Editor: The Benicia Independent endorses Don Saylor of Davis for Assembly District 4 this November (Don Saylor.org). Lynne Nittler’s letter speaks for me – see below. Another good candidate, Davis Mayor Dan Wolk, has expressed strong concerns about oil train safety and joined with the Davis City Council in opposing crude by rail, but has not risen to the level of diligence, outreach and follow-through that Mr. Saylor has shown on Valero’s proposal (DanWolk.org). Many thanks to both for their efforts. – RS
Yolo County Supervisor Don Saylor for California Assembly, District 4
By Lynne Nittler, in her email of May 15, 2016
Yolo County Supervisor Don Saylor stands out as an uprail public official committed from early on to stopping the dangerous transport of crude oil through our natural habitat and populated areas. He wasted no time in directing his staff to research and compose a letter insisting that uprail concerns had to be addressed in the EIR. On the draft EIR, Yolo County wrote a second letter detailing the impacts of the unsafe oil trains, and when the response was inadequate, added a third letter response to the revised draft EIR.
Meanwhile, as President of Sacramento Area Council of Governments (SACOG), Don Saylor also led the 22 cities and 6 counties of SACOG to respond to the regional threat of oil trains with a series of hard-hitting letters during the EIR process.
His deep concerns even took him to Washington DC where he conferred with our local Congressman John Garamendi on stabilizing crude at the loading site as perhaps the only acceptable method of making the Bakken crude safe to transport by rail.
Don continues to monitor the volatile issue closely, as 500,000 of the 2.4 million SACOG residents live at risk in the blast zone. Most recently, he took time to testify before the Benicia City Council in hopes of convincing them of the enormous impacts to uprail communities and to our state.
We are fortunate to have such a diligent public official. While an independent PAC of outside oil corporations including Valero as well as other PACS have intruded with huge campaign contributions to one candidate for the District 4 Assembly race (including Lake and Napa Counties, most of Yolo County, and part of Colusa, Solano, and Sonoma Counties ), Don Saylor has not been chosen for such outside support.
If elected, we can count on Don to work and vote as he always has for programs that benefit our region. Don Saylor will continue to keep a watchful eye on oil trains if he is elected to the CA Assembly.
Appearing as the front page headline story in today’s Benicia Herald
(no online version, so no link)
Crude by Rail opponents cite large opposition list
By Elizabeth Warnimont, April 6, 2016
At the first of the current round of scheduled hearings regarding Valero Benicia Refinery’s Crude by Rail project at City Hall Monday, a number of government agencies and other groups came forward to express their opposition to the project, adding to a growing list of individuals, government entities and private groups to register their objections. A few individuals and groups also spoke in favor of the project.
During the public comment period, Catherine Black, chairwoman for Benicians for a Safe and Healthy Community, recited a partial list of groups currently opposing the project. Organizations, public agencies and public officials who have either had major concerns or have spoken out directly against the project, she stated, include, in no particular order:
Benicians for a Safe and Healthy Community
Air Quality Management Districts (AQMD) including Bay Area, Butte County, Feather River, Sacramento Metropolitan, County of Shasta and Yolo/Solano AQMDs
Placer County Air Pollution Control District
California Office of Spill Prevention and Response
The California Utilities Commission
The Capitol Corridor Joint Powers Authority
The California Department of Transportation
San Francisco Bay Keepers
Safe Fuel and Energy Resources California
350 Bay Area
Communities for a Better Environment
National Resources Defense Council
Phil Serna, Sacramento County supervisor
Center for Biological Diversity
Sacramento Area Council of Governments (SACOG), an association of local governments in the six-county Sacramento region including El Dorado, Placer, Sacramento, Yolo and Yerba counties
The Yolo County Board of Supervisors
Martinez Environmental Group
Richmond Progressive Alliance
Global Community Monitor
the city of Albany
the city of Briggs and its fire department
the city of Gridley and its fire department
County of Nevada Community Development Agency
the town of Truckee
the city of West Sacramento
the Shasta County Department of Resource Management
Community Science Institute
Rodeo United to Defend the Environment
City of Davis Foundation
City of Pittsburg Defense Council
Green Action for Health and Environmental Justice
Asian Pacific Environmental Network
Bay Area Refinery Corridor Coalition
Attorney General Kamala Harris
Yolo Climate Action
Berkeley City Council
State Sen. Lois Wolk (D-Davis)
Berkeley Vice Mayor Linda Maio
The Sacramento School District Board and the Benicia Planning Commission
Numerous supporting documents were also submitted Monday, including examples of court rulings relevant to the question of federal pre-emption.
“We acknowledge that there is a key value for domestic energy production,” Don Saylor, a representative of the Yolo County Board of Supervisors and Sacramento Area Council’s board of directors, said. “That we depend on installations like the Valero refinery here in Benicia to power our economy. We also understand the federal role in railroad regulation. However, we have provided you with legal framework that we hope you consider, that points out your competing authority as a local, land use decision-making body.”
“The bodies that I represent are asking that you uphold the Planning Commission’s decision and deny the appeal before you,” he added.
Many of the concerns voiced at the hearing echoed those of previous hearings, including worn train tracks and heavy (over 150 tons each) crude-carrying trains, populations and environmentally sensitive areas within the “blast zone” that would be destroyed in the event of a derailment involving fire, air pollution from train exhaust, and traffic back-ups from Bayshore Road extending onto Interstate 680.
Concerns that stood out more Monday than they had at previous hearings, in the view of this reporter, included the long-term and widespread impact the Council’s decision will have for the state of California in general, and some particularly vulnerable populations lying in close vicinity to the tracks that would carry the crude-containing rail cars, including schools, homes and downtown areas.
The Final Environmental Impact Report (FEIR) is the document that contains reference to all of these concerns, along with the applicant’s (Valero’s) responses to most of them. It is a three-volume work that does not number its pages but adds up to a total of 5.25 inches of paper, printed on both sides. The document, as well as written and video documentation of City Council and Planning Commission meetings and hearings on the subject, are available to view online at the City of Benicia website, ci.benicia.us.ca or by request at the City Clerk’s office at City Hall, located at 250 East L St.
Repost from the Davis Enterprise [Editor: I know Lynne as a strong advocate against Valero’s Crude By Rail proposal. Her fair-minded coverage of both sides of the debate in this article is amazing and admirable. A good overview of the hearing on Monday. – RS]
Benicia hears oil-train concerns from Davisites
By Lynne Nittler, April 06, 2016
BENICIA — Davis was well-represented at a Benicia City Council hearing Monday for Valero Oil’s crude-by-rail project. Of the approximately 48 people who spoke, 12 came from Davis or Dixon, and another six were from Sacramento.
The speakers voiced their opposition to the oil company’s proposal to expand its refinery and accept 100 rail cars daily full of North American crude oil on a route that comes directly through downtown Davis.
The hearing continues with more public testimony tonight plus April 18 and 19 at the City Chambers in Benicia.
The evening began with a rally of those opposed to the project counter-balanced by a gathering of Valero workers and supporters of the project. A busload of 23 people from Sacramento stopped to pick up seven more in Davis, arriving just as the hearing began in the packed chambers.
Officials were allowed to speak first, beginning with Yolo County Supervisor Don Saylor, who also represented the Sacramento Area Council of Governments. He traced Yolo County’s effort over the past three years to communicate the serious safety concerns and to offer possible mitigation measures that were acknowledged but not addressed in the EIR.
He said 500,000 of the 2.4 million residents in the SACOG area — the counties of Yolo, Sacramento, Sutter, Yuba, Placer and El Dorado — live in the blast zone of the railroads, i.e., within a quarter-mile radius of the tracks. Of those, 260,000 are residents, 200,000 work in the area and 28,000 are students.
While acknowledging that Valero and its jobs are important, Saylor emphasized that this project “requires a shared commitment to protecting public safety.” He said the project should not be approved until the safety concerns are resolved.
Matt Jones of the Yolo Solano Air Quality Management District represented all seven districts that have responded jointly in writing to three versions of the environmental impact report for the Valero project. He said the EIR documents the impacts correctly, but fails to offer or respond to any mitigations, even when the Sacramento Metropolitan AQMD offered staff time to work out an off-site mitigation plan.
Jones reminded the Benicia council that San Luis Obispo County is examining a similar crude-by-rail proposal, and Phillips 66 has voluntarily offered such off-site mitigations.
Eric Lee, a city of Davis planner, made a plea for Benicia council members to uphold the decision of their Planning Commission, which voted on Feb. 11 not to certify the final environmental impact report and denied Valero’s permit.
He added that Davis believes that legally, the local jurisdictions are not pre-empted by federal rail regulations and that up-rail cities are entitled to have their comments addressed in the EIR.
He concluded by saying that the city of Benicia has a legal obligation to safeguard the public.
“I continue to be concerned about the Valero crude-by-rail project regarding the significant air quality impact,” state Sen. Lois Wolk, D-Davis, wrote in a letter to the Benicia council, read by her representative, Alex Pader. Wolk recommended specific steps, and if said they cannot be met, then the project should not move forward.
She reminded the council members that her own obligation is to protect the public from harm, which she has done with two pieces of legislation on oil-train safety, and said their obligation to safeguard the public is no less.
Marilyn Bardet, spokeswoman for Benicians for a Safe and Healthy Community, encouraged the council members to use their ethical judgment, and read all the material from the past years, plus what is pouring in now, to inform themselves at this crucial juncture in the decision-making process. She urged them to uphold the decision of the Planning Commission.
After a break, a mix of speakers pro (12) and con (16) spoke for up to five minutes each.
One Valero proponent said America has a tremendous thirst for oil; therefore, don’t we have a responsibility to produce it?
Jasmine Powell, a resident of Benicia, said Valero never risks its outstanding safety record as indicated by its high OSHA ratings.
Michael Wolfe, senior vice president of an engineering services firm, said California crude is increasingly scarce and Alaskan crude is running out as well. Valero is seeking to purchase North American oil to avoid importing more foreign oil. California already imports more foreign crude than any other state, Wolfe said.
Seven other Valero workers and supporters spoke of their trust in Valero’s high safety standards.
On the other side, Frances Burke of Davis spoke of the Planning Commission’s work as “epic,” and made an eloquent plea for the up-rail communities not to be dismissed as collateral damage.
Don Mooney , an environmental lawyer from Davis, said in his 25 years in environmental law, he had not seen a case with more uniform opposition, where so many have stood opposed for the same reasons.
Katherine Black simply read the list of officials and organizations opposing the project for five minutes, including all seven air quality management districts, all 22 cities and six counties who belong to SACOG, the California Office of Spill Prevention and Response and the California attorney general.
The Benicia City Council will hear more testimony tonight.