Martinez Gazette op ed: Wait a minute

Repost from The Martinez Gazette

Martinez Environmental Group: Wait a minute

By Guy Cooper | June 5, 2014

Several local refinery permits and associated Environmental Impact Reports (EIRs) are currently pending approval. For instance, Westpac in Pittsburg wants to receive, store and distribute explosive Bakken and toxic tar sands crude-by-rail at an old PG&E tank farm right next to homes and schools.

The Valero refinery in Benicia wants to bring to town daily 100 car unit trains of the same. Phillips 66 seeks to increase their volatiles storage and transportation in Rodeo and also enormously expand crude-by-rail traffic through our rail corridor to feed their San Luis Obispo facility. Finally, Shell wants to revamp the Martinez refinery to process lighter, sweeter crudes like Bakken. They will ship crude by rail from North Dakota to Bakersfield then by pipeline to Martinez, or by rail from North Dakota to a Washington State marine terminal that will load tankers bound for Martinez. Other plans are in the works.

So the debates ensue. I’d like to frame the discussions in a different context.

A common way to compare corporate apples to country oranges is by looking at corporate revenues as compared to national gross domestic product (GDP). According to the Fortune 500, the combined parent corporate revenues of the five major refiners in this area – Valero, Chevron, Shell, Phillips 66 and Tesoro – was $1.1 trillion in 2013. That ranked them 16th of 187 countries in the world in GDP according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF). If California was a country it would be 8th in the world, at over $2 trillion. You might imagine that the economic power of Contra Costa County and Martinez ranked somewhat lower.

So, Mr. Big Oil, would you say we have a level playing field?

  • At public hearings, you have Power Point presentations. We have pieces of paper.
  • You meet in corporate back rooms. We meet in neighborhood back yards.
  • You have professional political operatives. We operate with volunteer political naiveté.
  • You sponsor political junkets and infomercials. We do flyers and lawn signs.
  • You have a PR budget. We pass the hat for printing.
  • You have PACs. We have potlucks.

According to Citizens United and the Supreme Court, we are equal. I think not.

The EIR process, despite the original best of intentions, is skewed in your favor.

You get to frame the discussion with the help of consultants, lobbyists and lawyers. Fly in whomever you need. Your political relationships are built on bucks, your policies on billions.

Your vast assets steer the political discourse, whether through direct political contributions, lobbying to de-fund government oversight and regulation, or by endowing non-think-tanks and pseudo-public forums that aim to skew legitimate science towards your view.

Our interests are more than what you narrowly consider to be of public concern. We value social, ethical, moral, esthetic, environmental, family, property, public health and safety issues that go beyond your narrow economic focus.

We live here.

So who gets to call the shots?

The trains, or the towns the trains run through? The refiners and oil producers, or the communities in their midst?

Who should pay for oil industry impacts? The locals that bear the brunt, or the producers that reap the billions?

I’m sorry, but if we don’t like your proposals, as local residents/citizens, we have a right to reject them. We have to work hard to overcome your advantage, but … the Supreme Court has spoken, Mr. Citizens United. You get your vote, we get the rest.

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