Category Archives: San Luis Obispo County

Contra Costa Times Guest commentary: Say no to toxic oil trains for the future of our children

Repost from The Contra Costa Times

Guest commentary: Say no to toxic oil trains for the future of our children

By Carolyn Norr, 01/12/2015

I haven’t met Greg Garland, CEO of Phillips 66. I don’t know if he has kids, and if he does, I don’t know what he tells them about the world. But I know he has a plan, one I’m not sure how to explain to my own children, to ship tar sands crude oil by rail through my town.

As a mom, this is in no way OK with me. These oil trains spill poisons, leak toxins into the air, and contribute to the climate chaos my kids will be dealing with their entire lives.

In June, the Oakland City Council took an admirable stand against oil trains coming through our city. But now Phillips 66 proposes an expansion of its facility 250 miles south of here, that would bring a mile-long toxic train every day past our homes and schools.

It’s up to the San Luis Obispo Board of Supervisors to decide whether to allow that. Supervisors will be voting in early 2015. So now, I’m inviting any concerned parent, along with the City Council, to speak and urge them to protect our families by rejecting Garland’s plan.

Phillips’s latest environmental review admits that the proposed facility would create “significant and unavoidable” levels of air pollution, with increased health risks — particularly for children — of cancer, heart disease, asthma and more. Oakland already has one of the highest rates of childhood asthma in the country.

Garland must not be one of the growing number of people who watch our kids deal with this, or he might reconsider.

Meanwhile, across the U.S. and Canada, oil train derailments, spills and fires are increasing as Garland and his colleagues in big oil move more oil by rail. The tar sands crude Phillips would be moving through our city is particularly toxic: the same carcinogenic, impossible-to-clean-up stuff of the infamous Keystone XL pipeline.

In Oakland, the potential spill zone includes much of downtown and the flatlands, where kids are already dealing with more than their fair share of dangers.

Besides, tar sands oil creates particularly huge amounts of the global warming gasses that are driving the climate into chaos.

What we burn now, our kids will be dealing with their entire lives. Scientists agree that a global temperature rise of 3.6 degrees may well be inevitable, and with it a level of droughts, super storms, forest fires and famines beyond anything we’ve seen.

Now we are fighting against the real possibility the temperature could increase twice that, making my kids’ very survival uncertain. As a mom, it’s crazy for me to know that. And when I hear about plans to deny or ignore those facts, I have to say no.

I don’t know Greg Garland personally. I don’t know if every night he tucks in his kids and tell them they are safe. But that is what I do, and I don’t mean my reassuring words to be hollow.

I invite the San Luis Obispo Board of Supervisors, my City Council, and everyone who cares about the safety and future of families in California, to join me in doing everything in our power to stop this plan. No to the expansion of Phillips 66, no to oil trains in our communities.

Carolyn Norr is a resident of Oakland. To get more involved, email momsagainstfossilfuels@gmail.com or contact Forest Ethics.
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    San Jose council member urges rejection of Central California refinery’s crude-by-rail project

    Repost from The San Jose Mercury News

    San Jose council member urges rejection of Central California refinery’s crude-by-rail project

    By Tom Lochner, Oakland Tribune, 11/26/2014

    BERKELEY — As the deadline arrived for comments to an environmental report on a Central California crude-by-rail project, a San Jose City councilman got the early jump, announcing his opposition in a news release Monday afternoon.

    The Phillips 66 Company Rail Spur Extension Project would bring as many as 250 unit trains a year with 80 tank cars plus locomotives and supporting cars to a new crude oil unloading facility in Santa Maria from the north or from the south along tracks owned by the Union Pacific Railroad.

    Likely itineraries for the crude oil supplies coming from out-of-state include the Union Pacific Railroad tracks along the eastern shore of San Pablo and San Francisco bays that also carry Amtrak’s Capitol Corridor and Coast Starlight trains.

    “This will allow mile-long oil trains carrying millions of gallons of explosive, toxic crude oil in unsafe tank cars to travel through California every day,” reads a news release from San Jose City Councilman Ash Kalra. “These trains will travel through the Bay Area passing neighborhoods in San Jose, including Kalra’s District 2 in south San Jose. This proposed plan threatens the residents and families along the rail routes and also threatens the environment and local water supplies.”

    Kalra continues by urging San Luis Obispo County to reject the project, saying, “The safety of our community members, our health, and our environment, should not be taken lightly.”

    In March, the Berkeley and Richmond city councils voted unanimously to oppose the transport of crude oil by rail through the East Bay.

    As of early Tuesday, Berkeley had not communicated to this newspaper its comments to the environmental report. San Luis Obispo County as of early Tuesday had not published what is expected to be a voluminous body of comments from public agencies, advocacy groups and individuals.

    On Tuesday, Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates said, “Having 60-car trains going through our town, as many as two a day, is an area of concern for anyone in the Bay Area because of the vulnerability of the rail cars and the problems that would ensue if one of them would explode.”

    The Phillips 66 Santa Maria refinery currently receives its crude oil supply via underground pipeline from locations throughout California, but with the decline in crude oil production in the state, it is looking to alternative supplies that would be delivered most practically by rail, according to the refinery website.

    “The refinery currently uses trains to transport products, and refinery personnel have decades of experience in safely handling railcars,” the Santa Maria Refinery Rail Project page reads in part. “The proposed change will help the refinery, and the approximately 200 permanent jobs it provides, remain viable under increasingly challenging business conditions.

    “Everything at Phillips 66 is done with safety as the highest priority.”

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      What does a Central Coast oil refinery have to do with Davis?

      Repost from The Davis Enterprise

      What does a Central Coast oil refinery have to do with Davis?

      By Dave Ryan, November 23, 2014

      In communities up and down the West Coast, groups of environmentalists, neighbors and local governments are doing whatever they can to mitigate or outright stop railroad terminals being built at coastal refineries at the end of rail lines that cut through cities and sensitive environmental areas.

      Davis residents joined the fight earlier this year against the Valero oil refinery in Benicia, and now are adding their voices to a chorus opposing a Phillips 66 facility in San Luis Obispo County.

      A local collection of environmental watchdogs called the Yolano Climate Action Group was one of the first to realize the potential public safety threat of Bakken crude oil trains traveling from out of state, through Roseville, Davis and to Benicia.

      The group successfully petitioned the city of Davis Natural Resources Commission in January to oppose the Valero project. The commission then was successful in persuading the City Council a few months later to begin monitoring the project and round up support from government agencies like Yolo County and the Sacramento Area Council of Governments to lobby Benicia for a more complete environmental impact report.

      “It was Davis that alerted the entire region,” said Lynne Nittler, a coordinator for the Yolano Climate Action Group.

      Meanwhile, Davis’ state and federal representatives have been doing what they can, within the limits of strong federal pre-emption laws for railroads.

      Trains carrying the hazardous materials have derailed and exploded in recent years, most notably in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, where a July 6, 2013, derailment caused a fire and wiped out a portion of the town, killing 47 people and forcing 2,000 others to flee. A subsequent derailment and explosion just outside Casselton, N.D., in January also alarmed the public.

      If the Valero refinery railroad terminal is built at Benicia, Davis would see trains estimated to be 100 cars long filled with volatile Bakken shale crude oil traveling straight through downtown along the same route the Amtrak Capital Corridor uses to carry commuters.

      Phillips 66 terminal

      But Davis faces another possible threat, as well.

      Far to the south and west of Davis are the Central California coast communities of San Luis Obispo County, housing the Phillips 66 oil refinery near the Nipomo Mesa and — potentially — another rail terminal.

      That terminal would attract more trains filled with Canadian tar sands crude oil, traveling through Roseville, Davis, Oakland, San Jose and Salinas to Phillips 66. While somewhat less volatile than Bakken shale crude, tar sands crude is mixed with chemical thinners that make it potentially explosive.

      Laurence Shinderman leads an activist group in Nipomo opposing the Phillips 66 railroad terminal called the Mesa Refinery Watch Group. The group’s ranks swelled from a handful in recent months to 250 residents spearheading a letter-writing campaign targeting the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors.

      The county is leading the environmental review process for the railroad terminal. Yolano Climate Action Group, the city of Davis and SACOG have submitted their concerns, as well.

      Shinderman said Nittler has been helping from the start, giving advice to the Mesa Refinery Watch Group.

      The mission among the Davis group is to get people to go from NIMBY to NOPE, or from saying, “Not In My Back Yard” to “Not On Planet Earth,” Nittler said.

      It represents a shift in thinking from opposing a particular project to a wider understanding of what environmentalists consider a dangerous trend of oil by rail along the West Coast.

      In San Luis Obispo County, the rail line that would carry the oil runs through the Cal Poly SLO campus and over a bridge adjacent to a county drinking water treatment facility.

      “The reality is there is human error, there are guys who are going to fall asleep at the switch,” Shinderman said. “You can’t mitigate for human error. The railroad is hiding behind the skirt of federal pre-emption and saying, “Ah, you can’t do anything.’ ”

      Federal protection

      Under federal code, any laws governing railroads must be uniform across the country, “to the extent practicable.”

      That forbids the vast majority of local tinkering, but a small “savings clause” says a state may regulate some railroad activity provided the situation is geared at a local, but not statewide, safety hazard; is not in conflict with federal law; and does not “unreasonably” restrict railroad commerce.

      The party claiming federal pre-emption has the burden of proof in any case.

      In the matter of the railroad terminals, local cities and counties are ostensibly in charge of the approval — or disapproval — of the projects.

      Even there, federal law may give the oil companies and the railroads a recourse in court if the terminals aren’t built.

      According to the Association of  American Railroads, rail safety is a top priority. In accordance with a 2014 emergency order from the federal Department of Transportation, rail companies are required to notify state emergency response agencies about the routes of trains carrying large amounts of Bakken crude.

      The association also notes that railroads train thousands of first responders, including using a $5 million specialized crude-by-rail training and a tuition assistance program, which is estimated to serve 1,500 first responders in 2014.

      “If an incident occurs, railroads swiftly implement well-practiced emergency response plans and work closely with first responders to help minimize injuries or damage,” reads a position statement on the association’s website.

      The association said the industry is also advocating for safer rail cars that are less prone to disaster. The association claims that in 2013, freight railroads “stepped up the call for even more rigorous standards for tank cars carrying flammable liquids” that included asking that existing tank cars be retrofitted to meet higher standards or be “phased out.”

      Nittler said that was a smokescreen, and the federal government does not impose rules the industry doesn’t agree to first.

      Even according to AAR, the federal Railroad Safety Advisory Committee that develops safety standards for rail transport uses a “consensus process” to impose new safety standards.

      Legislative help

      Davis’ Democratic congressman, Rep. John Garamendi, is a member of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. He said the committee is in the process of crafting new rules for railroads.

      “I have and will continue to push them to write the strongest possible guidelines,” Garamendi said in an email.

      At the state Capitol, state Sen. Lois Wolk, D-Davis, is part of efforts to pass laws that levy taxes on railroads to provide money for first responders.

      “The volume of crude oil being imported into California has increased 100-fold in recent years, and Valero has plans to ship 100 train cars of crude oil per day through the heart of my district to its refinery in Benicia,” Wolk wrote in an email.

      “… Currently, local governments along these transport corridors don’t have sufficient funding to protect their communities. When the Legislature reconvenes in January, I will push for funding for developing and maintaining adequate state and local emergency response to accidents and spills involving rail transports of crude oil and other hazardous materials.”

      Union Pacific and Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroads filed suit against the state in October, claiming that California or any other state does not have the authority to impose safety requirements on them because federal law already does that.

      That may put a damper on a new North Dakota law passed Thursday that requires companies to stabilize the volatility of Bakken crude before shipping it out of the state. Texas already requires such handling.

      In the meantime, Nittler is busy trying to drum up support for a letter-writing campaign to the SLO Board of Supervisors before a 4:30 p.m. deadline Monday for comments on its draft environmental review.

      “If they don’t build it, they won’t come,” Shinderman said.

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