Tag Archives: Benicia Planning Commission

LATEST: Valero Crude By Rail FINAL Environmental Impact Report likely to be released early January

By Roger Straw, The Benicia Independent, December 18, 2015

Latest: Valero Crude By Rail FINAL Environmental Impact Report likely to be released early January

Benicia, California

During staff comments at the conclusion of the December 10, 2015 meeting of the Benicia Planning Commission, Principal Planner Amy Million offered an update on the Valero Crude By Rail proposal.

Currently, the City’s consultants are preparing the Final Draft of the Environmental Impact Report (FEIR), including responses to public comments.

Ms. Million reported that staff had hoped the FEIR would be completed by end of this year, but that it looks like it will be another week or two into January before it is released.

According to Million, “No date has been set for the FEIR/Use Permit,” but she confirms that there will NOT be public hearings on the project at the Commission’s January 14 meeting.

That said, the law allows a MINIMUM of only 10 days between release of the document and a public hearing and decision.  Million is on record saying the City will provide “more than that.”

At any rate, I am guessing that we should be ready for hearings in early February, March at the latest if there are no unexpected delays.

For more information, see:

“Uprail” government agencies critical of Valero Benicia environmental report

Repost from the Fairfield Daily Republic

Safety still a primary concern with Valero rail transport plan

By Kevin W. Green, November 07, 2015
The Valero oil refinery operates, Friday, Sept. 25, 2015, in Benicia.  (Steve Reczkowski/Daily Republic file)
The Valero oil refinery operates, Friday, Sept. 25, 2015, in Benicia. (Steve Reczkowski/Daily Republic file)

FAIRFIELD — Most of those who provided formal comments on the revised draft environmental impact report for the Valero crude-by-rail project in Benicia focused on a need for increased safety and possible mitigation measures.

The city of Benicia Planning Department received plenty of input leading up to last week’s deadline for submitting written comments on the revised report.

The proposed project would allow Valero to transport crude oil to its Benicia refinery on two 50-car freight trains daily on Union Pacific tracks that come right through downtown Davis on their way to Benicia. The trains also pass through Dixon, Fairfield and Suisun City.

The rail shipments would replace up to 70,000 barrels per day of crude oil currently transported to the refinery by ship, according to city documents. The Valero refinery would continue to receive crude by pipeline, the city said.

Among the written comments submitted on the revised impact report was an eight-page response from the Sacramento Area Council of Governments. The agency responded on behalf of the 22 cities and six counties in its jurisdiction, including the city of Davis and Yolo County.

“Our earlier letter expressed grave concern that the DEIR concluded that crude oil shipments by rail pose no ‘significant hazard’ to our communities, and we urged the city of Benicia to revise the DEIR to fully inform decision-makers and the public of the potential risks of the project,” SACOG said in its remarks.

The agency’s response included a list of eight measures its board of directors indicated that, at a minimum, should be followed.

Those directives include advance notification to county and city emergency operations offices of all crude oil shipments; limits on storage of crude oil tank cars in urbanized areas of any size; and appropriate security for all shipments.

Other directives outlined need for support, including full-cost funding for training and outfitting emergency response crews; and use of freight cars with electronically controlled pneumatic brakes, rollover protection and other features that mitigate what the agency believes are the risks associated with crude oil shipments.

Finally, the agency calls for the implementation of Positive Train Control to prioritize areas with crude oil shipments.

Solano County Resource Management Director Bill Emlen, a former Davis city manager, noted in his response that he had no specific comment on the revised report, but that the county stands behind its initial remarks about the original draft report.

In those remarks, dated Sept. 8, 2014, Emlen said the county wanted more done to address potential derailments.

The original draft EIR admitted the project “could pose significant hazard to the public or the environment,” but minimized the chances of that happening.

“Although the consequences of such a release are potentially severe, the likelihood of such a release is very low,” the report said.

Emlen disagreed that the accident risks associated with the crude-by-rail proposal are “less than significant” without mitigation.

Valero plans to use a type of tank car designated as CPC-1232 to transport oil between Roseville and Benicia and there will be a 40 mph speed limit through federally designated “high-threat urban areas,” including cities along the route, according to the draft report.

Emlen said it appears Valero’s use of the CPC-1232 tank cars is voluntary, rather than mandatory. He also pointed out that the federal designation for high-threat urban areas extends only 10 miles east of Vallejo and 10 miles west of Sacramento, which leaves out most of Solano County.

Emlen cited a derailment and spill that took place in Virginia with a train using CPC-1232 tank cars and traveling 23 mph.

“Therefore, the use of CPC-1232 tank cars at low speeds does not alone mitigate the potential impact from a train derailment,” he said.

Other cities that submitted a written response on the revised draft included Davis, Albany, Gridley and Briggs. Other counties that responded included Yolo, Placer and Nevada counties.

An original draft EIR was issued for the project in June 2014. Benicia said it issued the revised draft EIR in response to requests made in that original report. The city released the revised document Aug. 31 for a 45-day review period. It later extended the deadline for submitting written comments from Oct. 16 to Oct. 30.

The Benicia Planning Commission also gathered public input on the revised document at a Sept. 29 meeting.

The Valero project involves the installation of a new railcar unloading rack, rail track spurs, pumps, pipeline and associated infrastructure at the refinery, according to a city report. The crude would originate at sites in North America.

Union Pacific Railroad would transport it using existing rail lines to Roseville, and from there to the refinery, the city said.

Benicia Mayor: Public comment period closed – now what?

From an email by Benicia California Mayor Elizabeth Patterson
November 5, 2015


Public Comment Period Closed on Recirculated Draft Environmental Impact Report for Valero Proposed Crude by Rail Project. 

What happens next?

Last week the extended Valero Crude by Rail Recirculated Draft Environmental Impact Report (RDEIR) public comment period closed.  People are asking, “now what?”.

Following are some of the scenarios that could happen.  The list is in no way indicative of my thoughts or opinions and I have not asked for validation of any of the following scenarios by city staff.  But the list does represent some of the questions and scenarios being asked by the public.  I anticipate these kinds of questions will be raised at the Planning Commission hearing on the FEIR and project.  I take full responsibility for any errors and will correct such in future e-Alert update on Crude by Rail.


1.  The staff and environmental consultants will estimate the work needed to respond to all the comments on both the original draft EIR and the RDEIR and advise the applicant.  If applicant agrees to proceed, the responses will be in the Final Environmental Impact Report  for consideration by the Planning Commission.

Or the applicant could appeal the staff decision.  I believe the appeal would be heard by the Planning Commission.  If they agreed with staff, the applicant could appeal to Council seeking relief from the staff and PC decision.  There would be no work done until the appeal is heard or the applicant agrees to fund the response document.  Read further for other permutations of further “delay”.

2.  If applicant agrees to proceed, the responses will be in the Final Environmental Impact Report  for consideration by the Planning Commission.

The public can comment at the Planning Commission FEIR hearing or in writing prior to the public hearing.  Generally, good practice is  staff (consultants) respond at the FEIR hearing which can be verbal or the item can be continued for written response though technically this is not like the draft EIR process.

Staff, consultants and outside attorney would prepare findings to be considered by the Planning Commission.  In the past for other projects the city sometimes has provided both possibilities for findings:  findings that the FEIR is adequate or findings that it is not.  The Planning Commission can find the FEIR adequate to decide on the project.  The Planning Commission could find that the FEIR is an adequate – though not a perfect assessment of the physical effects on the environment – and approve or deny the project.

The Planning Commission could find that the FEIR is not adequate for a decision to approve or deny.

Conventional wisdom is that either decision would be appealed.

3.  There can be an appeal at any step described above including decisions by staff and Planning Commission.  Appeals of staff go to the Planning Commission and their decision can be appealed to the City Council.  If any appeal moves forward, the City Council would have public hearing on any of the staff decisions and/or Planning Commission regarding the FEIR and the project.  The City Council could uphold the decisions of the staff and/or Planning Commission as in scenario #2 or not.

Depending on these actions and decisions there could be legal action.  Until legally decided, there would be no work done to advance the project process and staff time and effort would be to respond to legal action.

5.  Some experts and written opinions from the federal Surface Transportation Board and some legal opinions assert that if the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) causes undue delay in rail transportation, that the feds could act preemptively and “overrule” CEQA.  Others suggest that that does not apply to local land use permits.  Others may have more information on how this process would work.

6.  City Council could certify the FEIR and deny or approve the project.  Conventional wisdom is that there would be a lawsuit challenging the decision based on CEQA and local permitting process.  The city is indemnified by the agreement with the applicant, meaning the applicant pays for all legal defense.  Some lead agencies hire the defense attorneys and the applicant pays for the defense.  Other lead agencies have been known to let the applicant choose the attorneys and pay directly for the defense.  The city is the lead agency.

7.  The applicant chooses not to pay for the defense of the CEQA document and land use permit law suit.  City stops the processing and defense.  There is a time factor involved in CEQA lawsuits.

The best place to get accurate current information on the process is with staff.  To get started, click here.  Another source is the Benicia Independent which is editorially opposed to the Crude by Rail project and selective about letters but does provide links that are easier to access.  It is also a comprehensive source of current news.  There is no comparable site in favor of Crude by Rail.  Stay tune for developments in this area.

A flurry of exceptional – and very personal – letters opposing Valero Crude By Rail

[Editor:  Below are a few recent letters opposing Valero Crude By Rail, each exceptional and highly personal in its approach (by Rob Peters, Sue Kibbe, David Jenkins, Elizabeth Lasensky and Ruby Wallis).  For more, see Project Review.  – RS]

Rob Peters, Benicia, October 24, 2015, published in the Benicia Herald on October 27, 2015:

Ms. Amy Million:

I’m no scientist — and couldn’t add anything more to the data-fueled reasons and measurable metrics as to why this singular gamble from Valero Inc. is too dangerous, defiant and inimical to the town we have all worked in, shopped, played, bragged about and raised families in.  Benicia is indeed a special jewel of a town that simply should not be in competition with other towns that seem so wedded to heavy industrial output that they soon become known and degraded primarily for that association:    That simply is not the image, future and profile that Benicians could possibly want. Nor, on balance, is it a healthy, sustainable economic image for a town.

A few observations:  We are in the midst of a flat, receding marketplace for petroleum products world wide;  who would refuse to cringe when contemplating the inevitable growth of land, sea and air-borne pollutants and toxics and the enormous 24-7 risks inherent in shipping such combustible, toxic substances through both our town and our many neighboring communities; and whenever we hear the crackled cough of a youngster or an elder who has asthma, we can afford to take Valero’s proposal in a civil way — but not at all in a serious way.   Theirs is merely a cheap, ugly and unproven method to fatten their monetary output — benefiting a sliver of higher ups in the Texan conglomerate — while putting all of us, our visitors, schools, parks and businesses and our neighbors along the route — in permanent fear and disgust over their crude-oil fantasy trains.

I encourage you to utilize your considerable depth and breadth of knowledge of our town and its peoples, and hope you vote to refuse adoption of the Valero scheme; and rather, vote to safeguard the entire population of this town, young and old, and those populations adjacent to us.

Rob Peters, Benicia, CA.

Sue Kibbe, Benicia, October 23, 2015, yet to be posted on the City website:

To: Benicia Planning Commission

Re. RDEIR for Valero Benicia Crude-by-Rail Project

As Grant Cooke said, “There is no historical basis to assume there will be no accident.” (September 29, 2015, Planning Commission public hearing)

Double negatives give me pause, but this is so perfectly obvious. There will be accidents, always have been and always will be. Regardless of risk projections, reinforced tank cars, speed limits, track inspections and all good intentions — there will be human error, mechanical failure, bad weather, bad timing, bad luck, rock slides, earthquakes, wear and tear of tracks and trestles never built to carry 7,150 tons twice a day, day after day, year after year. There is the danger posed by “Local Safety Hazard Sites” along the proposed rail routes, with high frequencies of derailments. And there is any combination of these factors that can result in fire, destruction, air and habitat contamination, loss of life.

Not to suggest that we be paralyzed by fear of accidents, just that we acknowledge and weigh the risks against the benefits. So, are there any benefits to the city and citizens of Benicia?

Not to any business in the Industrial Park, where 730 trains per year will be spewing pollution — NOx and carbon monoxide and  particulate matter — directly within the euphemistically named “Park.” Where 8.3-minute estimated delays in traffic will be every-day, four-times-a-day aggravations. Where the risk of working in the Blast Zone will be highest. The Industrial Park, the “engine of Benicia,” will find it difficult to attract and keep businesses and workers.

Certainly not to the homeowners of Benicia, who will see their property values decrease and their air pollution increase. Mark DeSaulnier (U.S. House of Representatives for Contra Costa County and a former member of the California Air Resources Board) recently wrote in the San Francisco Chronicle: “California already has the worst air quality in the nation, with 7,200 deaths a year associated with air pollution.”

There are no benefits to up-rail communities, nor to wildlife, sensitive habitats, wetlands, water resources — essentially, the environment in all its natural beauty and diversity — as the RDEIR clearly documents. The negative impacts are, without exception, “Significant and unavoidable,” with no mitigation available. CEQA’s thresholds for greenhouse gas precursors (NOx) are exceeded in every up-rail county; this is illegal, unacceptable and unconscionable.

To deliberately disregard and violate California’s air quality regulations is to endanger our neighbors to the north and bring shame upon our fair city. From these findings, it would appear that the RDEIR cuts a clear pathway to rejection of Valero’s crude-by-rail project.

But not so fast. . . Valero contends that CEQA is preempted by sacrosanct interstate commerce and the federal government, specifically by the Interstate Commerce Commission Termination Act of 1995: “. . . even if the City attempted to control railroad activity by controlling the Valero facility, such effort would be preempted” (Appendix H-5). So has this DEIR been undertaken under false pretenses right from the start, merely to give the illusion of environmental concern?

I find it hypocritical that Valero selectively applies CEQA thresholds to this project when it is to the refinery’s benefit. In calculating the air quality impact in the BAAQMD — the huge area surrounding the entire SF Bay, encompassing Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Napa and southern Solano and Sonoma counties — Valero touts the “improvements” to air quality from the reduction in marine vessels traversing the Bay. As I described in my letter regarding the DEIR (August 13, 2014), this is a completely deceptive manipulation of the numbers. By reducing emissions in the vast BAAQMD, Valero can increase by 18,433 metric tons per year the emissions right here in Benicia. The selective use of CEQA should not be ignored — abiding by the law when it allows the project to proceed with mitigation, but disavowing CEQA when air quality will be significantly degraded, with no available mitigation.

It is time for a moratorium on crude-by-rail in California. The cumulative impact of these hazardous rail shipments, the increase in greenhouse gases and pollution, and the violation of CEQA standards must be assessed by the state, not in piecemeal fashion from one refinery to the next. If the ICCTA (enacted long before crude-by-rail was a national safety concern) is invoked by Valero, the question of crude-by-rail through California should go to the Attorney General’s office and the courts, as the repercussions are far reaching for the entire state and go beyond the boundaries and purview of our small, still lovely city by the Bay.

Finally, we cannot pretend that we are not participants in the devastation of the boreal forests of Alberta and the farmland of North Dakota if we allow crude-by-rail to continue.  I ask that you view the attached aerial photographs to understand the impact that crude oil extraction has on North America. And I close with another quotation, this regarding global climate change, from the 2015 encyclical of Pope Francis:

“We know that technology based on the use of highly polluting fossil fuels needs to be progressively replaced without delay. . . The natural environment is a collective good, the patrimony of all humanity and the responsibility of everyone. . . Many things have to change course, but it is we human beings above all who need to change. We lack an awareness of our common origin, of our mutual belonging and of a future to be shared with everyone.”

Thank you,
Sue Kibbe, Benicia

David Jenkins, Benicia Industrial Park business owner, October 21, 2015, posted on the City’s website:

Dear Mrs. Million,

I am writing to express deep concern over Valera’s proposed oil train offloading facility in Benicia.  According to the EIR, this project would create several “significant and unavoidable impacts” that could devastate our community.

Bringing oil trains into Benicia will create unacceptable increases in toxic air pollution for communities all along the rail route and near the refinery. The EIR identifies several significant and unavoidable air impacts from toxins and known carcinogens including increased pollution from NOx, sulfur dioxide, PM 2.5, and benzene.

According to the EIR, the cumulative risk of spills, explosions, and fires along the UPRR mainline “and the storage yard would be significant for all of the tank car designs,” including the not-yet-built DOT-117 cars. Such a disaster could result in significant loss of life, long-term economic loss, and contamination of our precious wetlands and waterways. This level of risk is also unacceptable.

The exhibit attached clearly indicates a un avoidable risk to the property I own and operate as a truck rental and service facility , to the extent of making my property worthless for re-sale at a future time .This unconceivable risk causes my real estate to be perhaps un-useable due to a risk of being incinerated should the worst case scenario take place.

The EIR also assumes the “worst case” scenario is a spill of 8 tanker cars, or about 240,000 gallons. The train that incinerated Lac-Megantic, Quebec in July 2013 spilled over 1.6 million gallons of crude, or about 60 tanker cars. The EIR must assume a worst case scenario that reflects existing data on recent spills. Without an accurate worst case scenario analysis, this project can not be approved.

The revised EIR identifies “significant and unavoidable” climate impacts that conflict with California’s existing climate law mandating the state move to an 80% reduction of greenhouse gas by 2050. At a time when wildfires are raging and the drought is more dire than ever, it is imperative we invest in safe, clean energy rather than extreme oil infrastructure.

For all these reasons, I respectfully urge the Planning Commission and City Council to not certify this EIR and reject Valero’s proposed oil train terminal in Benicia.

David Jenkins
Nor Cal truck Sales and Rental, Benicia

Elizabeth Lasensky, Davis CA, October 20, 2015, posted on the City’s website:

Dear Ms. Million:

Regarding the Valerio Refinery request for bringing oil trains into Benicia, please add the following comment to the public record:

The Valerio Refinery project will create relatively few jobs. Yet those jobs are being held up as a reason to support the refinery’s request to bring oil trains along thousands of miles of tracks from their origins in North Dakota to the City of Benicia. Could the City of Benicia please explain why those relatively few jobs are so important and the jobs, health and lives of all the people who live, go to school, play and work along the thousands of miles of tracks are worth so little?  Those of us uprail from the project will not see the benefits of those jobs but millions of us – and the environment- carry the risk.

Thank you,
Elizabeth Lasensky, Davis CA

Ruby Wallis, Benicia, October 17, 2015, posted on the City’s website:

Dear Amy…. I DO NOT WANT THOSE DANGEROUS TOXIC OIL TRAINS IN BENICIA. And also that crap being refined in Benicia. I have worked at Valero Refinery as a pipe welder. I know they don’t fix anything until something goes wrong. It’s all about the money. And also, Valero never hires local union  members. They would rather hire contractors from out of state. Haven’t you noticed the out of state welding rigs that drive around town with license plates from Texas OK, and Oregon? I always talk to them. They take the money and drive back to the
states they’re from.

I know a friend who worked at Valero when it was built. He told me that he is surprised it hasn’t blow up yet!!!! It’s an accident waiting to happen!! WHY SUBJECT THE PEOPLE TO WORSE AIR ETC.? The people of Benicia do not want this crap!!!


Listen to the people Amy, and not Valero!!

Ruby Wallis
Retired pipe welder