Category Archives: Revised Draft EIR (RDEIR)

Public comment period on Valero Crude-by-Rail RDEIR extended by one day

Repost from the Vallejo Times-Herald

Public comment period on Benicia’s revised Crude-by-Rail report extended

By Times-Herald staff report, 09/01/15, 5:46 PM PDT

Benicia >> The city announced Tuesday afternoon that the public comment period for the revised report on the Valero’s proposed Crude-by-Rail project has been extended by a day.

“Due to the delay in the distribution of the Notice of Availability for the Revised Draft EIR (environment impact report) via mail,” the period has been extended to 5 p.m. on Oct. 16, according to the announcement.

The report was redistributed to the public Monday after comments from the public when the draft was first released in June, 2014.

The proposed project, would allow Valero Benicia Refinery to transport crude oil through Benicia via two 50-tanker car trains, rather than shipping the crude oil by boat. It will not replace the crude that is transported by pipeline.

The revised portions of the report are subject to a 45-day public comment period.

The Planning Commission will hold a formal public hearing to receive comments on the revised report on Sept. 29.

In anticipation of the number of speakers, additional Planning Commission meetings to receive comments are scheduled for Sept. 30, Oct. 1, and Oct. 8.

These additional meetings will only be held as necessary to hear public comment. All meetings will begin at 6:30 p.m. in the City Council Chambers, Benicia City Hall, at 250 East L St.

No action on the projects will be taken at these meetings, staff said.

Comments may be provided at the public hearing, or may be submitted in writing, no later than the new deadline.

Written comments should be submitted to or Principal Planner Amy Million at the Community Development Department 250 East L St.

The report can be reviewed at the Benicia Public Library, 150 East L St.; the Community Development Department, 250 East L St.; or here.

Valero Benicia Crude by Rail: RDEIR now available, links here

Project Documents: Valero Crude by Rail

By Roger Straw, Benicia Independent Editor, 8/31/15
UPDATED September 4, 2015

Here you can download documents from the City of Benicia’s website.  They are the official documents submitted by Valero and/or prepared by City consultants, including the Report itself, eight appendices and ninety (!) reference documents.  (Documents submitted by citizens and others commenting on the proposal may be found on our Project Review page.)  Caution: many of these are huge downloads.

The Recirculated Draft EIR – released August 31, 2015

Benicia: Not exactly a smart, green city

Repost from the Benicia Herald

Grant Cooke: Benicia: Not exactly a smart, green city

By Grant Cooke, August 28, 2015
Grant Cooke is a long-time Benicia resident and owner of Sustainable Energy Associates. He is also co-author of “The Green Industrial Revolution: Energy, Engineering and Economics.” His new book, “Smart Green Cities” will be published in 2016.

THOMAS HOBBES, THE GREAT 16TH-CENTURY British political philosopher, wrote in “Leviathan” that humans living without legitimate government would eventually dissolve into a “state of nature.” This state of nature was brutish with violent chaos, evil discord and civil war. Legitimate government, Hobbes believed, had a “social contract” to wield power and authority.

Hobbes’ vision that governmental power be used for the moral good evolved into our current view that government, particularly on the local level, has a responsibility and obligation to protect and maintain the safety of its citizens. Which brings us to present-day Benicia and the return of the Valero Crude-by-Rail Project as we anticipate the Recirculated Draft Environmental Impact Report (RDEIR).

Under Hobbes’ social contract, it is the obligation of local government to maintain public safety. Anything that presents a known risk of explosion or other significant health risk is not something that city government should tolerate. To willingly allow a project that presents a public danger to move forward is ridiculous. And to argue that the Crude-by-Rail Project (CBR) is safe is equally ridiculous. A quick Internet search reveals numerous examples of trains carrying Bakken crude derailing or exploding.

The fossil fuel industry has a clear record of putting profits above safety. We have ample local examples, from the Chevron fire in Richmond to the San Bruno natural gas explosion. With tens of thousands of oil cars carrying volatile crude into the Bay Area, one or more explosions is all but guaranteed to occur. We all know it’s just a role of the dice whether the explosion happens in Benicia or another town along the line.

The conversation will probably build with the release Monday of the RDEIR. No doubt, the discussion will be as heated as ever. Regardless, let’s put some broad strokes on the situation, as there are several factors to consider:

  • Firstly, the CBR is an effort by Valero to increase its business and, therefore, its profits. Unfortunately, for that to happen the city must risk its residents’ health and well-being. This is not in your interest.
  • Valero, an oil company, benefits from the CBR; the city doesn’t. The idea that Valero, or any for-profit fossil fuel company, is a “Good Neighbor” to Benicia is silly and naïve.
  • Benicia’s future, and the city’s future tax base, can no longer be dependent on heavy-carbon industries. The current tax revenue from the refinery is not sustainable, or even desirable.
  • The decline in costs for renewable energy will create an energy price deflation that will make oil non-competitive. Ali Al-Naimi, Saudis Arabia’s oil minister, told a climate conference in Paris in June that the world’s largest crude exporter will eventually sell solar power instead of crude. He also renewed the kingdom’s commitment to current levels of production, putting more pressure on U.S. oil producers and refiners.
  • Besides the global switch to renewable energy, our local refineries will be under growing pressure from regional air quality regulators to clean up their emissions. And as the international effort to make large emitters pay for their carbon releases grows, carbon taxes or offsets will cut into refinery profits.
  • Within a decade or so, Valero and most Bay Area refineries will be shuttered. We need to begin discussions with Valero about what happens when they shut down. How will the refinery pay for the site cleanup and residual hazardous waste?
  • Even as the tax stream from Valero declines, Benicia, like most California cities, is also facing exponentially rising retiree benefit costs. The revenue decline cannot be made up with increased resident taxes (as the base gets older, it is harder to raise taxes) — so Benicia will be forced to cut services.
  • Also likely: Benicia’s municipal services and government will merge with Vallejo’s or go to a regional model. The era of small, local government is ending for numerous reasons. Small city governments can’t achieve the cost efficiencies or employee productivity needed to keep pace with rising costs and retiree benefit obligations. Large organizations can make better use of technology and smart systems to improve productivity and increase efficiency.
  • Small city governments don’t have the resources needed to deal with the future’s looming problems. Valero’s CBR clearly shows how ineffective small cities like Benicia are in dealing with problems that overlap. The same is true as small cities are forced to confront the future’s critical problems of mitigating climate change, wealth inequality (poverty, homelessness, gang violence and terrorism), and restraining agglomeration and urban sprawl. For example, Benicia city government’s ongoing struggles to convert to a new information technology package. Or the City Council’s inability to address even simple environmental issues like eliminating the use of plastic bags, promoting renewable energy or endorsing a pro-environmental or sustainability position. If a city government can’t agree that reducing the number of plastic bags clogging up our landfills is a good thing, how can it promote community respect for the environment — or more complicated values like decency, tolerance or a respect for others?

* * *

FOR MANY REASONS, BENICIA IS AT A CROSSROADS, and its future is worrisome. As a city, we need to come to grips with the reality that the fossil fuel/carbon era is ending, and we have to turn to a pro-environmental, knowledge-based and sustainable economy.

For the past several months, I’ve been researching the world’s smart and green cities. Despite the heroic efforts of Benicia’s Community Sustainability Commission, I’m sad to say that my lovely hometown is neither.

I was reminded of this the other evening at a friend’s house that overlooked our bay. The view was beautiful, with the silvery-gray straits glowing in the declining sunlight. But when I looked closer, I saw trash along the waterline, and the water showed traces of oil and pollution in the shallows.

It was so much different than Copenhagen’s harbor. Did you know that the citizens of Copenhagen had the wherewithal a few years ago to clean centuries of pollution and trash out of their harbor? And that every summer, four major swimming areas along that city’s waterfront attract thousands of Danes and other Europeans to bask in the northern sun and swim in the harbor’s clean waters?

Can you imagine going for a swim in Benicia’s harbor?

Copenhagen’s clean harbor points to the sharp contrast in attitudes about the environment held by Europeans and Americans. After decades of neglect, Europe has come around and now takes pride in cleaning up its environment. Most European nations, reflecting the will of their citizens, are mindful of waste and diligently work to reduce carbon emissions. Hamburg, for example, is deeply worried that global warming will raise sea levels and create havoc with their harbor and lowlands. The city has carved out several green zones, added trees to absorb carbon and reduced auto traffic. In Scotland, over 40 percent of the country’s domestic energy use is supplied by renewable energy. Germany is striving for 100-percent renewable energy by mid-century.

But Benicia — a city that sits on the water — doesn’t seem to give a flip about potential flooding from warming seas, or the steady degradation of its remarkably beautiful environment. The lack of concern underscores the general sense shared by far too many Americans — particularly those involved in the carbon industries — who view our environment and atmosphere as one large garbage can.

Grant Cooke is a long-time Benicia resident and owner of Sustainable Energy Associates. He is also co-author of “The Green Industrial Revolution: Energy, Engineering and Economics.” His new book, “Smart Green Cities” will be published in 2016.

Benicia Herald: Another delay as crude-by-rail project debate enters 3rd year

Repost from The Benicia Herald

Another delay as crude-by-rail project debate enters 3rd year

City announces five-month recirculation of environmental report for Valero proposal first announced in February 2013

February 5, 2015 by Donna Beth Weilenman

The first draft of a lengthly environmental impact report on the proposed Valero Crude-By-Rail Project will be rewritten, and the revised document may be available for public viewing June 30, the city announced in a prepared statement.

The window for commenting on the revised report, once it is released, is 45 days, according to the city.

“After the comment period on the Recirculated DEIR (Draft Environmental Impact Report) closes, the city will complete the Final EIR (Environmental Impact Report) which will include responses to all comments on the original Draft EIR and the Recirculated Draft EIR,” the statement said.

Valero Benicia Refinery originally applied for a use permit for the $30 million project Dec. 20, 2012, submitting additional drawings Feb. 18, 2013, and a project description in March 2013.

The project was publicly announced in February 2013.

The cost of the proposed project triggered the necessity of a Planning Commission public hearing on the permit. Had the endeavor been smaller and less expensive, a city employee could have made the decision over the counter.

The company is asking to extend three Union Pacific Railroad tracks onto its property and make other modifications so it can accept North American crude oil it said would resemble the composition of the oil it currently receives from Alaska and foreign countries by maritime oil tanker. All construction would be on appropriately zoned land.

The refinery has contended the change not only would help it remain competitive, but that the project would reduce dependency on foreign fuel and result in a net reduction of greenhouse gases in the San Francisco Bay Area, since trains produce fewer emissions than tanker ships.

Trains would bring in 70,000 barrels of crude daily, replacing the same volume currently delivered by ship, according to the application. Other elements of the refinery’s operations would not change.

Refinery officials had hoped the permitting process would go smoothly, and that the rail operations would be started well before 2013 ended.

But before the matter got its first public airing, residents and environmental groups began meeting to air their concerns.

Those worries were heightened after a crude-carrying train, left idling and unattended July 6, 2013, in the Quebec, Canada town of Lac-Megantic, became a runaway that derailed and exploded, killing 47 people and destroying a significant portion of the city’s downtown area.

Initially, local meetings focused on pollution blamed on heavy, sour Canadian tar sands oil. Attention soon shifted to the preponderance of trains carrying the sweet North American crude, particularly from the American Bakken fields, and meeting conversations turned to the volatility of the lighter crude and whether federal standards for tanker rail cars are adequate.

Those concerns, and whether plans were adequate to cope with possible rises in water levels, earthquakes, nesting birds and marshland plants and wildlife convinced city officials to seek the more comprehensive EIR to comply with California Environmental Quality Act requirements, instead of the less intense mitigated negative declaration.

That decision was praised by Benicia’s representative in the state Senate, Lois Wolk, a Davis Democrat who called the move “wise.”

The weighty first EIR draft was released June 17, 2014, and the Planning Commission decided July 11, 2014, to give the public additional time — until mid-September of that year — to submit questions and comments. That panel also set aside multiple meetings to accept comments and observations from those who wanted to do so in person.

Among those weighing in were Wolk, who said, “I seriously question whether the EIR has adequately evaluated the true risk of an accident or a spill involved with this project.”

After the formal commentary period had closed, California Attorney General Kamala Harris and Deputy Attorney General Scott J. Lichtig sent an Oct. 2, 2014, letter that said, “Unfortunately, the DEIR for this project fails to properly account for many of the project’s potentially significant impacts.”

The pair wrote that the DEIR “ignores reasonably foreseeable project impacts” by limiting its scope to the 69 miles of rail between Benicia and Roseville, adding that it failed to look at the cumulative impacts of multiple crude-by-rail projects on public safety and the environment.

Supporters of the project, including members of organized labor associations, Valero employees and others, disagreed, particularly at the public meetings.

They reminded the Planning Commission that Valero officials had committed to using reinforced rail cars, and that the refinery continues to earn one of the highest industrial safety designations the Occupational Safety and Health Administration can award. They also noted that Benicia gets a significant portion of its revenue from the refinery, a major local employer, and that the project would add both temporary construction and permanent operations jobs.

The report itself noted the refinery would have to meet requirements of existing rules that govern oil refining, including the California Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006; and that the project could displace as many as 73 ships annually and trade their 25,550,000 barrels for an equal amount brought by train, which would reduce maritime deliveries by as much as 82 percent.

The project calls for about 8,880 track feet of new railroad, and would realign about 3,580 existing track feet. New rail spurs and parallel storage and departure spurs would be built between the east side of the lower tank farm and the west side of the fence along Sulphur Springs Creek.

Also part of the project are crude oil offloading pumps and pipeline, and associated infrastructure, spill containment structures, a firewater pipeline, groundwater wells and a service road. It includes the construction of 4,000 feet of 16-inch crude oil pipeline.

The project, if approved, is expected to take about 25 weeks to complete, and the refinery would eventually be able to accept up to 100 tank cars of crude daily in two 50-car trains, according to the initial report draft.

Those trains would be asked not to cross Park Road during commuter hours, 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. and 4-6 p.m.

Trains would come to Benicia through Roseville, where cars would be assembled into a train, the report said. Uprail communities would experience “significant and unavoidable” air quality impacts as a result, without receiving the benefit of reduced tanker ship deliveries, the report said.

The first draft of the report said such elements as noise generation and likelihood of spills would be less than significant, though any such spill would be “a significant impact,” particularly in the vulnerable Suisun Marsh and other wetlands.

The report said it wouldn’t conflict or obstruct applicable air quality plans, and would comply in particular with the Bay Area Air Quality Management District Bay Area 2010 Clean Air Plan.

However, locomotive engine emissions are regulated at the federal level, and Benicia isn’t allowed to impose emissions controls on them, the report noted.