Category Archives: Surface Transportation Board

FAIRFIELD DAILY REPUBLIC: Valero taking oil-by-rail to feds; Benicia stays its course

Repost from the Fairfield Daily Reporter

Valero taking oil-by-rail to feds; Benicia stays its course

By Todd R. Hansen, March 18, 2016
Tank cars sit on the railroad tracks, near Cordelia Road and Chadbourne Road on January 1, 2016. Benicia's Planning Commission denied Valero's bid to build a rail offloading facility for crude oil, and now the company is seeking the opinion of the federal Surface Transportation Board. (Robinson Kuntz/Daily Republic file)
Tank cars sit on the railroad tracks, near Cordelia Road and Chadbourne Road on January 1, 2016. Benicia’s Planning Commission denied Valero’s bid to build a rail offloading facility for crude oil, and now the company is seeking the opinion of the federal Surface Transportation Board. (Robinson Kuntz/Daily Republic file)

BENICIA — More than four hours of staff and Valero testimony this week ended with the oil company asking the Benicia City Council for a delay and the city moving forward with its public hearing process.

Valero will seek an opinion from the federal Surface Transportation Board to determine if the city has any authority to require environmental impact mitigation for a proposed railway off-loading facility at its refinery.

The company wants to move crude oil on trains to its refinery in the Benicia Industrial Park. It has applied to the city for a use permit to construct the necessary off-loading facility.

Planning commissioners in February denied the use permit, stating in its resolution:

“(T)he proposed location of the conditional use and the proposed conditions under which it would be operated and maintained would not be consistent with the General Plan as it would be detrimental to the public health, safety or welfare of persons residing or working in or adjacent to the neighborhood of the use, or to the general welfare of the city as well as uprail communities.”

Valero appealed that decision to the City Council, which started its public hearing process Tuesday. The hearing was continued to April 4 to receive comments from the public. April 6 and April 19 are also dates set aside as needed.

Valero representatives told the city it would take a month or more to submit material to the federal board, and that the decision-making process could take three to six months more.

Valero officials could not be reached Thursday. A message was left seeking comment.

Essentially, the company does not believe the city has the authority to impose conditions on railway matters, which typically falls under federal authority, according to city documents.

The city, while admitting it does not have any authority about what happens on the railways themselves, believes it does have planning and land-use authority over the refinery facility.

“The issue is where does (the railway pre-emption) start, and where does it stop,” said Amy Million, principal planner for Benicia.

Pre-emption, in this case, is basically a concept in which state and local laws are pre-empted in favor of interstate commerce regulations, which are governed under federal authority.

The Surface Transportation Board was given its authority in the Interstate Commerce Commission Termination Act of 1995, which “pre-empts state and local regulation, i.e., ‘those state laws that may reasonably be said to have the effect of ‘managing’ or ‘governing’ rail transportation.’ ”

The act gives “the Surface Transportation Board exclusive jurisdiction over: (1) transportation by rail carriers and the remedies provided with respect to rates, classifications, rules (including car service, interchange, and other operating rules), practices, routes, services, and facilities of such carriers; and (2) the construction, acquisition, operation, abandonment, or discontinuance of spur, industrial, team, switching, or side tracks, or facilities, even if the tracks are located, or intended to be located, entirely in one state.”

Transportation board spokesman Dennis Watson said he could not comment on a project that had not yet been received by the agency.

The proposal is for oil to be transported on 50-car trains, twice daily, using Pacific Union tracks, which would pass through Fairfield, Suisun City, Dixon and into Benicia.

The shipments would replace about 70,000 barrels of oil currently brought in daily by ship.

The project has generated a great deal of comment. The city reports it tallied 1,800 substantive comments on the Environmental Impact Report, of which 550 discussed hazards, 260 focused on air quality and greenhouse gas emissions, 80 on transportation, 60 on biological resources, 50 on hydrology and geology and 40 on noise.

VALLEJO TIMES-HERALD: Valero asks Benicia City Council to delay decision on oil train project

Repost from the Vallejo Times-Herald

Valero asks Benicia council to continue hearing

By Irma Widjojo, 03/16/16, 6:25 PM PDT

Benicia >> Responding to new information revealed by Valero Benicia Refinery, Benicia City Council is set to decide in April if it would wait to make a decision on the refinery’s proposed project.

The council on Tuesday began the appeal hearing on the Planning Commission’s decision on Valero’s proposed crude by rail project.

Going against the city staff’s recommendation, the commission last month unanimously decided to deny certifying the project’s final Environmental Impact Report and deny the use permit application, which would allow the refinery to bring two 50-car trains a day carrying up to 70,000 barrels of North American crude oil.

The company’s oil is now being transported into the city by marine vessels and pipeline.

One of the major factors in the commission’s final decision was the issue of federal preemption.

During Valero’s presentation Tuesday, an attorney that has been working with Valero said the refinery intends to submit a petition to the Surface Transportation Board, or STB, to request for a declarative action regarding preemption in relation to the proposed project.

“The purpose is to get a decision from the STB of preemption as applied to the project,” said the attorney, John Flynn. “It should answer to the most important questions from both sides.”

City staff and Valero said any mitigations on impacts caused by railroad operations are preempted by federal laws, and that the commission is not allowed to deny the project based on railroad impacts.

Railroad operation is regulated by STB, a federal entity.

However, 11 “significant and unavoidable” impacts that were identified in the report are all rail related.

After four long-night meetings and hours of discussion and testimony regarding the issue, the commission unanimously agreed that the issue of preemption was very vague.

“We received letters from regional agencies who repeatedly say that federal preemption was not as broad as the city’s interpretation,” Commission Chair Donald Dean said Tuesday during his presentation. “There was a considerable discussion about how broadly are we interpreting the preemption issue. … It’s murky as best.”

He said the impacts presented in the report not only affect Benicia, but other communities where the trains would pass if the project is approved.

“To me the definition of a community goes beyond the boundaries of the city,” Dean said. “The commission had a conundrum. … (The staff’s finding) we don’t think we can make in good conscience.”

On Feb. 29, Valero filed a letter to appeal the decision.

Tuesday’s meeting was designated for presentations by the staff and Valero, and council’s questions for them. Public comments are set to be received on the next scheduled meeting April 4.

Flynn also said Valero agrees with the staff’s view on preemption.

“Your own attorney clearly and correctly advises the Planning Commission on preemption,” he said. “There was incorrect and highly misleading information by the opponent. The Planning commission unfortunately took the bait.”

Due to the newly revealed intent, Valero asked the council to continue the hearing until STB responded.

At the end of the meeting Tuesday, council agreed to discuss in April if a decision on the project should wait for STB’s response but will continue to receive public comments on the project then.

The rest of the hearing is set for April 4, 16 and 19, if necessary.

Chicago Area Mayors Meet with Feds, Call For Improved Safety Measures For Oil Trains

Repost from CBS2 Chicago

Mayors Call For Improved Safety Measures For Oil Trains

August 20, 2014
Firefighters douse a blaze after a freight train loaded with oil derailed in Lac Megantic in Canada's Quebec province on July 6, 2013, sparking explosions that engulfed about 30 buildings in fire.  More than 40 people were killed as a result of the crash and fire. (Photo redit: François Laplante-Delagrave/AFP/Getty Images)
Firefighters douse a blaze after a freight train loaded with oil derailed in Lac Megantic in Canada’s Quebec province on July 6, 2013, sparking explosions that engulfed about 30 buildings in fire. More than 40 people were killed as a result of the crash and fire. (Photo redit: François Laplante-Delagrave/AFP/Getty Images)

CHICAGO (CBS) – Federal railroad officials got an earful Wednesday from the mayors of several Chicago area towns that have been affected by a growing number of increasingly long trains hauling crude oil and other volatile materials.

WBBM Newsradio’s John Cody reports the mayors expressed concerns about traffic congestion and public safety from freight trains that they said have been getting longer and more dangerous, due to larger amounts of flammable crude oil they haul in outdated tanker cars.

The mayors spoke directly to Federal Railroad Administrator Joe Szabo and Surface Transportation Board Chairman Dan Elliott III, at a meeting arranged by U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin.

The senator said approximately 25 percent of all freight train traffic travels through the Chicago area each day, including 40 trains hauling crude oil.

Barrington Village President Karen Darch said the village has seen a stark increase in the number of completely full freight trains hauling 100 or more carloads of crude oil or ethanol along the Elgin, Joliet and Eastern Railway.

“Before, half of the community didn’t even know where the EJ&E Line was. There were a couple of trains at night. Now, several times a day, traffic – all traffic – comes to a halt as the train passes through town, and these can be hundred-car trains,” she said.

quebec derailment 1 Mayors Call For Improved Safety Measures For Oil Trains


Darch and other Chicago area mayors said their constituents have been plagued by frequent traffic jams caused by long trains rolling through the area, and are constantly worried that a fire or worse could erupt on old tankers carrying volatile liquids.

They mayors expressed concerns about a repeat of a July 2013 freight train derailment in Quebec that killed 47 people and destroyed dozens of buildings when multiple tanker cars filled with crude oil caught fire and exploded.

Aurora Mayor Tom Weisner said safe passage is mandatory.

“About a third of the rail accidents that do occur are related to failures of the rail infrastructure itself, and so our position is basically twofold: one, improve the tank cars and get rid of the ones that aren’t safe; and second, make the rails safe.”

Durbin said the issue requires some time to address.

“I’ve talked to the tank car manufacturers, and they understand that they have two responsibilities: build a safer car, but in the meantime retrofit existing cars,” he said.

The senator said there is no way to immediately and completely ban older style oil tanker cars, but said federal railroad officials are aware of the danger they pose, and that they must be upgraded or replaced as soon as possible.

Darch urged federal authorities to institute increased safety controls and reduced speed limits for even small trains hauling crude oil.

“A huge concern for us is what about all the trains that come through that have 19 cars or less of hazmat,” she said.

Federal railroad officials said proposed federal regulations would require increased testing to keep crude oil out of older style tankers. Railroads also would be required to notify local officials when crude oil trains will roll through, and impose a 40 mph speed limit on such trains.