Category Archives: Traffic

VALLEJO TIMES-HERALD: Valero’s crude-by-rail project turned down in Benicia

Repost from the Vallejo Times-Herald

Valero’s crude-by-rail project turned down in Benicia

By Matthew Adkins, 09/20/16, 9:54 PM PDT
Anti-Valero supporters wave sunflowers as Benicia’s crude by rail project was denied Tuesday evening by council members in Benicia City Hall.
Anti-Valero supporters wave sunflowers as Benicia’s crude by rail project was denied Tuesday evening by council members in Benicia City Hall. Matthew Adkins — Times-Herald

BENICIA >> Environmentalists hoping to defeat Benicia’s crude-by-rail project scored a huge victory Tuesday night, handing Valero Refining Company a significant defeat in the process.

In a unanimous decision from Mayor Elizabeth Patterson and Benicia City Council, Valero’s application for a conditional use permit for a crude oil off-loading facility was denied.

Vicki Dennis, who moved to Benicia two years ago, was one of many present at City Hall and said she was “just delighted” with the decision.

“I’m so proud of this city,” Dennis said. “Our council people are very thoughtful. This process has been a long one, but I think they handled it in a wonderful way.”

The City of Benicia’s Planning Commission first began considering the issue in December 2012 when the refinery submitted an application seeking permission to build infrastructure to bring two 50-car trains a day carrying up to 70,000 barrels of North American crude oil into Benicia.

In March, the Planning Commission voted unanimously to deny the application and to not certify an accompanying environmental impact report. The decision was made against the recommendation of city staff who said the project’s involvement with rail-related issues made the decision a federal issue.

Valero representatives submitted an appeal looking to reverse the commission’s decision to deny their application, and the matter was postponed until Sept. 20.

As part of the appeal, Valero sought a declaratory order from the Surface Transportation Board on the issue of federal preemption in regards to the project.

During this time, many governmental agencies, private organizations and individuals publicly opposed the city council’s decision to transfer authority on the matter to the federal government.

At the city council meeting Tuesday, however, public comment on the topic was officially closed.

“We are eager to hear from you about any item that is not on the agenda,” Patterson said. “I know it’s a little difficult right now. We have an item on the agenda that I know a lot of you are interested in, but there is no public comment on that tonight.”

This drew a few hushed laughs from the crowd of approximately 150 people who had shown up to witness the landmark decision at Benicia City Hall.

Mayor Patterson’s warning didn’t stop a few concerned citizens from indirectly talking about the issue.

“I originally put in my request to speak before I knew you were not accepting public comments about Valero,” said one man. “If the council decides to change their mind and re-open public comment on the issue, I would be glad to come back up and speak.”

“Since I can’t talk about what the Surface Transportation Board has just done, I would urge the council to support the struggle against the Dakota Access pipeline,” said another man.

After public comment was closed, a brief recap of the project’s journey though Benicia’s civic system was put forth along with two resolution findings, one for approval and the other for denial,

The denial resolution highlighted specific issues that city council members had with Valero’s proposed project, including the unclear traffic impacts of having an unregulated shipment schedule, spill risks associated with shipping by rail and the project’s uncomfortable proximity to the city’s waterways.

Before making a judgement, Council members took turns voicing their concerns about health, safety and the project’s effect on the environment.

“When we first started considering this, there seemed to be little risk involved,” said Councilwoman Christina Strawbridge. “After four years, the community has endured numerous public hearings with hundreds of people speaking about the project. During this time, there have been 13 derailments around the country involving multiple carriers.

“The derailment in Oregon was a game-changer for me,” she continued. “Union Pacific was the same carrier and the railroad cars involved were the same ones Valero is offering. The strongest car didn’t withstand a puncture and crude oil came in contact with fire and burned for 13 hours. Union Pacific failed to maintain its track, resulting in its derailment. The railroad industry has not kept up with safety standards regarding the transportation of crude. I’m going to vote to deny the project in hopes that the community can begin to heal after such a divided process.”

After the council’s comments, Councilmember Tom Campbell put forward a motion to deny, and was seconded by Patterson.

A quick vote was taken and the motion to deny Valero’s presence in Benicia was decided.

Misao Brown, a retired teacher and environmental activist from Alameda, was thrilled with the council’s decision and was seen embracing her friends outside of Benicia City Hall.

“If there were any spills where we are in Benicia, it would be in the Bay and go all over the place,” she said. “Benicia is concerned about the greater good and it’s just wonderful. It was really hard sticking it out for so long, but they gave every chance to Valero. In the end, we’re really talking about life on earth. So, when the decision comes through like this under tremendous pressure, I’m really grateful to every member of the planning commission and city council.”

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    ABC7 VIDEO: Benicia City Council Considers Valero Refinery’s Plan to Ship Crude Oil by Rail

    Repost from ABC7 / KGO News, San Francisco, Oakland, San Jose

    Benicia City Council Considers Valero Refinery’s Plan to Ship Crude Oil by Rail

    By Katie Marzullo, March 16, 2016 11:37AM


    BENICIA, Calif. (KGO) — Benicia considered a controversial topic Tuesday night, transporting crude oil by train. Opponents say it’s an environmental catastrophe waiting to happen, but supporters say it’s safe.

    Tuesday is the city council’s first pass at hearing Valero’s proposal to move crude oil by rail. The planning commission rejected it last month and Valero appealed. It’s an hours-long process to reintroduce all of the reports council members were still asking questions late into Tuesday night.

    The Valero refinery in Benicia already brings crude oil into the facility by pipeline and ship and it wants to add rail. Members of Benicians For a Safe and Healthy Community have been opposed since the beginning.

    “Air emission impacts, traffic impacts, as well as the risk of catastrophic explosion here in Benicia that could destroy the economy and estroy the culture of this community for generations to come,” said Andres Sotos, a member of Benicians For a Safe and Healthy Community.

    The city might not have a choice. Staff and consultants point to federal laws that don’t allow cities to regulate railroads. But others say Benicia has every right to reject Valero’s proposal.

    “I’ve never seen a city, and I’ve been on the city council. I’ve never seen a city give up their permitting power and I think it’s the wrong direction for the city to take,” said Benicia resident Jan Cox Golovich.

    Last month, the planning commission unanimously rejected Valero’s plan. Now it’s fate is in the hands of the city council. Valero is optimistic.

    “We believe it can be done safely and we’re looking forward to making that case to the city council in our appeal,” said Valero director of health and safety Chris Howe.

    Valero wants to move 70,000 barrels of crude oil by rail and rely less on shipping. Public comment on the issue is scheduled for April 4.

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      SACRAMENTO BEE: Tom Steyer & Steve Young – Benicia should block oil trains

      Repost from the Sacramento Bee

      Benicia should block oil trains

      By Tom Steyer and Steve YoungSpecial to The Bee, March 14, 2016 9:30AM

      HIGHLIGHTS
      •  Valero wants to bring trains carrying crude through Sacramento region to Benicia refinery
      • Even without a catastrophe, oil trains pose a serious threat to public health and safety
      • With clean energy and efficiency, California doesn’t need to take the risk

      Railroad tracks lead to Valero’s refinery in Benicia. The company wants to ship oil there with two, 50-car trains a day.
      Railroad tracks lead to Valero’s refinery in Benicia. The company wants to ship oil there with two, 50-car trains a day. Manny Crisostomo Sacramento Bee file

      If approved, proposed new oil train terminals at refineries in California would turn our railways into crude oil superhighways. Mile-long oil trains would haul millions of gallons of toxic, explosive crude through downtown Sacramento and dozens of other California cities and towns. An estimated 5 million Californians live in the one-mile evacuation zone along oil train routes.

      In Benicia, city officials are close to a final decision on the proposed Valero oil train terminal. It’s essential that City Council members, who hold a hearing on Tuesday, understand why oil trains are too dangerous for our communities. There is no sure way to protect public health while transporting crude oil by rail.

      Tom Steyer

      Valero wants to bring two 50-car trains carrying about 3 million gallons of oil to its Benicia refinery every day. The environmental review of the proposal cites the “potentially significant” hazard of a spill and fire.

      In 2013, the oil train explosion in Lac Megantic, Quebec, demonstrated the danger. It killed 47 people, destroyed dozens of buildings and poisoned a local lake. Three years later, residents still live with fear and anxiety, and scientists have recorded an “unprecedented” spike of fish deformities.

      Steve_Young
      Steve Young

      But it doesn’t take a catastrophe for oil trains to pose a serious threat to public health and safety. They disrupt traffic, delay emergency response and bring more poisoned air and increased disease. That’s why six counties and 22 cities around Sacramento have already said no to these trains. But the safety of all Californians living in the blast zone lies in the hands of Benicia city officials who will decide whether to approve Valero’s permit.

      On Feb. 11, after days of testimony from experts and community members, the city Planning Commission voted unanimously to deny the permit. Valero has appealed to the Benicia City Council, which will make the final decision.

      Something similar is happening in San Luis Obispo County, where the county staff and the California Coastal Commission recommended that the county reject the Phillips 66 oil train terminal proposal. The county Planning Commission must decide soon, but the final decision will rest with county supervisors.

      Last year, NextGen Climate, the Natural Resources Defense Council, ForestEthics and Communities for a Better Environment released a report on oil industry plans to ship dirty Canadian tar sands crude to West Coast refineries. The report found that heavy crude would increase carbon pollution by as much as 26 million metric tons – the equivalent of adding 5.5 million cars to the road.

      The good news is that we don’t have to live with these oil risks barreling through town. We can make our communities safer by transitioning to clean energy. A recent report by the Union of Concerned Scientists revealed that improvements in fuel efficiency and energy technology could help us cut oil consumption in half by 2030.

      There’s no place for extreme tar sands or Bakken crude in California’s emerging clean energy economy – and there’s no place in our communities for dangerous, unnecessary crude oil trains.

      Tom Steyer is founder of NextGen Climate and can be contacted at info@nextgenclimate.org.  Steve Young is a Benicia planning commissioner and can be contacted at steveyoung94510@gmail.com.
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        Bill Moyers & Company: America’s Exploding Oil Train Problem

        Repost from Bill Moyers & Company

        America’s Exploding Oil Train Problem

        by John Light, September 2, 2014
        FILE - In this July 16, 2013, file photo, railroad oil tankers are lined up at the Port of Albany, in Albany, N.Y. While the federal government has ordered railroads to give states details about shipments of volatile crude oil from North Dakota's Bakken shale region, New York officials haven't decided whether to share that information with the public. (AP Photo/Mike Groll, File)
        In this July 16, 2013, photo, railroad oil tankers are lined up at the Port of Albany, in Albany, NY. (AP Photo/Mike Groll, File)

        If you reside in the US, there’s around an eight percent chance that you live in an oil train’s blast zone. And there’s a fight going on at the state and federal levels, between monied interests and regulatory agencies, over efforts to ensure that these trains — which have shown a tendency to burst into flames — will be relatively safe.

        The increased use of hydraulic fracturing — fracking — has made oil that was previously inaccessible available to drillers. The crude then has to make its way to refineries, and while the boom in pipeline projects has received quite a bit of attention, roughly 60 percent of it travels by rail.

        On Friday, California legislators passed a bill that would require railroads to tell emergency officials when oil trains filled with explosive Bakken crude — oil from a particularly productive region in western North Dakota — would pass through the state. The law reflects growing concern, across America, about the dangers of these trains moving through dense communities, including Sacramento, California’s capital.

        Oil tanker cars move along a web of routes that crisscross the United States. In 2013, about 400,000 cars made the journey, a 4,000 percent increase over the previous five years. The boost in oil cars has been so great that less lucrative industries are having trouble finding rail transport for their products. In March, General Mills announced that it had lost 62 days of production on such favorites as Cheerios because the trains that had shipped agricultural products were being leased by the fossil fuel industry.

        Most oil reaches its destination without any problems, but as production has skyrocketed, the railroads have become increasingly taxed. Those who live near railways have noticed the uptick, with trains rumbling through towns much more frequently, and at much higher speeds.

        Last July, a tanker train filled with North Dakota crude derailed in the middle of the night in Lac-Mégantic, a small Canadian town near the border with Maine; the resulting inferno killed 47 people. Since then, derailments in Casselton, North Dakota, and Lynchburg, Virginia, have led to evacuations. The Lac-Mégantic disaster spurred protests from fire chiefs and town officials who said that they were ill-equipped to deal with a possible derailment.

        In the year since, officials have moved to formalize several safety measures. This July, the Obama administration proposed a plan that involves banning certain older tank cars, using better breaks on car, restricting speeds and possibly rerouting trains.

        That first point, phasing out old tank cars, is a key area of contention. For the most part, the opposition isn’t coming from the railroads; it’s the oil companies that lease the tank cars that are fighting the new regulations. As Bloomberg Businessweek’s Matthew Philips explained earlier this summer:

        It’s helpful to understand the three industries with something at stake here: railroads, energy companies, and tank-car manufacturers. The railroads own the tracks but not the tank cars or the oil that’s inside. The oil often belongs to big energy companies such as refiners or even trading firms that profit from buying it near the source—say, in North Dakota—and selling it elsewhere. These energy companies tend to lease the tank cars from large manufacturing companies or big lenders such as General Electric (GE) and CIT Group (CIT).

        Although it is never their oil on board, the railroads usually end up in the headlines when something goes wrong. That’s why they have been eager for a rule to make energy companies use stronger tank cars. Meanwhile, the oil industry has been busy issuing studies trying to prove that the oil coming out of North Dakota is safe enough to travel in the existing tank cars. The energy lobby also thinks railroads need to do a better job of keeping the trains on the tracks. Tank-car manufacturers, meanwhile, simply want some clarity around what kind of cars they need to build.

        Canada, following the Lac-Mégantic disaster, announced plans to phase out one older tank car that has been linked to several accidents over the next three years; the Obama administration proposal would do it in two.

        But the oil industry doesn’t want that. Leading the charge is the American Petroleum Institute, an organization that, so far in 2014, has spent $4 million lobbying regulators and Congress. They’ve pushed back against labeling Bakken crude as more hazardous than other crude oil, even though many studies have found that it is.

        Environmental groups blame this lobbying effort for several weaknesses in the proposed rules. For one, they would only apply to trains that have 20 or more carloads of Bakken crude. “If the rule is approved as drafted, it would still be legal to transport around 570,000 gallons (the equivalent of the fuel carried by seven Boeing 747s) of volatile Bakken crude in a train composed of 19 unsafe, [aging] tank cars—and none of the other aspects of the new rules, including routing, notification, train speed, and more would apply,” wrote Eric de Place of the sustainability think-tank Sightline Institute, who also criticized the proposal for not immediately banning older tankers.

        And even if the regulations were to be put in place despite the API’s attempts to weaken them, there’s the distinct possibility that regulators will fall short. The government has often taken a hands-off approach in determining what gets shipped, and how — and in enforcing existing rules requiring that officials in the cities it passes through be informed that potentially hazardous shipments are coming. In These Times reported that government inspections to make sure railroads are properly labeling the product they are shipping (the Bakken crude was improperly labeled in the Lac-Mégantic disaster) are supposed to be unannounced, but are sometimes pre-arranged. Meanwhile, railroads are cutting back on the number of crew members manning trains, a move that some workers feel will lead to less safe travel.

        “No one would permit an airliner to fly with just one pilot, even though they can fly themselves,” wrote John Previsich, the president of the Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation union’s transportation devision. “Trains, which cannot operate themselves, should be no different.”

        John Light blogs and works on multimedia projects for Moyers & Company. Before joining the Moyers team, he was a public radio producer. His work has been supported by grants from The Nation Institute Investigative Fund and the Alfred I. duPont-Columbia Awards, among others. A New Jersey native, John studied history and film at Oberlin College and holds a master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University
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