Tag Archives: Martinez Environmental Group (MEG)

Letter: Bay Area Air Board needs to step up for cleaner air

Repost from the Vallejo Times-Herald

Where our mayor, supervisor stand

By Michelle Pellegrin, 08/04/16, 4:09 PM PDT

There are 24 people in the Bay Area with the power to regulate the air we breathe. Their decisions cause or reduce asthma, cancer and other illnesses that can and have resulted in death.

This regional board has so much power to affect peoples’ lives and deaths, yet most people haven’t even heard of this agency with the unwieldy name: The Bay Area Air Quality Management District — or BAAQMD.

The 24 members of this board — which includes Vallejo Mayor Osby Davis — have a mandate to protect public health.

The neighborhoods around the refineries have suffered severe health effects from emissions. The 2012 Chevron toxic explosion and fire in Richmond sent more than 15,000 people to the hospital, which is now closed. A broad coalition of Bay Area groups would like to see refinery emissions, which have continuously gone up for the past 20 years, capped and then methods found to reduce harmful emissions. The first step in this process is an Environmental Impact Report (EIR).

On Wednesday, July 20, after four long years and several refinery incidents, the board, in a room with standing room only, was to vote on this. What appeared as a simple slam dunk became a political football between clean air advocates and Big Oil.

Bay Area refineries have been preparing to process heavier dirtier crudes, which will increase emissions and their diseases. The wave of Crude By Rail (CBR) of proposed projects, such as the Valero Benicia CBR project, are designed to facilitate the importation of extreme crudes, such volatile oil from the Bakken fields and volatile heavy crude from the Canadian Tar Sands.

BAAQMD staff, in what can only be seen as another move to interminably delay implementing modern and necessary emission standards on Bay Area refineries, supported combining the simpler refinery emission cap EIR with a complex EIR on toxic chemical emissions for up to 900 businesses.

Bay Area refinery corridor communities and their allied cities want the EIRs to be conducted separately, as the EIR on refineries can be done much more quickly than the more complex toxic chemical EIR because it requires no infrastructure changes. They want answers and relief from the constant health problems they are suffering.

And here is where our mayor stepped in to show his stripes. Davis, just recently appointed to the board, gave a critical speech supporting combining the two EIRs. Who would have thought the BAAQMD’s newest member would have such sway with the board?

Anyone with respiratory health problems or cancer can give a big round of applause to our mayor and Solano County Supervisor Jim Spering, who made the motion to combine the two EIRs. We in Solano County have the dubious distinction of having the most anti-public health, pro-corporate members on the board.

Even the Contra Costa appointees where four of the five refineries are located weren’t as instrumental as the Solano reps in pushing for the delay of this most important EIR.

Luckily, other board members did uphold their duty to the public’s health and a compromise was reached. The EIRs will be combined but if they become bogged down then they will be separated out. In addition, and a very important one from the public’s point of view, there will be citizen oversight of the process.

The irony here is that this is a false dichotomy. Big Oil will keep functioning and we need them for those cars we drive. These companies provide jobs and add to our economies. But it is no longer legitimate to trade health for jobs. It is an outmoded model and has no place in deciding public policy. It is no longer acceptable for companies to dominate local economies and the policies of the people in those communities where they are located.

Big Oil has known for years that this is the direction things are moving. A 2014 article in the San Jose Mercury News notes the refineries are already working on improving their systems in anticipation of processing the dirtier and volatile oil from outside California.

As Tom Griffith, head of the Martinez Environmental Group back in 2014 stated, “The missed opportunity here is for the oil companies to refocus their sights on the future of renewable energy.”

We should be working together to improve public health. The corporate stranglehold on such important regional boards must end. Citizens need to be attend BAAQMD board meetings and provide input on upcoming board decisions for this to happen. The next meeting is Wednesday, Sept. 21, at 9:30 a.m. at the BAAQMD headquarters at 375 Beale St. San Francisco.

And here in Vallejo we need to do the same and be more engaged. We have seen the result of complicity between politicians and corporations that excluded public input: The absurd notion of putting a cement factory in a residential area with its disastrous public health consequences. Don’t let Mayor Davis and his cronies put our community in harm’s way. Say “no” to the Orcem/VMT cement plant and don’t vote in November for any candidate who supports it!

— Michelle Pellegrin/Vallejo

Martinez News-Gazette: Hotly contested Valero crude-by-rail application denied by Benicia Commissioners

Repost from the Martinez News-Gazette

Hotly contested Valero crude-by-rail application denied by Benicia Commissioners

By Joseph Bustos, February 21, 2016Martinez News-Gazette

The Benicia Planning Commission rejected a permit application by the Valero Benicia Refinery on Thursday night that would have allowed the refinery to haul upwards of 70,000 barrels of crude oil on two 50 car trains along Union Pacific railroad tracks throughout various Bay Area cities.

Anticipating a large amount of speakers, Benicia’s Planning Commission fielded more than 70 comments from the public across four days of late night public hearings, beginning on February 8th and finally concluding on February 11th.

Against staff recommendation to approve the use permit and certify the project’s Environmental Impact Report, the Commission unanimously voted to reject the project application and did not certify the project’s environmental impact report.

The Commission cited that the project holds highly negative impacts to traffic in the industrial park and economic impacts to adjacent businesses that stand against city health, safety, and quality of life. They also cited the lack of provisions for clean-up costs in case of accidents in Benicia and other cities, creating potential economic strain on Benicia as well as uprail cities.

Other large concerns were the possibilities for rail cars to fall into Sulphur Springs Creek and the bay, as well as technology surrounding rail safety, increases in the cost of insurance coverage for the community, liability risk for property damage, and the construction of the unloading rack in Benicia causing significant traffic and emergency access issues.

The Planning Commission called all of these concerns directly contrary to the city’s general plan, and citied a responsibility to act for the other uprail communities that would be at risk.

Texas-based Valero Energy expressed disappointment with the decision, and are currently looking into a possible appeal. The company has until February 29 to file an appeal to the Benicia City Council.

The controversial proposal first took root in late 2012 and has seen a vast array of detractors from multiple environmental groups and cities through which the railways pass through, citing rail and environmental safety concerns.

Comments continued to pour in by a number of groups all week, demanding that the commission reject Valero’s proposed rail project. Barring action from the City Council, the decision would be a major win for environmental groups lobbying for rejection for the last three years.

In contrast, Valero officials and supporters claimed the installation of an oil by rail program would make the refinery far more flexible and competitive, strengthening Benicia’s economy with more than $350,000 in tax revenue and providing additional jobs. The refinery currently receives crude oil by ship and pipeline, and the proposed rail would have been an additional source of oil transportation rather than completely replacing the other methods.

Valero is currently the largest private employer for the city of Benicia, and constitutes more than 20 percent of Benicia’s general fund revenue.

Tamhas Griffith of the Martinez Environmental Group praised the decision of the Planning Commission and thanked them for listening to concerns of Bay Area communities.

“The Martinez Environmental Group is grateful for the exemplary work of the Benicia Planning Commissioners. In service to their community, each commissioner went above and beyond expectation to render a fair, compassionate, and unanimous judgement that people are more important than company profits,” expressed Griffith.

Griffith added that the denial of the application shows care and concern for communities through which refineries operate and travel through. “It was a hopeful decision for refinery corridor communities who absorb the brunt of daily massive pollution and constant danger.”

Just a few short weeks ago, Martinez was host to a rail incident that saw three tankers carry sulfuric acid derailed near Marina Vista Avenue under the I-680 overpass. Although the tankers fortunately did not leak, the accident again yielded concerns regarding rail safety and monitoring what hazardous materials pass through the city.

NRDC et al: Important comments on Final EIR, Valero Crude By Rail

The Benicia Independent is in receipt of a letter sent to the City of Benicia Planning Commission by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) detailing the failure of the EIR to “adequately analyze, disclose and mitigate the [Valero Crude by Rail] Project’s significant environmental impacts.”

The letter has not yet been posted to the City’s website as of this writing.

NRDC, joined by experts, attorneys and advocates representing 18 other Bay Area environmental groups (listed below), also responds to the City of Benicia staff report.  The staff report recommended certification of the EIR and approval of the project.

The NRDC letter details at length the EIR’s various omissions and failures of law, logic and scientific method.  Comments are organized into sections on Air Quality, Environmental Justice, Hazards, Water Quality, Biological Resources  and “Additional Impacts Not Analyzed.”

The additional section on the Staff Report makes a lengthy and careful legal case against the City’s claim that federal law preempts Benicia from mitigating impacts or denying approval for the project.

In conclusion, the letter states, “Benicia Municipal Code 17.104.060, prohibits the City from approving a project that will be detrimental ‘to the public health, safety, or welfare of persons residing or working’ near the project, ‘to properties or improvements in the vicinity,’ or ‘to the general welfare of the city.’  For all the reasons stated above and in our prior comments, the Project will harm Benicians, other communities throughout the state, and our climate. The City should decline to certify the EIR and deny the permit for this Project.”  [emphasis added]

This important and powerful letter has nineteen signatories:

• Natural Resources Defense Council
• Communities for a Better Environment
• San Francisco Baykeeper
• Center for Biological Diversity
• Sierra Club
• Richmond Progressive Alliance
• ForestEthics
• Sierra Club SF Bay Chapter
• Bay Localize
• Community Science Institute
Benicians for a Safe and Healthy Community
• Crockett-Rodeo United to Defend the Environment
• Martinez Environmental Group
• Bay Area Refinery Corridor Coalition
• Sunflower Alliance
• Pittsburg Defense Council
• 350 Bay Area and 350 Marin
• Greenaction for Health and Environmental Justice
• Rodeo Citizens Association
• Asian Pacific Environmental Network

KCBS 740AM PART II: Safety Info For Alhambra Trestle In Martinez And Other Bridges Kept By The Railroads

Repost from CBS SF Bay Area 740AM (Part 2 of 3)
[Editor: Important coverage of bridge and infrastructure safety issues by Bay Area radio station KCBS 740AM.  See and listen also to Part I, Aging Railway Infrastructure Raises Safety Concerns As Bay Area Readies To Receive Dramatic Increase Of Bakken Crude Oil AND Part III, Emergency Plans Stall Out For Trains Transporting Bakken Crude Oil In The Bay Area.  – RS]

Safety Information For Alhambra Trestle In Martinez And Other Bridges Kept By The Railroads

Underneath the Alhambra trestle in Martinez (Jeffrey Schaub/CBS)
Underneath the Alhambra trestle in Martinez (Jeffrey Schaub/CBS)

A KCBS Cover Story Special: Part 2 of 3, Produced by Giancarlo Rulli, December 30, 2014 – KCBS reporter Jeffrey Shaub and producer Giancarlo Rulli investigate the Bay Area’s aging railway bridges that will carry increasing loads of highly volatile Bakken crude oil from North Dakota in this three-part KCBS Cover Story Special.

MARTINEZ (KCBS) — Some local, state and federal officials are concerned that an old railroad bridge in Martinez, used to transport increasing car loads of highly volatile crude oil from North Dakota to East Bay refineries, may be unsafe.

Officials said they can’t obtain safety information about that bridge, and others like it, because the railroad that owns it is allowed to keep that information to themselves.

The Alhambra trestle was originally built in 1899 and later reinforced in 1929. The Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Railway replaced the rail deck in 2003, but the trestle’s support structures are 85 and to 115 years old.

kcbs mic blue Aging Railway Infrastructure Raises Safety Concerns As Bay Area Readies To Receive Dramatic Increase Of Bakken Crude Oil, Part 1 Of 3LISTEN: Safety Information For Alhambra Trestle In Martinez And Other Bridges Kept By The Railroads, Part 2 of 3 click here, then scroll down to play

Each week it bears the load of hundreds of rail cars including a growing number that carry Bakken crude oil.

(Jeffery Schaub/CBS)

Jim Nue is a member of the Martinez Environmental Group who said he worries about a derailment and how it might affect the several schools and scores of homes nearby.

“We figured the effects within a half-mile blast zone of those tracks affects 12,000 people,” he said.

State and federal authorities are also worried about Alhambra trestle.

“We are concerned about failure,” Paul King, the Deputy Director of Rail Safety for the California Public Utilities Commission, told KCBS.

He’s concerned about shipments of Bakken crude oil over the Alhambra Trestle.

“The consequences of derailment failure are very high,” King said.

But there is no way to know for sure because ever since the Civil War, the railroads have been allowed to keep that information to themselves. While the Federal Railroad Administration does oversee the BNSF, there is only one bridge inspector to cover all eleven Western states.

In the Fall of 2014, The CPUC authorized the hiring of two bridge inspectors to evaluate the more than 5,000 railroad bridges in the state, including the Alhambra trestle. It’s a job that could take 50 years to complete.

Rep. John Garamendi (D-Walnut Grove) told KCBS that it’s a statewide problem.

“The main bridge across the Sacramento is more than 100 years old. It was built shortly after the Gold Rush,” he said.

BNSF spokeswoman Lena Kent said the trestle is safe.

“Our bridges are inspected three times a year and, in fact, if they did detect—in any way—that that structure needed to be replaced, they would immediately put plans in place to replace the structure,” she said.

The state says they want the final say on what is safe and what isn’t—and not just leave it up to the railroads.

Back in Martinez, Nue, remains worried about the geography of the Alhambra trestle and his town.

“So if something happens on either end, you’re stuck,” he said.

In Part III, we will reveal how state and emergency response coordinators are concerned about their ability to battle a major railway explosion and fire.