Letter from railroad attorneys to Governor Brown: in effect, ‘You can do nothing’

Letter from Union Pacific & BNSF attorneys to Governor Brown

By Roger Straw, Editor, The Benicia Independent

On September 15, 2014, San Francisco Baykeeper offered highly critical comments to the City of Benicia on Valero’s Draft EIR. With their comments, Baykeeper attached a VERY interesting letter from attorneys for the two railroads that operate in California, claiming that preemption under The Federal Rail Safety Act and the Interstate Commerce Commission Termination Act render the State of California pretty much helpless in protecting against oil spill prevention and emergency response.

The letter specifically holds that the Federal Clean Water Act is useless as a preemption workaround.

Addressed to Dana Williamson, Cabinet Secretary in Governor Brown’s office and dated July 3, 2014, the letter addresses issues discussed in a June 18, 2014 meeting between Ms. Williamson and the lawfirm Latham & Watkins.   The letter is signed by Maureen E. Mahoney of Latham & Watkins LLP, Counsel for Union Pacific Railroad Co. and BNSF Railway Co.

Note that this document is lawyer-talk, and I am not versed in legalese, so I hope my interpretation in the previous paragraph is accurate.  I’m advised by a local activist attorney that the document is significant, so am posting it here to highlight the rail industry’s views and their efforts to influence decision-makers in Benicia and elsewhere in California.