Category Archives: Public permitting

Editorial: Celebrate, but watch on the tracks!

By Roger Straw, December 22, 2016

Why did Valero decide not to go to court?

Roger Straw, The Benicia Independent

On December 20, Benicia’s City Attorney announced that she had been advised by Valero’s attorney that the refinery is no longer planning to sue the City of Benicia over its failed Crude By Rail proposal.

While this is welcome news, worthy of celebration and thanksgiving, Valero’s decision surely was more nuanced than the simple reason given, that it wants to maintain good relations with the City.

Everyone in the city is happy about that – we all want good relations, and no one wanted the issue to drag on in the courts, at great expense in time and money.

But it must be noted that a Benicia lawsuit by Valero would have failed, on multiple grounds. Valero’s best legal advice must have been to quit, or risk additional losses. That advice would’ve been resisted if at all possible, not only for local refinery interests, but on behalf of the wider oil and rail industries.

Valero Benicia was a potential precedent-setting case, with implications for major corporate financial holdings all across the US and Canada. There must have been immense pressure on Valero to sue. The industries needed to win a case claiming that federal preemption laws are enough to overrule local land use regulatory authority.

But with immense activist opposition setting the pace; with California’s Attorney General weighing in and a dozen environmental attorneys, engineers and environmental analysts offering significant commentary during the review process; and with the Federal Surface Transportation Board denying Valero’s last-ditch petition, a lawsuit had little chance of success.

Valero lost that argument here, but no one should rest easy. The oil and rail industries will surely look for another situation where they can more successfully press their unlimited right to endanger health and welfare under federal preemption laws.

The growing movement against oil trains needs to remain active and alert.

For more, see

BREAKING NEWS: City of Benicia releases final Resolution to Deny Valero Crude by Rail

By Roger Straw, October 13, 2016

reso_16-160Today the City of Benicia released the final draft of the City Council’s Resolution No. 16-150, A RESOLUTION OF THE CITY COUNCIL OF THE CITY OF BENICIA DENYING A USE PERMIT FOR THE VALERO CRUDE BY RAIL PROJECT AT 3400 EAST SECOND STREET (12PLN-00063)

This document represents the “wordsmithed” version created during the City Council’s October 4 meeting.  This final version has not been previously seen by the public.

At the October 4 meeting, Council members insisted on strengthening the section (now numbered 1. on page 4) that describes the Surface Transportation Board’s decision, clarifying its opinion “that the City has the police power to protect public health and safety so long as it does ‘not discriminate against rail carriers or unreasonably burden interstate commerce.'”

The Council also directed staff to make substantial changes in the format of the staff’s draft version, moving all references to rail-related impacts to a single “informational” item (now numbered 2A-2F on pages 4-6).

The heart of the revised document – findings for denial – are numbered 3-6 on pages 6-9.

NOTE: The 10-page PDF document linked above is large (4.8MB) and slow to download from the City’s website, so be patient.  A smaller unofficial version can be downloaded here or you can download the original from Google Drive here.

San Luis Obispo victory: media roundup

In an email from Ethan Buckner…

SLO victory: media roundup

By Ethan Buckner,, 10/6/2016 2:23 PM

Sacramento Bee: California rejects another oil company’s plan to ship oil on trains

San Luis Obispo Tribune: SLO Planning Commission rejects Phillips 66 oil-by-rail proposal

KSBY News:

KCBX: SLO County Planning Commission votes to deny Phillips 66 rail spur project

Lompoc Record: SLO County Planning Commission votes down oil-by-rail proposal

CalCoast News: SLO County Planning Commission denies Phillips 66 rail spur project

Pacific Coast Business Times: Phillips 66’s crude-by-rail proposal denied

Benicia City Council approves “findings,” officially closes the door on Valero Crude By Rail

By Roger Straw, October 5, 2016

benicia_logoAfter lengthy discussion and significant tweaking on Tuesday night Oct 4, the Benicia City Council unanimously approved a Resolution to Deny Valero’s proposal to build an offloading facility for oil trains. After a long list of whereases, the document indicates “findings” that back up the Council’s unanimous September 20 vote to deny Valero’s permit.

Anticipating litigation, Council members spent hours reworking the findings submitted by City Attorney Heather McLaughlin, making every effort to approve a document that would be “bullet-proof” in a court of law.

In the draft submitted to Council by staff, a number of the findings pointed out serious impacts both uprail and onsite.  Council wordsmithed the document to move suggested “findings” that relate to OFFSITE rail impacts to a section of the document that was “for information only.”  That section is included only to alert State and Federal governmental officials and regulators that more needs to be done at those levels to reign in unsafe and polluting transport of North American crude oil by rail.

The remaining findings relating to ONSITE impacts are extensive, and should be more than adequate to stand up in any possible court challenge.

The edited version of Council’s Resolution is not yet available as of this writing.  The draft copy is available here.  Minutes of the Council meeting have not yet been posted, but VIDEO of the Oct 4 meeting is available on the City’s website, here.  The Council’s discussion begins at 2:19:10 on the video and goes for an hour and a half, until the end of the meeting, at 3:49:34.