Top stories of 2015 – Valero Crude By Rail in year-end coverage by our local media

By Roger Straw

I was pleased and somewhat surprised when 3 of our local/regional newspapers reported on Benicia Valero’s Crude By Rail proposal in their end-of-year coverage.  (See column at right.)

The environmental reviews in Benicia have taken so long that the process seems tedious and increasingly uninteresting to the public not to mention the media.  Add to that the fact that we haven’t had a massive oil train explosion with gripping video images since early in the year (when we had 5 in less than a month).  Media ho-hum.

Even the latest major derailments with spills (2 in Wisconsin on a weekend in early November) didn’t provide much more than a blip in West Coast media coverage.  No fires, no big video coverage, no ratings, not newsworthy.

Summary of 1/1/16 article

NickSestanovich's archiveOur Benicia Herald has undergone serious setbacks following a mass exodus of its editor and reporters in September of this year.  So I was happy to see today’s story by reporter Nick Sestanovich, “2015 in review: Crude-by-rail debate enters fourth year.”

Sestanovich did a good job.  He begins with a very brief project summary, and in the same first paragraph adds, “However, strong opposition by residents and environmental groups triggered a debate that still goes on to this day.”  Thanks, Nick – reality makes the news in Benicia!

Later in the article, Sestanovich points out the deficiencies noted in the Revised DEIR, “’significant and unavoidable’ environmental impacts, including direct and indirect greenhouse gas emissions, the increase of nitrogen-oxide levels in the Yolo-Solano region and increased threats toward protected wildlife species.”

He also gives approximately equal space to Valero’s claims for the project and opponents’ critique: “…opponents of the project contend that the project would increase air pollution, fuel climate change, increase greenhouse gas emissions and would be very dangerous in the event of a train explosion- particularly in the wake of an oil train explosion in Quebec shortly after the project was announced as well as numerous others since.”

Sestanovich also did some original research with an update on US Rep. Mike Thompson’s Crude-by-rail Safety Act, writing that “As of press time, the bill has not made it past committee, and government transparency website believes it hasa 4 percent chance of being enacted.”

At the end of Sestanovich’s article, he refers readers to the City’s website for more information.  Too bad he didn’t also send them here to the Benicia Independent!

Summary of 12/28/15 article

Benicia Planning Commission meeting in September. The public comment hearing on the Revised Draft EIR for Valero’s Crude-by-Rail project drew a full-house crowd in the Benicia City Council Chambers. MIKE JORY — TIMES-HERALD FILE PHOTO

It was a welcome surprise that Irma Wijojo, reporter for the Vallejo Times-Herald, included Valero Crude By Rail in her 12/28/15 story, 2015: Benicia sees changes, development.

The article shows a nice photo of the September Benicia Planning Commission hearing and gives nine paragraphs on the crude by rail proposal.  I recall that Widjojo attended and reported on the hearing then.  She writes, “Hundreds attended the meeting voicing their support and opposition to the project.”

She goes on to point out that “The Revised DEIR concluded that project would cause ‘significant and unavoidable’ impacts to air quality, greenhouse gas emissions, biological resources and hazards and hazardous materials.”

Nice, only I wish she could’ve covered the ongoing work of Benicia opponents of the project.  We’ve been busy and productive all year – aren’t we part of the story?

Summary of 1/1/16 article

Today, Fairfield Daily Republic reporter Kevin W. Green posted one in a series of stories about 2015: Top Stories of 2015: Valero crude-by-rail plan chugs along Solano political tracks.   Green summarizes Valero’s proposal without any critique, quotes City Planner Amy Million and describes the governmental processes surrounding the environmental report.  He finishes by detailing some of State Senator Lois Wolk’s good work on oil train safety issues, as well as that of U.S. Rep. John Garamendi.   Local and regional opponents were not a part of the story.