Benicia Herald: Wolk questions draft DEIR adequacy

Repost from The Benicia Herald

Wolk questions draft DEIR adequacy

June 20, 2014 by Donna Beth Weilenman

While State Senator Lois Wolk said Benicia residents and others were “wise to demand” an Environmental Impact Report on the proposed Valero Crude-By-Rail project, she said the document may not have addressed risks adequately.

Wolk, a Davis Democrat, represents Benicia in the State Senate.

The Draft Environmental Impact Report (Draft EIR) was released to the public Tuesday, and those interested have 45 days to submit comments and observations about the document. Benicia Planning Commission also will take public comment July 10, but will not vote on the document until comments have been addressed and incorporated into the document, and it’s presented as a final EIR.

“I seriously question whether the EIR has adequately evaluated the true risk of an accident or a spill involved with this project,” Wolk said.

“In the past year, there have been six major incidents across North America where rail accidents resulted in millions of gallons of spilled crude oil,” she said.

“Yet the EIR estimates the risk of oil train spills between Roseville and Benicia would be about only once per 111 years? That defies logic and is a risky assumption based on recent experience,” she said.

“It only takes one minor mishap to cause a major accident or spill and potentially catastrophic impacts to the heavily populated communities through which these trains will run,” she said

Wolk said the EIR also highlights that emissions from the increase in rail traffic in the area resulting from this project would have a significant but avoidable effect on the air quality in the Sacramento basin.

“Given the risk from possible spills and accidents involving this hazardous cargo and the project’s anticipated effect on air quality, I urge the City of Benicia, Valero, and Union Pacific to work with the community to implement extraordinary safety measures to guarantee public safety if this project moves forward,” Wolk said.

“In light of this proposal, I am authoring legislation, Senate Bill 506, with Senator Jerry Hill to provide funding to help communities like Benicia provide adequate emergency response to accidents and spills involving rail transports of crude oil and other hazardous materials,” Wolk said.

The project would extend Union Pacific rails on Valero Benicia Refinery property and make other changes to let the company accept up to 70,000 barrels of crude oil each day from North American sources by way of tanker trains.

The oil would replace crude that is brought in from overseas by tanker ship.

The project doesn’t change the refinery’s operations, or allow the plant to increase production beyond the current limits.

The report found that most possible impacts would be averted or modified by preventive or mitigating practices, and that any increase in greenhouse gas emissions from train traffic in the Bay Area would be more than compensated by the reduction in similar emissions by reduction of shipping traffic.

It acknowledged that derailment and spills could have significant impact, but calculated that those risks were minimal and noted that Valero intends to buy or lease cars that are stronger than those that meet current Department of Transportation standards.

It also described the Valero refinery’s own emergency response teams, that of Union Pacific and those who would provide mutual aid in case of an accident.

However, it noted that additional rail traffic would contribute to air pollution from Roseville to the Bay Area, and those emissions wouldn’t be offset by reduced shipping.

“California needs to keep in step with the significant increase in shipments of these dangerous materials in order to respond to the growing risk to California’s citizens,” Wolk said.