CSX letter supports federal pre-emption of local regulation, including authority over non-rail-related permits

By Roger Straw, July 5, 2016

CSX Railroad files letter with STB in support of Valero Crude by Rail

CSX letter

On July 1, the City of Benicia received a copy of a letter from CSX` Railroad to the DOT’s Surface Transportation Board (STB).  The letter, released to the public today, supports Valero Refinery’s request for an STB declaratory order which would address the permitting authority of local and state governments over projects on non-railroad properties when a project involves transport of goods by rail.

CSX is the 3rd largest railroad in North America, after Union Pacific and BNSF.  The CSX letter exposes their vested interest in the matter:

The ICC Termination Act (“ICCTA”) was passed to “prevent a patchwork of local regulation from interfering with interstate commerce.”…But state and local governments are now testing the scope of ICCTA preemption with rules, permitting conditions, or other actions that indirectly affect railroads. While indirect, this practice still has the effect of creating a patchwork of inconsistent and disruptive regulation.

Note CSX’ clear reference to indirect regulation.  As Benicia Planning Commissioner Steve Young, environmental attorneys and others have pointed out, federal preemption of indirect regulation is an untested point of law.

Valero is not a railroad, and its proposed crude oil offloading rack is on Valero property within the City of Benicia. Valero, Union Pacific, CSX, Tesoro, along with other rail and oil industry activists and their allies want to extend their power to limit local and state authority. This is unprecedented.  The City of Benicia has every right – and responsibility – under its police and permitting powers to regulate land use on behalf of its citizens’ health and safety.

Note that in petitioning the STB, CSX, like Valero and the others, makes absolutely no reference to, nor shows any interest in the health and safety of California’s wildlands or communities.  This is all about the freedom of big business to do as it likes in pursuit of profit.

By petitioning the STB, Valero has thrust the City of Benicia squarely into what will surely become a litigated test case, perhaps rising all the way to the US Supreme Court.  Benicia’s staff and tax-supported finances will suffer years of time, effort and expense.

Benicia’s City Council can steer clear of this mess by denying the permit for Valero’s proposed project based on the many non-rail-related, local environmental impacts that have been brought to light in the last 3 years’ review.