I am excited to share a new resource to support uprail work in the fight to stop the proposed Valero oil trains terminal in Benicia.
Our new Benicia Organizing Toolkit includes fact sheets, sample comments (DUE OCT 30!), a Letter to the Editor / OpEd guide, action alerts, and sample resolutions & opposition letters to bring to your city councils, county board of supervisors, school districts, and other public agencies.
As of now, there are NO cities & counties that have taken a firm oppositional stance and sent letters to Benicia’s decision makers urging them to reject the Valero project. (Some area governments and the Attorney General critiqued the EIR, but they didn’t actually take a position on the project as a whole). This uprail opposition strategy has been very effective in the San Luis Obispo County Phillips 66 campaign and is an amazing opportunity we have in Benicia.
In reaching out to local governments, I recommend citing strong letters sent to SLO County in the Phillips 66 campaign. Along with the Organizing Toolkit, I’m making available a few of these letters:
Please download the Toolkit & letters, adapt and use as you will. If you plan to mount a resolution campaign in your city/county/school board/agency, please let me know and I will do my best to support you.
Many thanks for all your great work and more to come!
Repost from the Benicia Herald [Editor: No link is provided for this letter because the Benicia Herald does not publish Letters in its online edition. – RS]
Too many ‘hitches’ to crude by rail
By Jan Cox-Golovich, September 9, 2015, Benicia Herald
“When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.” – John Muir
And so it is with the Valero Crude-by-Rail Project. When it was first presented to the community two years ago, we were told that is would be a simple railway expansion without any environmental impacts at all; that was simply untrue. We quickly discovered that this project would have profound effects locally, regionally, nationally and world-wide.
Our local economy has been “hitched” to the refinery for 50 years; this 19th century industry is becoming obsolete in a state moving towards reducing greenhouse gases by 80% in 2050, while government and market forces transition to clean energy. California is suffering from the most devastating drought in its history and the refinery uses almost half of our water. The drought has been exacerbated by the hottest year on record, which in turn has been exacerbated by climate change, which in turn is caused by the burning of fossil fuels. This “hitches” back to the refinery where 600 “other” businesses in the Industrial Park will, on a good day, experience transportation woes and worsening air quality because of the daily oil deliveries and — on a bad day — will be risking everything by virtue of being in the oil blast zone.
The Crude By Rail project is “hitched” to 1,700 miles of antiquated, dilapidated rail line, moving hazardous cargo from Canadian tar sands and North Dakota Bakken fracked oil fields to the Valero refinery, exposing millions to the dangers of explosions, fires, derailments, spills and permanent environmental damage to their land, water and air. Many up-rail folks have made the trek down to City Hall to beg us not to do this to them. This is an ethical “hitch” that we cannot deny or justify.
On a global scale, this project is “hitched” to the utter destruction of the boreal forest in Alberta and the fracking process ravaging North Dakota, where foul-smelling wastewater ponds are threatening agricultural land, animals, the water supply and human health, and where toxic methane gas flares light up the night sky as bright as any American city on the Google night map. Scientists say the continued extraction of these extreme fuels is “game over” for the planet and human life upon it. The Pope’s recent encyclical has “hitched” climate change to a moral imperative: trade in our short-sighted greed for an alternative path to save our children and life on earth.
John Muir, naturalist, visionary and Martinez neighbor, spoke words that resonate with us today. Benicia is “hitched” to the rest of the world. We don’t live in a bubble where a town of 28,000 people can make decisions based on short-term financial gain at the expense of endangering human lives or contributing to the destruction of forests, waterways and the atmosphere, just because they are out of our sight. Our provincial days are over; time for Benicia to reject crude by rail.
Repost from The Davis Enterprise [Editor: Significant quote: “‘DOT began working on updated rules in April of 2012 and from 2006 to April of 2014, a total of 281 tank cars derailed in the U.S. and Canada, claiming 48 lives and releasing almost 5 million gallons of crude and ethanol,’ the letter reads. ‘Serious crude-carrying train incidents are occurring once every seven weeks on average, and a DOT report predicts that trains hauling crude oil or ethanol will derail an average of 10 times a year over the next two decades, causing billions of dollars in damage and possibly costing hundreds of lives.'” That said, Mayor Wolk joined the long list of officials who say they don’t want to STOP oil trains, only make them “safer.” Good luck. More photos here. – RS]
Garamendi calls for greater Bakken oil-by-rail safety
By Dave Ryan, April 9, 2015
Rep. John Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove, called for less volatile Bakken crude oil — which is transported across the country by rail — on Wednesday morning, using the backdrop of the Davis Amtrak station to drive his point home.
Garamendi introduced the Bakken Crude Stabilization Act on March 26 in a bid to protect what he said are 16 million Americans living and working near railroad shipment lines. If approved, the bill will require lower vapor pressure for transported Bakken crude to reduce its volatility, a practice currently required in Texas and to some degree in North Dakota.
Vapors like propane and butane add to the unstable nature of Bakken crude during train derailments.
On Wednesday, Garamendi and other government officials explained why requiring more safety for railroad tank cars is essential to communities along rail lines like Davis and Fairfield, should there be an explosion. As if on cue, freight trains carrying black tank cars rumbled by as Garamendi spoke.
“You’d wipe out downtown Davis and possibly hundreds of people,” he said, adding that stripping out volatile vapors would prevent a fireball rising what he said was a hundred feet in the air.
Solano County Supervisor Skip Thomson said there are refineries and pipelines in his county, but also populations along rail lines and an environmentally sensitive marshland.
“If we de-gas the oil, that is a huge thing for safety,” Thomson said. “We need to ask that legislation be passed. … We need to move this quickly.”
Environmental groups say Bakken crude oil is transported through Yolo and Solano counties along Union Pacific Railroad lines that run through Davis, Dixon, Fairfield and Suisun City on their way to the Valero oil refinery in Benicia. A proposal is pending before the Benicia City Council that could increase the number of rail tank cars moving through those cities, increasing shipments to about 70,000 barrels of oil a day in two, 50-car-long shipments.
So-called “up-rail” community groups are fighting the proposal, and local governments in Yolo and Solano counties are working for better safety and oversight of the Valero project, which is still in the environmental review process.
Davis Mayor Dan Wolk said local agencies’ goal in the Valero project is not to stop commerce, but to ensure that adequate safety measures are in place.
Meanwhile, at the state level, a warren of rules protecting rail commerce prohibit states and localities from enacting restrictions on rail traffic, leading to calls for the federal government to step in.
However, laws protecting railroads, some more than a century old, ensure that railroads have a strong hand in approving any new regulations that the federal Department of Transportation or the Federal Railroad Administration may impose on their industry. Most regulations are created by consensus with the railroads.
Garamendi said a legislative approach is the quickest way to get the railroads to implement safety standards.
“Every day we delay the implementation of a stronger safety standard for the transport of Bakken crude oil by rail, lives and communities are at risk,” the congressman said in a prepared statement released at the news conference.
“We need the federal government to step in and ensure that the vapor pressure of transported crude oil is lower, making it more stable and safer to transport. We also need to upgrade and ensure the maintenance of rail lines, tank cars, brake systems and our emergency response plans.”
Getting railroads to help beef up local safety planning is a big part of what state and local governments are trying to wring out of the rail industry. One key demand is to get the railroads to disclose to emergency first responders what is inside their tank cars.
In a March 3 letter to the U.S. Department of Transportation written by Garamendi and Congresswoman Doris Matsui, D- Sacramento, the pair said the need for safer train cars has long been documented and is overdue.
“DOT began working on updated rules in April of 2012 and from 2006 to April of 2014, a total of 281 tank cars derailed in the U.S. and Canada, claiming 48 lives and releasing almost 5 million gallons of crude and ethanol,” the letter reads.
“Serious crude-carrying train incidents are occurring once every seven weeks on average, and a DOT report predicts that trains hauling crude oil or ethanol will derail an average of 10 times a year over the next two decades, causing billions of dollars in damage and possibly costing hundreds of lives.”
Asked Wednesday what the chances are of a railroad safety bill passing through a Republican-controlled Congress, Garamendi said “excellent,” evoking some chuckles from other government officials standing by.
Repost from The Sacramento Bee [Benicia Independent Editor: A bit odd that the Bee editorial is defending the rail industry’s right to talk to the media and to lobby congress. Nice, though, when the Bee writes, “Thankfully, officials in Benicia actually listened to people who exercised free speech. They announced last week they will redo parts of an environmental study….” A call for open debate is a good thing. However, the House subcommittee’s urging for timely new rules on tank car safety is infinitely more important than Rep. Denham’s comment and the Bee’s response. For a more substantive article on the subcommittee proceedings, see the CQ Roll Call story. – RS]
We need open debate on oil train safety
By the Editorial Board, 02/10/2015
As oil trains rumble through the Sacramento region, a key House panel held an important hearing on how rail and pipelines can keep up – safely – with the boom in domestic oil production. For two hours, top rail and oil industry executives testified and answered questions on this crucial issue.
Then Rep. Jeff Denham had to go and spoil it.
The Turlock Republican, chairman of the House Transportation Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials, ended last week’s hearing on an unfortunate note – an unnecessary dressing down of a rail car manufacturing executive who called on federal regulators to speed up the rollout of safer oil tank cars.
Though his firm (which has a repair shop in Modesto) would benefit financially, Greg Saxton, senior vice president and chief engineer at the Greenbrier Companies, happens to be right. The National Transportation Safety Board, which put rail tank car safety on its “most wanted” list for 2015, points out that more than 100,000 outdated cars carry crude, increasing the risk of leaks and explosions. Denham also says he’s concerned that the U.S. Department of Transportation missed its own Jan. 30 deadline to submit new rules on oil tank cars.
So what was Saxton’s transgression, according to Denham? He had the temerity to talk to lowly newspaper editorial writers, as well as esteemed members of Congress.
Denham lectured Saxton that he didn’t want the “wrong people” – whoever they are – “talking to the ed boards across the country” and creating a “misperception” that “our industry” is unsafe.
“I just want to make sure we’re all singing the same tune that we have a very safe industry and we want to work together in improving that industry,” the congressman said, as pointed out by Mike Dunbar, opinions page editor at The Modesto Bee who talked to Saxton last month.
Last time we checked, acting as a public relations consultant for the oil industry isn’t Denham’s job. He should care much more about keeping his constituents in Modesto and Turlock safe. As chairman of this important panel, he should encourage open debate. Instead, his spokeswoman said Tuesday, Denham stands by his remarks to Saxton.
Thankfully, officials in Benicia actually listened to people who exercised free speech.
Benicia officials are responding to environmental groups, Sacramento-area officials and Attorney General Kamala Harris, who had all properly pointed out that the report fell short in analyzing potential oil spills and fires in the middle of urban areas and didn’t even consider possible harm east of Roseville.
The updated study, to be released June 30, also needs to at least consider suggestions from Sacramento and Davis leaders that Union Pacific Railroad be required to give advance notice of oil shipments to emergency responders and be banned from parking oil trains in urban areas.
They’re the sorts of ideas that people might just want to explain to a congressional committee – or perhaps even an editorial board.