Category Archives: Valero Benicia Refinery

Valero slurps up grant money that was recommended for smaller non-profits; City Council approves

From Benicia Independent reader Judi Sullivan of Benicia
[Editor: Note that the City Council was definitely NOT unanimous in its approval of the money grab by Valero.  Councilmember Schwartzman proposed the deal.  He, along with Councilmembers Hughes and Strawbridge voted in favor; Mayor Patterson and Councilmember Campbell opposed.  – RS]

Letter to the Editor

By Judi Sullivan, 6/27/14

It’s important for us, as citizens, to be aware of what our city staff and council members are doing, as they are the rule makers for our town.  After attending last week’s June 17th   City Council Meeting, I became concerned with how the annual grant proposals introduced by the Community Sustainability Commission were addressed by this governing body.

The Agenda for the evening was to go over the grant proposals that had been submitted to the CSC which then made recommendations for granting seven of the 13 proposals.  They presented the Council with three well-delineated tiers of charted options, noting the ones they felt most qualified to be awarded with the monies available, although stated all that were submitted had their merits.

Financial backing for these yearly distributed grants comes from a large legal settlement made between The Good Neighbor Steering Committee, a small group of volunteers from the Benicia citizenry, and the Valero Refinery.  It was amended in 2010 to include the City of Benicia as a third party in the settlement agreement.   Members from the GNSC initiated the CSC, which is currently an advisory committee to the City Council and as such, was the overseer of the grant funding process.

The CSC’s vision for the purpose of these grants was to create a ripple effect throughout the community by promoting programs that offer alternatives in how to be more individually and community-wise sustainable in line with The City of Benicia’s Climate Action Plan.  Special emphasis was placed on proposals dealing with reducing water/energy/green house gases.  This included projects that would educate the public on these issues. The groups chosen for funding by CSC were typically grassroots non profits and small businesses that met the above criteria, giving top priority to those seeking funding who did not have an adequate source of financial assistance available to bring their worthy proposals to fruition.

One grant stood out from the rest.  It was from Valero.  Their proposal asked for around $857,000 to install a water-reducing boiler unit.  To accept this proposal would have taken the entire amount of money set aside for grants this year.   Although Valero has the right to apply for a grant, one might ponder why Valero, the 4th largest oil company in the US, would be in competition with small grassroots non-profits and smaller businesses for one of these grants?  Especially considering that the monies available for these grants comes from the settlement with Valero.  Apparently, as part of the settlement agreement, they have a right to compete with the other grants presented, yet they are not to be given special privilege for receiving one.   As it turned out, most of the council session was focused on issues surrounding their request, in lieu of most of the other grants, which got little or no floor time.

If Valero’s boiler unit is built, it would cause a major reduction in water usage for the refinery.  That easily fits the water reduction aspect of the grant criteria.  Since the refinery uses fifty percent of our city’s raw water supply, and our city received no water allotment from the state this year, there is a pressing need for all of us to reduce requirements for our city’s water.  For the first time in our history, we are relying upon stored water.

The issue concerning offering Valero a city-funded grant to install a new boiler stems from the fact that Valero has ample funds to complete this desired project on their own.   It has been revealed that making this change to their facility would pay for itself in a year’s time with a million dollar water cost savings to the refinery.  When one contemplates the short and long term benefits to Valero, and consequently, to our city, one is led to wonder why the decision to make this change didn’t happen long before now as part of a cost effective business plan?

As a city, do we want to set a precedent for having our grant funds disproportionately doled out to highly profitable corporations who don’t need our financial assistance to make the needed difference in lieu of giving attention to our other grant proposals which are deemed valuable but are unable to operate without grant approval? Are we missing the point of providing these grants?  Are we dishonoring the intrinsic value of the other grants because they can’t possibly compete with what a large corporation can do?  Is it really necessary to make a “deal” with Valero in order to get our other programs funded?

The proposed “deal” brokered by Councilman Schwartzman with Valero General Manager, John Hill during the session was certainly handled in an unorthodox manner.  Since this situation was written up in the June 19th edition of the “Benicia Herald” about the City Council Meeting, details of that discussion won’t be repeated here, although it might be fair to say it would appear that this “deal” may have been discussed privately by those promoting it prior to the meeting without the full knowledge of others who would normally be part of such negotiations.  One of those excluded parties was GNSC, who was not informed of this plan, nor was their perspective welcomed.   This was highly irregular since they are the originators of the settlement agreement that has provided the funds being debated.  They are still involved, by law, with carrying out all aspects of the settlement along with the city and Valero.

Supposedly, the delayed decisions on approval of grants will be taken up once again at the next City Council Meeting in July.  If you have a vested interest in grants up for approval this year, you might want to pay closer attention to what is happening.

As we know, The City Council has the power of the vote, but we as citizens have the right to voice our opinions on such matters.

Judi Sullivan

    Sacramento Bee editorial: First steps on oil train safety, but more to do

    Repost from The Sacramento Bee
    [Editor: The Bee’s editorial board hit the nail on the head, but not hard enough.  Which is to say, the editors have joined with the chorus of legislators who want a good patch job for train wrecks that they presume are unstoppable.  Oil train safety would be best guaranteed by pressing the federal government to ban oil trains.  Allowing these “bomb trains” to rumble through our communities approaches criminal recklessness, and should be stopped.  Big business does not – or at least should not – dictate the direction we take as a nation.  – RS]

    Editorial: First steps on oil train safety, but more to do

    By the Editorial Board   |  Jun. 19, 2014
    G092G6L04.3Staff Photographer
    Assemblyman Roger Dickinson of Sacramento announced legislation in April to require more disclosure to emergency officials of oil shipments by rail. Randall Benton

    These are not all the steps that are needed, but it’s good to see the Legislature trying to get ahead of a potential (oil) train wreck.  As part of the budget they approved Sunday, legislators added seven rail safety inspectors. They also included a 6.5-cent fee proposed by Gov. Jerry Brown on each barrel of crude oil that comes to California by rail. The $11 million or so raised annually will be used to prevent and clean up oil spills, especially in inland waterways.

    On Monday, the state Senate passed a resolution urging the federal government to pass laws and rules to protect communities from oil train accidents, including tougher standards on tank cars, and to put “safety over cost effectiveness.” That sends an important message because so far, federal officials have not required enough of railroads and oil companies – either in safety measures or public disclosure – to keep pace with a rapid increase in rail shipments of oil extracted through hydraulic fracturing, especially in Canada and North Dakota.

    But there’s more that California officials can do.

    Sens. Jerry Hill of San Mateo and Lois Wolk of Davis have a bill for a second as-yet unspecified shipping fee on oil companies to fund training and equipment for firefighters and other first responders. A recent state report found that 40 percent of local firefighters are volunteers who generally don’t have the resources to handle major hazardous material spills.

    First responders often don’t have all the information they need, either, as reporting by The Sacramento Bee has made clear. Assemblyman Roger Dickinson of Sacramento is pushing a bill to require companies to tell emergency officials about crude oil shipments. The latest version does away with an exemption from the state public records law; instead it says reports would be deemed “proprietary information” that could only be shared with “government personnel with emergency response, planning or security-related responsibilities on a need-to-know basis.”

    Time is of the essence since oil trains could be running through the Sacramento region later this year. Valero Refining Co. is seeking approval to route two 50-car oil trains a day through Roseville, Sacramento, West Sacramento and Davis to its refinery in Benicia.

    An environmental impact report released Tuesday offers some reassurances but no guarantees. The draft report concludes that while a crash or spill could be catastrophic, the likelihood of an incident is “very low.” The probability of a spill of 100 gallons or more along the 69 miles between Roseville and Benicia is calculated at once every 111 years.

    Yet, it has happened elsewhere – six major oil train crashes in North America just in the last year, including the horrific fireball in Quebec that killed 47 residents.

    More than 135,000 people in Sacramento and 25,000 in Davis live within a half-mile of rail tracks, the Natural Resources Defense Council reported Wednesday. They’re counting on legislators to do all they can to make sure oil trains pass safely through our cities.

      Sacramento Bee: NRDC report – thousands face the risk of crude oil train spills

      Repost from The Sacramento Bee

      Advocacy group: Thousands in Sacramento face the risk of crude oil train spills

      by Tony Bizjak  |  June 19, 2014

      More than 135,000 Sacramentans live within a half-mile of rail tracks and could find themselves in harm’s way should a crude oil train derailment cause a spill, according to a report published Wednesday by the Natural Resources Defense Council in California. The group’s maps show 25,000 residents in Davis within a half-mile of train tracks.

      The NRDC study includes maps of rail lines through seven California cities, showing areas likely to require evacuation in case of serious rail incident. It is unclear which lines might carry crude oil trains. Oil companies and railroads closely guard information about crude oil rail movements. NRDC said its analysis of a handful of oil company refinery and terminal projects indicates more than seven trains, each a mile long, could soon run through metropolitan areas daily.

      Oil companies increasingly are turning to rail shipments of crude oil, responding to the availability of less expensive deposits in North Dakota and Canada. Diane Bailey, a scientist with NRDC, said the state does not yet have safety measures and adequate emergency response plans in place to handle the expected increase.

      The NRDC report follows a report Tuesday authorized by the city of Benicia that said a plan for the city’s Valero Refining Co. to run 100 crude oil train cars a day through Sacramento, Roseville, West Sacramento, Davis and other cities is unlikely to cause a spill.

      Those trains could begin operation later this year and are expected to run on the rail line shared by the Capitol Corridor passenger train service. That line loops into Sacramento near Business 80, and runs westward along the top of the downtown perimeter, passing through the downtown railyard, then over the I Street Bridge to West Sacramento. It continues through downtown Davis on its way to Benicia.

      Acknowledging the growing concern, federal officials have issued warnings about the potential higher flammability of one crude oil type, Bakken oil, and have been exploring implementing tougher safety designs for crude oil tankers to replace the current fleet, which has been deemed inadequate to safely transport volatile crude oils.

      In its report, the NRDC called for officials to:

      •  Remove antiquated oil tankers from service.

      •  Impose lower speed limits on crude oil trains.

      •  Reroute trains around sensitive areas.

      •  Require railroads to disclose the contents of trains.

      •  Make emergency procedures available to local residents.

      •  Assess fees on shippers to cover costs of improved emergency response to incidents.

      •  Elevate crude oil trains to the highest risk category for hazardous material shipments.

      •  Require oil companies to conduct “cumulative risk analysis” for oil rail infrastructure projects, so that the overall impact of all projects is adequately analyzed.