BENICIA HERALD LETTER: Too many ‘hitches’ to crude by rail

Repost from the Benicia Herald
[Editor:  No link is provided for this letter because the Benicia Herald does not publish Letters in its online edition. – RS]

Too many ‘hitches’ to crude by rail

By Jan Cox-Golovich, September 9, 2015, Benicia Herald

“When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.” – John Muir

And so it is with the Valero Crude-by-Rail Project.  When it was first presented to the community two years ago, we were told that is would be a simple railway expansion without any environmental impacts at all; that was simply untrue. We quickly discovered that this project would have profound effects locally, regionally, nationally and world-wide.

Our local economy has been “hitched” to the refinery for 50 years;  this 19th century industry is becoming obsolete in a state moving towards reducing greenhouse gases by 80% in 2050, while government and market forces transition to clean energy.  California is suffering from the most devastating drought in its history and the refinery uses almost half of our water.  The drought has been exacerbated by the hottest year on record, which in turn has been exacerbated by climate change, which in turn is caused by the burning of fossil fuels.   This “hitches” back to the refinery where 600 “other” businesses in the Industrial Park will, on a good day, experience transportation woes and worsening air quality because of the daily oil deliveries and — on a bad day — will be risking everything by virtue of being in the oil blast zone.

The Crude By Rail project is “hitched” to 1,700 miles of antiquated, dilapidated rail line, moving hazardous cargo from Canadian tar sands and North Dakota Bakken fracked oil fields to the Valero refinery, exposing millions to the dangers of explosions, fires, derailments, spills and permanent environmental damage to their land, water and air.  Many up-rail folks have made the trek down to City Hall to beg us not to do this to them.  This is an ethical “hitch” that we cannot deny or justify.

On a global scale, this project is “hitched” to the utter destruction of the boreal forest in Alberta and the fracking process ravaging North Dakota, where foul-smelling wastewater ponds are threatening agricultural land, animals, the water supply and human health, and where toxic methane gas flares light up the night sky as bright as any American city on the Google night map.  Scientists say the continued extraction of these extreme fuels is “game over” for the planet and human life upon it.   The Pope’s recent encyclical has “hitched” climate change to a moral imperative:  trade in our short-sighted greed for an alternative path to save our children and life on earth.

John Muir, naturalist, visionary and Martinez neighbor, spoke words that resonate with us today.  Benicia is “hitched” to the rest of the world.  We don’t live in a bubble where a town of 28,000 people can make decisions based on short-term financial gain at the expense of endangering human lives or contributing to the destruction of forests, waterways and the atmosphere, just because they are out of our sight.  Our provincial days are over; time for Benicia to reject crude by rail.

Jan Cox Golovich
Former City Councilmember