ROGER STRAW: STOP Valero’s dirty and dangerous Crude By Rail proposal

By Roger Straw, April 13, 2016
[Editor: The following article was submitted to the editor of the Benicia Herald, referencing recent pro-Valero letters published there.  – RS]

STOP Valero’s dirty and dangerous Crude By Rail proposal

The latest flurry of pro-crude-by-oil letters published in the Benicia Herald contained unwarranted attacks on local opponents of Valero’s Crude By Rail project. The claims were false, self-serving and blind to the factual realities of pollution and safety hazards that should result in denial of Valero’s proposal.

On Sunday, Valero employee John Lazorik attacked opponents repeatedly, discounting the public’s legitimate fear of increasing pollution and catastrophic explosions, referring to the overwhelming opposition as “irrelevant,” and claiming to know that our motivations are impure. In four different sections of his full page letter, he dismissed and belittled the tireless work of Planning Commissioner Steve Young, writing off his probing questions and detailed inquiry as “soundbites” and calling him a “ringleader for promoting disrespect.” Mr. Young respectfully disagreed with staff, pointed out the fatal flaws of the environmental report and disagreed with arguments that would weaken the City’s ability to provide for the public’s health and safety. All five of the other Planning Commissioners studied the documents, heard testimony, and offered their own similar critiques, resulting in a unanimous vote against the project. Benicia Herald readers – and our City Council – should read Mr. Lazorik with a pretty big dose of skepticism.

On Wednesday, Valero employee Duayne Weiler wrote that “90 percent of the negative pushback by mostly those outside of Benicia has been on rail traffic outside the refinery.” This is simply not true – on two counts. Just look at the 1200 Benicia residents’ signatures on a petition and listen to the testimony of 32 Benicia residents who spoke opposing the project at last weeek’s hearings. LOCAL Benicians began organizing to oppose Valero’s dirty and dangerous project in 2013. I was there – I’m one of the small group of Benicia friends who gathered to discuss it in March of that year, and who have persevered. Secondly, note that we have ALWAYS focused on pollution as well as explosive derailments, and have ALWAYS pointed out local onsite hazards as well as uprail hazards. Our local efforts were joined later on by outside forces who care about their communities and a healthy climate. The presence and testimony of outsiders is something I am personally grateful for and proud of. Our local work has been proven and strengthened by the voices of residents, experts and officials in Sacramento, Davis, the Bay Area, throughout California and beyond.

In another letter on Wednesday, John Potter wrote of “vitriol and fabrications that have been a part of this…process.” When a permitting process as profoundly significant as this one goes public, there are bound to be raised voices and individuals who transgress the bounds of civility – on both sides. But to characterize the entire opposition to Valero Crude By Rail in this way is to play dirty politics. The work of local organizers has been studious, detailed, fact-based and direct.

Mr. Potter concludes with a statement supporting the oft-repeated and as yet unsubstantiated claim that City Council may not consider issues beyond Valero’s borders due to federal law. Opponents have indeed raised serious questions about uprail impacts, as has the environmental report. There are, however, enough significant local, onsite hazardous impacts to allow Council to withhold a permit. To deny the project based on these onsite issues would indirectly protect our uprail neighbors from the pollution and catastrophic risks associated with Valero’s proposal. We believe that the City’s supposed inability to consider railroad hazards beyond Valero’s border could itself be considered an important reason to deny the permit.

Everyone should plan to attend next Monday’s City Council meeting, 7pm at City Hall. Anyone who has not yet spoken may do so at that time. And our silent presence will stand as a strong signal to Council members to do the right thing: STOP Valero’s dirty and dangerous Crude By Rail proposal.

Roger Straw