SACRAMENTO – California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, as part of a multistate coalition, filed a comment letter to the Department of Transportation in support of the State of Washington and in opposition to an attempt by North Dakota and Montana to preempt Washington laws that create a limit on the level of vapor pressure allowed when transporting highly-flammable crude oil by freight rail.
These trains are often known as “bomb trains” because of the high intensity fires and violent explosions that can result from accidents and derailments. These trains travel through California, passing through both highly populated communities and areas adjacent to California’s most sensitive ecological areas.
The state asserts that Washington’s rules are both permissible and necessary in light of the risks of crude-by-rail in Washington and the EPA’s inaction on establishing protective standards, putting communities at risk.
“States play an important role in protecting the health and safety of their citizens,” said Attorney General Becerra. “Millions of Californians live, work, and attend school within the vicinity of railroad tracks. We can’t afford to wait for the next disaster before taking action on the transport of dangerous and flammable oil moving through our communities. A derailment or explosion in California could put countless lives at risk and cause major damage to our land and waterways. This risk is simply unacceptable.”
California supports Washington’s efforts to protect the public health and safety of its residents and its environment while the federal government dithers over adopting necessary regulations. The attorneys general underscore that their paramount concern will remain protecting the health and safety of citizens, first responders, and the environment within the parameters of the state’s existing authority.
Attorney General Becerra filed the comment letter with the attorneys general of New York, Maryland, and New Jersey.
Gov. Gavin Newsom on Wednesday criticized the Trump administration’s plan to rescind California’s nearly half-century-old authority to impose tough car emissions standards, vowing to take legal action to block the move.
“California will prevail because we’re leaders in this space,” Newsom said.
Newsom’s comments came during a morning news conference with state Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra, California Air Resources Board Chair Mary Nichols, and California Environmental Protection Agency Secretary Jared Blumenfeld.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is expected to announce plans Thursday morning to overturn a special federal waiver that permits California to set its own strict pollution controls to improve air quality, the foundation of the state’s aggressive efforts to combat climate change.
The EPA originally planned to announce that it would do away with the waiver at an event on Wednesday, while President Trump was visiting Los Angeles. But the announcement was delayed, handing the president an opportunity to deliver the news himself.
In a series of tweets early Wednesday, Trump said that revoking California’s authority to impose emissions standards will help make cars safer and more affordable, an assertion that Newsom has consistently refuted.
“This will lead to more production because of this pricing and safety advantage, and also due to the fact that older, highly polluting cars, will be replaced by new, extremely environmentally friendly cars,” Trump tweeted. “There will be very little difference in emissions between the California Standard and the new U.S. Standard, but the cars will be far safer and much less expensive. Many more cars will be produced under the new and uniform standard, meaning significantly more JOBS, JOBS, JOBS! Automakers should seize this opportunity because without this alternative to California, you will be out of business.”
In fact, automakers have repeatedly warned the administration that forcing a legal battle with California over car pollution standards could significantly damage their bottom line. If the nation’s auto industry is split in two — with some states following California’s standards and others following weaker federal rules — car makers could find themselves caught in a regulatory nightmare, required to comply with both.
Experts have also raised serious doubts about the administration’s argument that the new policy will make new cars safer. In a study published last year in the journal Science, researchers wrote that the administration’s analysis of its own policy proposal “has fundamental flaws and inconsistencies, is at odds with basic economic theory and empirical studies, [and] is misleading.”
Ahead of Wednesday’s news conference, Newsom responded to the president’s claims on Twitter, calling them “simply inaccurate.”
“Your standards will cost consumers $400 billion,” Newsom said in a tweet. “Result in 320 billion more gallons of oil burned and spewed into our air. And hurt car companies’ ability to compete in a global market. It’s bad for our air. Bad for our health. Bad for our economy.”
The Trump administration’s action threatens to derail California’s effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions over the next decade to a level 40% below those recorded in 1990: The primary driver behind that effort is the state’s goal to help ensure more than 1 million zero-emission vehicles and plug-in hybrids are on the road by 2025.
“Our message to those who claim to support states’ rights: Don’t trample on ours,” Becerra said Wednesday.
California’s clash with the Republican president, who is in California to fundraise for his 2020 reelection campaign, comes just over a month after state officials worked to circumvent the Trump administration’s efforts to relax tailpipe pollution regulations by reaching a deal with four major automakers, Ford, Honda, Volkswagen and BMW, to gradually strengthen fuel-efficiency standards. Other automakers have expressed interest in joining the pact.
In a tweet, Trump called California’s agreement with automakers “crazy” and the U.S. Department of Justice has launched an antitrust investigation into whether it violated federal competition law.
The voluntary deal between the California Air Resources Board and automakers covers about a third of the new cars and SUVs sold in the U.S. Under the agreement, the four automakers agreed to produce cars that must reach a minimum of about 50 mpg by 2026.
Since Trump’s election in 2016, California’s state officials have filed more than 50 lawsuits over the administration‘s actions on a variety of issues, including more than two dozen challenges to policies proposed by the EPA, the U.S. Department of the Interior and other federal agencies responsible for setting energy and fuel-efficiency standards. In August, California joined a coalition of 21 other states suing to block the Trump administration’s attempt to gut restrictions on coal-burning power plants.
DOJ sends letter, states reports on Orcem/VMT project are misleading
By JOHN GLIDDEN, November 12, 2018 at 5:41 pm
The site of the Vallejo Marine Terminal/Orcem Americas project proposed for South Vallejo is shown. (Times-Herald file photo)
The California Department of Justice has sent city officials a scathing letter arguing environmental documents prepared for the Orcem Americas and Vallejo Marine Terminal project are misleading and violate state law.
In the 13-page letter obtained by this newspaper, Erin Ganahl, deputy attorney general for the State of California, contends that a draft final environmental impact report (DFEIR),
an Environmental Justice Analysis (EJA), and Revised Air Analysis, contain flawed data which prevents the Vallejo City Council from making an informed decision about the controversial project proposed for development in South Vallejo.
“The environmental documents for the project fail to provide adequate legal support for the city of Vallejo to approve the project,” Ganahl wrote on behalf of state Attorney General Xavier Becerra. “The DFEIR fails to adequately disclose, analyze, and mitigate the significant environmental impacts of the project; the EJA improperly concludes that the project would not disproportionately impact low-income communities of color, and thus misleads decision makers and the public by minimizing the projects significant environmental justice concerns.”
Ganahl urges city leaders to either revise, or consider recirculating the DFEIR but she and the DOJ stop short of taking an official position on the project. The impact report is required under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) which identifies significant environmental impacts of a proposed development and the ways the impacts can be mitigated.
VMT has applied to open a modern deep-water terminal, while Orcem is seeking approval to operate a cement facility with both projects located on 31 acres at 790 and 800 Derr St.
The project, if built, is expected to generate 552 truck trips per day, along with 200 rail car trips per week. According to the letter, 509 of the truck trips would travel through the nearby residential community. Four large vessels, and an average of 3.5 smaller vessels are expected to be unloaded each month. One of the more unsettling portions of the letter addresses the DFEIR’s revised Air Quality Analysis, which, according to Ganahl, suffers from significant analytical flaws. Ganahl cites a particular flaw with the amount of proposed diesel pollution expected to be generated from the engines of docked ships. “Based on these faulty assumptions, the Revised Air Analysis estimates an excess lifetime risk of 18 per million (unmitigated) or 9 per million (with mitigations),” she wrote. “But using the appropriate assumptions, the excess lifetime cancer risk from the project would be 627 per million, nearly 35 times the unmitigated risk and 70 times the mitigated risk disclosed in the revised analysis.”
Ganahl further argues that the Revised Air Analysis also underestimates the project’s toxic air contaminant emissions, which relies on flawed assumptions that the project will not result in any chromium, arsenic or cadmium emissions, “and will result in only minimal lead emissions.”
“In fact,” she writes “relying on appropriate assumptions reveals that the project will emit toxic air contaminants, including approximately 18 times the amount of lead disclosed in the revised analysis.” Ganahl argues the analysis uses “inappropriate modeling techniques” that undercut the conclusions reached in the documents. She goes on to recommend that the analysis be revised using the proper assumptions.
“The likelihood that the project’s air impacts will be far greater than disclosed in the environmental review documents is troubling on its own,” she wrote. “And is more so given the surrounding communities’ already heavy pollution burden and high rates of pollution-related illness. These analytical flaws must be cured, and the data and analysis be made publicly available, before the project is considered for approval.
“It is essential that the public and decision makers be made aware of the project’s true impacts, and that those impacts be mitigated to less-than-significant levels, if the project is to move forward,” she added.
Ganahl bashes the DFEIR for failing to consider the significant impact if coal and/or petcoke were transported through the terminal. “The DFEIR states that the terminal would not handle coal or any other petroleum- based products,” Ganahl said. “But, the DFEIR does not point to any enforceable condition that would prevent the handling or transport of coal through the terminal or guarantee that no coal could be transported through the terminal.”
“Transportation of coal can have serious and far reaching environmental and human health impacts,” she added.
The letter also contends the documents fail to take into account the area’s current environmental condition, which includes “the high number of contaminated sites, leaking underground storage tanks, and contributors to air pollutants such as nearby refineries and freeways.”
The letter notes the California Environmental Protection Agency, through use of a special tool, can rank every census tract in the state based off of socioeconomic, environmental, and health information. Those numbers suggest that the area in South Vallejo ranks high for the number of sites contaminated with harmful chemicals, and impaired water bodies.
“The communities have an extraordinary high rate of asthma (99th percentile) and cardiovascular disease (96th percentile), both conditions that are caused and exacerbated by air pollution,” Ganahl wrote. “Babies born from this area are more likely than 83 percent of babies in the state to be born with a low birth weight.”
Ganahl takes aim in her letter at the Environmental Justice Analysis (EJA) prepared for the project.
The EJA reviews how a certain project might have a disproportional impact on minority and low-income communities living near a proposed site.
Calling it “misleading,” and “illogical” she explains that the analysis compares impacted areas to that of Vallejo’s general population — instead of comparing the areas to Solano County, the state, or a comparable area. “Using Vallejo as the point of comparison skews the significance of the proposition of low-income and minority households in the impact areas because Vallejo itself has significantly greater minority and low-income populations than Solano County, the State of California and the United States,” she wrote.
A data table taken from the analysis shows that the two impacted areas have a minority population of 76.8 percent and 75.7 percent, respectively. The city has a similar minority population of 75.4 percent the same report states.
“Comparing the impact areas to the city’s populations, the EJA concludes that the impact areas do not have a significantly greater minority population than Vallejo, and thus there is not a minority population that could suffer a disproportionate impact from the project,” she wrote. “Where a project’s impact area plainly has a high proportion of minority residents — in this case roughly 76 percent minority — it strains logic to state that there is not a minority community that will be disproportionately impacted.”
Many in the local community have expressed concern that the project will harm the surrounding neighborhoods and city. Peter Brooks, president of Fresh Air Vallejo, a group opposed to the project, said he wasn’t surprised by the contents of the DOJ letter.
“Today, the Department of Justice confirmed what we’ve been saying for three years, that Orcem/VMT’s pollution and traffic would be an injustice to our community,” he wrote in an email to the Times-Herald. “It was never a good idea to propose a cement factory so close to homes and an elementary school.”
Meanwhile, Sue Vacarro, on behalf of Orcem, inquired about the timing of the DOJ letter.
“We are surprised at the timing of the AG office’s comments, referencing a nearly 2-year-old document, rather than wait another 2-weeks to see the Final EIR, but after reviewing the AG’s comments we believe they will all be thoroughly addressed when the FEIR is published later this month,” she wrote in an email to the Times-Herald.
“Orcem and VMT’s goal from the beginning has been to provide a state of the art facility that minimizes the environmental and community impacts while providing our sustainable building materials, terminal services and living wage jobs to Vallejo,” she added. “Our understanding today is that after exhaustive analyses, the City’s environmental consultants and the regulatory agency for air quality in the Bay Area, arguably the toughest in the world, agree we have done so.”
The path to a council vote regarding the project has been lengthy. The Vallejo Planning Commission voted 6-1 in the first half of 2017 to reject the VMT/Orcem project, agreeing with City Hall that the project would have a negative effect on the neighborhood, that it would impact traffic around the area and the proposed project was inconsistent with the city’s waterfront development policy. The project also has a degrading visual appearance of the waterfront, City Hall argued.
City Hall originally completed the DFEIR — stating that a final impact report wasn’t necessary since it was recommending denial of the project.
Orcem and VMT appealed the Planning Commission decision, and during the June 2017 City Council hearing four of the council members — Jess Malgapo, Rozzana Verder-Aliga, Hermie Suna, and Pippin Dew-Costa — directed City Hall to complete the impact report before ruling on the appeal. The city, along with third-party consultants are finishing up the impact report. It’s expected to be released this month with the City Council deciding on the appeal in January.
Valero drops plan to buy Martinez petroleum terminal after state challenge
Associated Press, September 18, 2017, 9:40 pm
Valero, which already owns the Valero Benicia Refinery, has been blocked in its attempt to buy a Bay Area petroleum hub. | Photo: Rich Pedroncelli, Associated Press
The Valero petroleum company abandoned its plans to acquire the last independently owned petroleum terminal in the Bay Area on Monday after California’s attorney general challenged the purchase.
The Valero Energy Corp. said in a statement that it had canceled its deal to buy the Plains All American Pipeline facility in Martinez because the company did not have the stomach for a long court battle.
The decision means the petroleum storage and distribution terminal in Martinez will remain independent.
Attorney General Xavier Becerra, who filed an injunction in July blocking the transaction, said Valero’s decision was “welcome news for all Californians.”
“It should send a strong message to the public: The California Department of Justice is committed to protecting consumers and competition,” said Becerra, who was determined to keep the last of three Northern California petroleum-shipping hubs out of the hands of refineries.
It was important, he said, because if petroleum companies were in control of gasoline distribution in Northern California, they would be able to raise California’s gas prices almost at will.
“It’s our responsibility to combat threats to our state’s thriving and competitive marketplace,” Becerra said. “Simply put, we strongly believed that Valero’s action could have suffocated open competition and led to higher gas prices for hardworking Californians.”
It was the latest setback for Valero, which was prevented last year from bringing trains filled with crude oil into its Benicia refinery after critics raised fears of a catastrophe like the one in 2013 when a 72-car train derailed in the Quebec town of Lac-Megantic and exploded, killing more than 40 people.