote, they were unanimous.

After Councilmember Tom Campbell moved to deny the use permit, Councilmember Christina Strawbridge described the depth of her own research of various sides of the issue. What finally led her to oppose the permit was the June derailment and fire in Oregon.

Saying others, including those voting on the Phillips 66 Santa Maria rail extension, were waiting to see how Benicia would vote, she said railroads and those regulating them weren’t addressing derailments.

“This is a safety issue,” she said, adding that she would vote to deny the use permit.

Schwartzman said the matter was complex, and he had wanted to make a decision that wouldn’t embroil the city in a lawsuit. While he appreciated Valero’s decision to use safer tanker cars, he said, he couldn’t ignore the Oregon derailment. “I can’t vote for the project.”

Hughes said he agreed with the Surface Transportation Board’s guidance that the city couldn’t address railroad operations. He observed there was no such thing as a perfectly safe project. He said risk management consisted of looking at the probability something bad would happen, then at the consequences resulting from that happenstance.

Given UP’s and Valero’s safety record, especially the refinery’s plant-wide culture of safety, Hughes suggested the chance of a catastrophe was low. However, the consequences of an incident made him uncomfortable.

“There is too much uncertainty for me,” he said. The recent derailment gave him a signal.

“It was not something I could live with.”

Patterson said she, too, had made an extensive study of the matter, and said she was vilified when she tried to share her research. She said she had concerns about who would pay for a disaster cleanup, and worried how it would affect the city’s small businesses.

“I could not certify a flawed EIR,” she said, suggesting the Council deny the appeal and approve its findings at a future meeting.

In addition, she asked city staff to urge state and federal regulators to improve the way they regulate rail safety.

“That’s exactly what I want to do,” Campbell said.

Please share!

‘Raging Grannies’ arrested after oil train protest

Repost from KREM2, Spokane WA

‘Raging Grannies’ arrested after oil train protest

By Bre Clark, September 02, 2016 9:36 AM. PDT

SPOKANE, Wash. – Three grandmothers were charged for obstructing a train on Wednesday. The three are known as the “Raging Grannies.” They blocked BNSF train tracks in protest because they want Spokane to stop oil and coal trains from going through downtown.

The grandmothers said they tried to talk to city officials about fossil fuels and fracking but when that did not work, they decided to protest.

“Even one person can stop a train it’s very easy to stop a train,” Raging Grannie Deena Romoff said.

Romoff and the other two “Raging Grannies” wrote letters and tried to get the Spokane City Council to stop oil and coal trains from going through downtown but the measure failed.

“People are getting frustrated that our government is not doing anything, that the world isn’t doing anything,” she said.

Romoff and several others decided to take matters into their own hands.

“When you have one city along the track that says ‘you can’t come through here,’ what happens? It stops,” she said.

BNSF railway officials said the protest group stopped 11 trains, one was fully loaded with coal.

“Even for that short period of time it gives us that much more time on this planet in my looking at it,” Romoff said.

The “Grannies” said their time behind the bars will not be in vain. They said they are joining forces with other environmental protests across the country and will go out every day if they have to.

“You don’t have to get arrested,” Romoff said. “You can be out there. If you believe in having a life for your children and your grandchildren”

BNSF said this in a statement in regards to ordinance to stop oil train operations:

“There are a number of better options to promote safety, including collaboration with industry and federal regulators to further enhance safety. We stand ready to work with federal, state, and local leaders to continue to improve safety while maintaining the efficient flow of commerce to and from Spokane.”

Please share!

To Stop ‘Bomb Trains,’ I Honeymooned in Jail

Repost from OtherWords (in the Benicia Herald on 7/7/16)

To Stop ‘Bomb Trains,’ I Honeymooned in Jail

With one tiny loose bolt, oil trains can erupt into an inferno, scorching everything for miles.
By Daphne Wysham, July 6, 2016
Daphne Wysham
Daphne Wysham, Institute for Policy Studies associate fellow, and director of the Center for Sustainable Economy’s climate and energy program in Portland, Oregon

It was a few days after my wedding. I was supposed to be honeymooning at a nearby winery with my newly minted husband, celebrating our unlikely marriage at age 55.

Instead, I was sitting on the railroad tracks in the pouring rain. Along with 20 other brave souls, some weeping, some singing, I was facing down a locomotive in a town — Vancouver, Washington — that many fear will be forced to accept the largest oil-by-rail terminal in the country.

Why would anyone do something like that?

Because a few short days before, we’d watched in horror as a mile-long train filled with Bakken crude derailed in Mosier, Oregon and burst into towering flames.

We call these oil trains “bomb trains” because we know, with one tiny loose bolt, they can erupt into an inferno, scorching everything for miles. It happened in Lac-Megantic, Canada in 2013. Forty-seven people were killed in a matter of minutes, the town leveled when a train’s brakes failed.

mosier-train-oil-protest
Mosier oil train protest (Photo: Deva 2016)

In the aftermath of the Mosier derailment, local fire chief Jim Appleton, who was originally unwilling to condemn oil trains, was beginning to sound more and more like one of us: “I think it’s insane” to ship oil by rail, he told a reporter. “Shareholder value doesn’t outweigh the lives and happiness of our community.”

And yet shareholder value is outweighing the lives and happiness of communities all over the world. I live in the “blast zone” less than a mile from tracks that ply this dangerous cargo here in the Pacific Northwest. And millions of people, most of them on the other side of the world, are already feeling the heat.

More bomb trains, after all, mean more climate change. Rising temperatures mean dangerous weather patterns, like the floods that recently killed hundreds in Pakistan and China.

Meanwhile, ExxonMobil, whose scientists knew as early as the 1960s that catastrophic climate change would ensue if they didn’t change course, has invested in climate denial in order to maximize their shareholder value, counting on us to not connect the dots.

I grew up in India. I can see the faces of friends and loved ones on Facebook enduring record heat and flooding there. So if the trains wouldn’t stop coming, I figured, I’d put my body on the line in Vancouver. If I went to jail, I hoped my husband would forgive me for skipping out on our first big date as newlyweds.

The riot police were beginning to gather, and the railroad’s private police were issuing their warnings while hundreds chanted nearby. Not wanting to lose valuables in jail, I gave my wallet, cell phone, and wedding ring to a friend.

Then they hauled us off, one by one, in plastic handcuffs like tiny angel’s wings behind each protestor’s back. They put the 13 women — as young as 21 and as old as 85 — in one cell and the eight men in the other.

Seven hours later, as we were released from our windowless cage into the beautiful summer evening, I felt an unspeakable gratitude to my cellmates and those who awaited us outside.

Should we go to trial, many of us will be arguing we did this out of necessity, in order to prevent a far greater looming evil — of being incinerated in our sleep, of doing nothing to stop this deadly fossil fuel cargo while hundreds of thousands of people die each year from floods, disease, malnutrition, and heat stress due to climate change.

Call me crazy, but we might just win this one. And in so doing, we’ll send a very strong message to the oil companies that threaten us all that they must end this madness.

 
Please share!