Category Archives: Benicians for a Safe and Healthy Community

How Benicia Valero Crude By Rail was defeated

Reflections by Roger Straw, Benicia CA, November 18, 2016

We Won!  3 (or 10 or 12, or 40?) factors…

What happened in Benicia was amazing. It’s well worth our time as community activists and organizers to reflect a bit on how David went up against Goliath and won.  (Continued…)

Petition opposing Crude By Rail – 4,081 signatures submitted to Benicia City Council

By Roger Straw, April 9, 2016

Petition opposing Crude By Rail – 4,081 signatures submitted to Benicia City Council

On April 4, Benicians for a Safe and Healthy Community (BSHC) offered critical comments to Benicia’s City Council.  First to speak was Marilyn Bardet, followed by Andrés Soto.

Petition Roll - copies of originals (600px)
Demonstration roll of local petitions collected by Benicians for a Safe and Healthy Community

As Mr. Soto spoke, members of BSHC unfurled a demonstration “scroll” of original hand-signed petitions that stretched 4 times the length of the aisle in Council Chambers (see FACEBOOK video).

As he concluded speaking, Mr. Soto submitted for the public record BSHC’s list of 4,081 signatures of opponents of the project.)

Here is a summary by city and region of the 4,081 signatures.

There was a minor confrontation following the April 4 demonstration in City Hall.  City staff presumed that BSHC was presenting the “scroll” full of names for the public record.  City Attorney Heather McLaughlin took the heap of documents from the floor and began leaving Council Chambers.  Members of BSHC challenged her and quietly wrested the massive pile away from her and took it safely out of City Hall.  Staff was evidently unaware that the full list of carefully checked names was submitted in a separate document.  Later, BSHC submitted the following letter, clarifying the situation and asking the City to post a clean copy of the 4,081 petition signatures.  As of April 13, the City has not responded to BSHC’s letter.

CAL STATE EAST BAY: Crude oil by rail a possibility in Benicia

Repost from The Pioneer, Cal State East Bay
[Editor:  Excellent, balanced coverage.  Be sure to see new quotes from Benicia Principal Planner Amy Million, Benicia resident Beverly Edmonds, Benicia Economic Development Manager Mario Giuliani, Andrés Soto of Benicians for a Safe and Healthy Community and Valero’s PR Manager Sue Fisher Jones.  – RS]

Crude oil by rail a possibility in Benicia

By Kali Persall and Vanessa Pineda, Managing Editor and Contributor, April 6, 2016
Photo by Kali Persall/The Pioneer

A controversial proposal by the Valero oil refinery that would bring in thousands of tons of crude oil a day has some Benicia residents seriously questioning whether it’s time to peel the “It’s Better in Benicia” bumper stickers from the backs of their cars and relocate.

Originally proposed in 2013, the project would bring 70,000 barrels of crude oil into the Benicia oil refinery facility by roughly 100 railroad tank cars daily. It would not increase the amount of crude currently brought to the refinery through pipeline and marine vessels, but instead would replace 81 percent of the oil imported by ship. According to Valero, the refinery can process up to 170,000 barrels of oil per day.

Trains have been known to derail, and in cases where crude oil was on board, have killed people, ruined the environment and destroyed the value of entire towns. Benicia residents are divided on whether the transportation developments are necessary and worth the risk to the environment.

The Benicia City Council heard Valero’s appeal for the project on March 15, which was initially rejected the city planning commission, after four nights of hearings and public comment, on Feb. 11 where over 145 people signed up to speak, according to Amy Million, principal planner of the city. The planning commission reviewed the final Environmental Impact Report (EIR) before unanimously concluding that the potential risks to the environment in the event of a derailment or unloading accident were too significant to justify approval.

After hearing Valero’s appeal a month later, the city council is currently deliberating whether or not to approve the crude by rail project.

Three proposed possible train routes between the Southern California border, Roseville and Benicia would follow the Union Pacific railroad and pass through various cities throughout the state before arriving in Benicia. According to the Revised Draft EIR, project-related train traffic on the train routes would generate nitrogen oxide emissions that could turn into ozone, which could exceed air quality standards in air districts along the routes. This is considered one of the 11 significant unmitigatable impacts on which the planning commission based its decision to deny the proposal.

Nitrogen Oxide (NOx) is a poisonous gas and air pollutant that is emitted by automobiles, industrial sources and fuels that contain nitrogen, such as oil, according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency. When mixed with volatile chemicals in the presence of sunlight, it can form ozone, also known as smog; a gas that can cause serious respiratory damages when inhaled. According to the EPA, ozone can cause coughing, throat irritation and even reduce lung function, and is one of two pollutants that pose the greatest threat to human health in this country.

Fifty nine letters opposing the project were published in the final EIR, many containing concerns about the harmful effects that rail transportation could have on the environment. Valero’s crude by rail project was proposed shortly after a 74-car freight train carrying crude oil derailed in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, a town of roughly 6,000. Forty-seven people were killed and nearly 6 million liters of oil seeped into the land, water and atmosphere during the fire that ensued, according to the Montreal Gazette. Many residents are worried that a similar disaster could occur in Benicia, a city of roughly 28,000.

“I have a two-year-old grandchild and I worry how this will affect him,” said 16-year Benicia resident Beverly Edmonds, 67. “Will he be living in this lovely place or a toxic, decimated shell of a town or will his health be affected by toxic fumes or the effects of a rail disaster?”

According to Mario Giuliani, the city’s economic development manager, oil refineries were the city’s saving grace when the Benicia Arsenal, a military reservation next to the Suisun Bay, closed down due to lack of funding and employment opportunities in the early 1960’s. According to the city of Benicia, the arsenal was a staging area for several wars and employed thousands of people before its closure in 1964. With the displacement of so many people, the town suffered a major economic downturn according to Giuliani.

According to The Benicia Herald, Humble Oil bought some of the vacant former arsenal land in 1967. Not long after, it changed hands again when it sold to the Exxon Oil Company. The refinery’s presence brought in the oil industry and anchored the economy in Benicia, replacing many, if not all or more, of the jobs that were lost after the arsenal closure, according to Benicia city officials. Valero bought the refinery from Exxon in 2000 and currently provides over 400 jobs. According to the EIR, the project would create 20 permanent full-time jobs and 120 temporary jobs.

From the $3 million in property taxes that the refinery pays the city annually, the city only keeps 24 cents on the dollar and the rest goes to the county, schools and other programs in the area, explained Guiliani.

According to Sue Fisher Jones, public affairs manager of Valero, the Benicia refinery is one of only two in California to earn the Voluntary Protection Program “Star Site” designation, which recognizes organizations that have implemented health and safety programs that successfully control occupational hazards. The refinery earned its title in 2006 and has since passed two recertification audits. The other refinery with this designation is the Valero located in South Los Angeles.

“I have lived in Benicia since 2003 (worked at Valero since 2005) and have never experienced a community Shelter-in-Place,” Jones told The Pioneer. Shelter-in-place is an emergency response plan in which people hunker indoors to avoid hazardous air pollution.

A Facility Profile Report by the EPA revealed that Valero released 1,068,877 pounds of chemicals into the environment in 2014. The total amount released in the United States for that year was 3.4 billion pounds.

Andrés Soto, spokesperson and steering committee member for Benicians for a Safe and Healthy Community (BSHC) helped form the organization around the time of Valero’s proposal in 2013. BSHC opposed the project from the beginning and recommended that it be reviewed under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) which requires agencies to identify the potential significant environmental impacts of their projects in an EIR.

The EIR looks at all the potential scenarios and issues of a project and evaluates whether the applicants are equipped to handle them. For example, in the case of a derailment, emergency response teams benefit by knowing what specific type of crude oil is being transported in order to better tackle the specific situation. “The dirtier, the heavier the crude, the more sulfur, creating more noxious emissions,” explained Soto. Valero declined to release the specific type of crude oil to be transported, labeling it a trade secret, according to the EIR.

Giuliani believes that those who don’t support the project don’t necessarily oppose Valero specifically, but oppose the oil refinery process itself. “If they had proposed to bring water in instead, no one would’ve cared,” he said.

Citizens are also concerned about the effect the project will have on the value of property. According to an article in the San Jose Mercury News, a fire at the Richmond Chevron Refinery in August 2012 caused a 14.62 percent drop in property taxes. A 2006 study by Stephen Farber from the University of Pittsburgh confirmed that housing markets are sensitive to real or perceived risks associated with being located close to a site that contains hazardous material, such as a refinery.

Photo by Kali Persall/The Pioneer

“My husband and I probably have another ten good years,” said Edmonds. “At some point we will need to move to something much smaller and easier to care for, or to a retirement home. The money we get from our house will be essential for that.”

BENICIA HERALD: Crude by Rail opponents cite large opposition list

Appearing as the front page headline story in today’s Benicia Herald
(no online version, so no link)

Crude by Rail opponents cite large opposition list

By Elizabeth Warnimont, April 6, 2016

At the first of the current round of scheduled hearings regarding Valero Benicia Refinery’s Crude by Rail project at City Hall Monday, a number of government agencies and other groups came forward to express their opposition to the project, adding to a growing list of individuals, government entities and private groups to register their objections. A few individuals and groups also spoke in favor of the project.

During the public comment period, Catherine Black, chairwoman for Benicians for a Safe and Healthy Community, recited a partial list of groups currently opposing the project. Organizations, public agencies and public officials who have either had major concerns or have spoken out directly against the project, she stated, include, in no particular order:

  • Benicians for a Safe and Healthy Community
  • Solano County
  • Air Quality Management Districts (AQMD) including Bay Area, Butte County, Feather River, Sacramento Metropolitan, County of Shasta and Yolo/Solano AQMDs
  • Placer County Air Pollution Control District
  • UC Davis
  • California Office of Spill Prevention and Response
  • The California Utilities Commission
  • The Capitol Corridor Joint Powers Authority
  • Amtrak
  • The California Department of Transportation
  • San Francisco Bay Keepers
  • Safe Fuel and Energy Resources California
  • Cool Davis
  • 350 Sacramento
  • 350 Bay Area
  • 350 Marin
  • Communities for a Better Environment
  • National Resources Defense Council
  • Phil Serna, Sacramento County supervisor
  • Ironworkers 378
  • Sierra Club
  • Center for Biological Diversity
  • Sacramento Area Council of Governments (SACOG), an association of local governments in the six-county Sacramento region including El Dorado, Placer, Sacramento, Yolo and Yerba counties
  • The Yolo County Board of Supervisors
  • Martinez Environmental Group
  • Richmond Progressive Alliance
  • Global Community Monitor
  • the city of Albany
  • the city of Briggs and its fire department
  • the city of Gridley and its fire department
  • County of Nevada Community Development Agency
  • the town of Truckee
  • the city of West Sacramento
  • the Shasta County Department of Resource Management
  • Community Science Institute
  • Rodeo United to Defend the Environment
  • City of Davis Foundation
  • Sunflower Alliance
  • City of Pittsburg Defense Council
  • Green Action for Health and Environmental Justice
  • Asian Pacific Environmental Network
  • Bay Area Refinery Corridor Coalition
  • Attorney General Kamala Harris
  • Yolo Climate Action
  • Berkeley City Council
  • State Sen. Lois Wolk (D-Davis)
  • Berkeley Vice Mayor Linda Maio
  • The Sacramento School District Board and the Benicia Planning Commission

Numerous supporting documents were also submitted Monday, including examples of court rulings relevant to the question of federal pre-emption.

“We acknowledge that there is a key value for domestic energy production,” Don Saylor, a representative of the Yolo County Board of Supervisors and Sacramento Area Council’s board of directors, said. “That we depend on installations like the Valero refinery here in Benicia to power our economy. We also understand the federal role in railroad regulation. However, we have provided you with legal framework that we hope you consider, that points out your competing authority as a local, land use decision-making body.”

“The bodies that I represent are asking that you uphold the Planning Commission’s decision and deny the appeal before you,” he added.

Many of the concerns voiced at the hearing echoed those of previous hearings, including worn train tracks and heavy (over 150 tons each) crude-carrying trains, populations and environmentally sensitive areas within the “blast zone” that would be destroyed in the event of a derailment involving fire, air pollution from train exhaust, and traffic back-ups from Bayshore Road extending onto Interstate 680.

Concerns that stood out more Monday than they had at previous hearings, in the view of this reporter, included the long-term and widespread impact the Council’s decision will have for the state of California in general, and some particularly vulnerable populations lying in close vicinity to the tracks that would carry the crude-containing rail cars, including schools, homes and downtown areas.

The Final Environmental Impact Report (FEIR) is the document that contains reference to all of these concerns, along with the applicant’s (Valero’s) responses to most of them. It is a three-volume work that does not number its pages but adds up to a total of 5.25 inches of paper, printed on both sides.   The document, as well as written and video documentation of City Council and Planning Commission meetings and hearings on the subject, are available to view online at the City of Benicia website, or by request at the City Clerk’s office at City Hall, located at 250 East L St.