Editor: Reflections on Benicia’s Recirculation announcement

By Roger Straw, The Benicia Independent, Feb. 6, 2015

Valero_Crude_by_Rail-Project_Description_March_2013_(cover_page)On Feb. 3, the City of Benicia released a significant announcement, further delaying Valero’s proposal to begin shipping North American (Bakken and tar sands) crude oil in railroad tank cars:

The City has reviewed all of the comments submitted on the Draft EIR and has determined that sections of the Draft EIR will need to be updated and recirculated.  The anticipated release of the Recirculated Draft EIR for public comment is June 30, 2015.  The Recirculated Draft EIR will have a 45-day comment period.  After the comment period on the Recirculated DEIR closes, the City will complete the Final EIR which will include responses to all comments on the original Draft EIR and the Recirculated Draft EIR.

This is a victory for those of us who have openly and passionately opposed Valero’s proposal – a vindication of what we have been advocating all along.  The local opposition group, Benicians for a Safe and Healthy Community (BSHC), submitted a 132-page critique of the DEIR, disclosing multiple “fatal flaws” and calling for a revision and recirculation.  The City of Benicia seems to agree.

After the City’s failed attempt to rush the project’s approval in early 2013, it has been significantly slowed for critical analysis and public transparency.  The recirculation will further delay any possibility of approval.  Don’t hold your breath, but little “David” may just be winning a long and arduous battle with “Goliath.”

On the other hand, the decision to recirculate indicates that Valero and City staff are NOT backing off plans to seek a permit, as some had speculated they might.  The historic drop in crude oil prices; the resulting cutbacks in crude extraction in North Dakota; the uncertainty of impending new federal and state regulations and lawsuits surrounding those new regulations; vociferous local, regional and statewide opposition and severe critiques of the Draft EIR … none of these factors, nor all of them together seem enough to have backed Valero into a wait-and-see attitude.

Local conversation among Benicia residents following the recirculation announcement has been spirited with significant questions and concerns:

  • Many are questioning the City’s “selected” revision method–what sections of the DEIR are going to be revised, and what sections, if any, will go unchanged?  Is a “piecemeal” revision a wise approach?  Benicians for a Safe and Healthy Community (BSHC) and other government agencies & NGOs have found serious deficiencies in ALL sections of the DEIR (see highly critical reviews and the BSHC critique).  Surely the City should address ALL the concerns expressed by the California State Attorney General and the other government agencies and NGO’s.  The City must have a solid EIR with full, honest disclosure of impacts of this project.
  • Critics have raised serious concerns about the ability of the current consulting team to complete the task of revising a DEIR that can withstand legal scrutiny given the extremely poor original product.  Given the badly flawed analysis and obvious bias in favor of the project demonstrated by the consultants, it might be prudent for the City to hire a different consultant.
  • Many Benicians continue to believe that if the DEIR disclosed the true extent of the environmental impacts and safety risks of this project it could never be built.

So Benicians still have work to do.  Maybe take a bit of a break between now and June, but PLEASE don’t quit writing letters, gathering signatures, putting up yard signs, canvassing, petitioning, keeping informed, and supporting nearby Bay Area refinery communities and important uprail efforts.  Stay in touch!