Category Archives: Sacramento CA

YOLANO CLIMATE ACTION: Update on Valero Crude-by-Rail and Next Steps

Repost from Yolano Climate Action

Update on Valero Crude-by-Rail and Next Steps

Posted: March 26, 2016 in Rail Transport of Oil

Linda Maio, Vice Mayor of Berkeley, spoke to the Planning commission.
Linda Maio, Vice Mayor of Berkeley, spoke to the Planning commission.

After three years of study, the Benicia Planning Commission voted not to certify the final EIR and denied the Valero Crude-by-Rail on February 11, 2016.    Read about the Planning Commission Resolution here.

Listen to the Chairman’s report to the City Council here.

Valero appealed the decision to the Benicia city council who began their hearing on March 15 and will take public testimony on April 4, 6 and 19.   There are two steps residents can take now.

A. Write letters:

The public may send letters for the city council members to:

Amy Million, Principal Planner, Benicia Community Development Department, by email:
You may also send your letter Amy Million by mail to 250 East L Street, Benicia, CA 94510, or by Fax: (707) 747-1637.  Please include a request that the letter be added to the record for the Valero Crude-by-Rail Project.

Suggestions for letters:

  1. Write your first letter.  If you have not commented during the last three years, here is your chance to comment on your concern, such as the risk of spill or explosion in the event of a derailment with reference to the habitat of city of Davis or even the proximity to your home, the added air pollution, the additional ghg emissions, the lack of proof of liability coverage, the location of the tracks through downtown Davis, etc.
  2. Past letters – yes! Do not assume the city council has read what you wrote in the past three years.  They have access to those documents, but that does not mean they’ve put in the hours and hours to read the thousands of pages of testimony!    So by all means use ideas and language from past letters.  Refer them to past letters for more details if you summarize, if those points are still the ones you want to emphasize.  It’s good to refer to past documents and ask that they be included in the record.
  3. Photographs are excellent. If you have any photos showing how near the tracks are to where you live or work, include them.  Better yet, email high resolution photos to with information about the location and subject of the photo.  We may be able to use the photo in a powerpoint of Davis.
  4. New arguments are ok! It’s also fine to introduce new thoughts and concerns in your letters and spoken testimony now.
  5. Critique of EIR process ok. It’s a great idea to mention whether we felt our letters were carefully considered and the responses to them were thorough and taken seriously.  If we were disappointed by the responses, describe why.  (Hint:  Scanning through the pages, they scarcely replied to any of the letter comments to the Revised EIR; they just acknowledged the comments, or dismissed them as unrelated, etc.)  We’re critiquing the company who conducted the EIR.

B. Ride the bus to the Public Hearing on April 4th in Benicia

  1. Ride the bus so we have a Davis contingent on April 4th. Please see the Yolano Climate Action post for bus sign-ups.  There will be a Davis pick-up at Caffe Italia at approximately 5:15.  You do not need to speak.  Your silent presence is very helpful.  We have a group of 7-8 of us who will speak.
  2. April 4 agenda available after March 28. The content of the April 4 meeting is not yet announced. It will most likely address two issues:  1) the Valero proposal to refer the federal preemption decision to the federal Surface Transportation Board (STB has pros and cons), and 2) the beginning of testimony from the public on whether to certify the FEIR and/or approve the project.  Staff will make recommendations on March 28 and an agenda will be posted before Ap. 4 so we’ll at least know the order.  We will not know any protocol about speaking, although there will not be sign-ups like last time.  So…on  April 4 & 6 & 19
    1. We each will get only a given number of minutes to speak (not more than 5, maybe less) and only one time to speak during this 3-day testimony period. I think.
    2. Davis residents may not want to address the Valero proposal to refer the federal preemption decision to the Surface Transportation Board.
    3. We may prefer to save our time to stay with what concerns us most directly: Crude-by-rail is too dangerous to go through our neighbors every day or any time.
    4. It’s impossible to tell at this point and probably until Ap. 4 and maybe not even then, when we’ll get to testify. Maybe no time for testimony on the FEIR and project on April 4?  But we  have to be prepared and present just in case.

DAVIS & SACRAMENTO: How to participate in Benicia oil train hearings April 4th

From an email by Lynne Nittler, Davis CA, March 26, 2016

Still time to participate in Valero-Benicia Oil Train Decision

YolanoClimateActionCentralAfter three years of study, the Benicia Planning Commission voted not to certify the final EIR and denied the Valero Crude-by-Rail Project on February 11.

This decision came about through the sustained efforts of Benicians for a Healthy and Safe Community with consistent support from individuals in Davis and Sacramento who wrote letters and testified during all the stages of the Environmental Impact Review process.  The involvement of many uprail agencies (7 Air Quality Management Districts, lawyers from Sierra Club, NRDC, Forest Ethics,  Stanford Law Center, the CA Attorney General, etc.) and governmental bodies (City of Davis, Yolo County, Sacramento Area Council of Governments, etc.) were instrumental in the Planning Commissioners decision-making. Many hundreds of pages of written comments were submitted.

Valero appealed the decision to the Benicia City Council.  Public testimony will be on April 4, 6 and 19.

Concerned Davis residents are encouraged to write their specific concerns to the Benicia City Council.  Hints for letter-writing ideas and where to send the letters are found at the website below.

Residents are also invited to reserve a space on the bus heading to Benicia on April 4th.  There will be a pickup at Caffe Italia parking lot at approximately 5:15pm to arrive in Benicia around 6pm.  The bus will leave Benicia at 9pm.  Riders do not need to testify.  We need a large Davis contingent present to show our concern about the prospect of oil trains coming through our downtown.

For more details, read “Update” and “Ride the bus” posted at  For questions, contact Lynne at lnittler at sbcglobal dot net.

Sacramento Bee Editorial: Oil train safety gets an important boost from area Planning Commissions

Repost from the Sacramento Bee

Oil train safety gets an important boost

By the Editorial Board, February 16, 2016 6:05 AM

• Sacramento-area officials say the risks of transporting oil should be weighed in refinery plans
• The planning commission in Benicia and planners in San Luis Obispo County have rejected refinery proposals
• If officials want to approve plans, they must justify why public safety is outweighed

Workers tend to the scene of a oil train derailment in Watertown, Wis., last Nov. 9. Communities across California and the country are concerned about the safety of trains carrying oil.
Workers tend to the scene of a oil train derailment in Watertown, Wis., last Nov. 9. Communities across California and the country are concerned about the safety of trains carrying oil. John Hart Associated Press

Officials in the Sacramento region have every right to raise safety concerns about oil trains rumbling through. Now they have key allies in their cause.

Last week, the city of Benicia’s planning commission unanimously rejected a plan by Valero Refining Co. to take deliveries twice a day from 50-tanker trains that would roll through Roseville, downtown Sacramento, West Sacramento and downtown Davis on their way to Benicia. As The Bee’s Tony Bizjak reports, planners in San Luis Obispo County have also recommended against a plan by Phillips 66 for about 150 trains a year to bring oil to its refinery.

While local residents and environmental groups objected, some Benicia planning commissioners said they also heard Sacramento-area residents and officials loud and clear. “I don’t want to be the planning commissioner in the one city that said ‘screw you’ to up-rail cities,” Commissioner Susan Cohen Grossman said.

The Sacramento Area Council of Governments, representing six counties and 22 cities, had argued that Benicia’s environmental review was inadequate because it didn’t look at how to protect cities along the route. That analysis concluded the trains could create a “potentially significant” hazard to the public from oil spills and fires, but only once every few decades.

Yet, as Don Saylor, a Yolo County supervisor and a former SACOG chairman, points out, depending where a derailment happened, heavily populated neighborhoods could be in the blast zone.

He told The Sacramento Bee’s editorial board Tuesday that the best solution is for the oil to be stabilized at the source in the oil fields of North Dakota and elsewhere, and then transported in state-of-the-art rail cars. That, of course, would cut into oil and rail industry profits, and government regulators aren’t there yet.

Indeed, they have been trying to catch up to the boom in domestic oil production and rail transport. After more than two years of debate, the U.S. Department of Transportation last May issued new rules under which the oldest tank cars must be replaced by 2018 with thicker-shelled ones, and cars built since 2011 must be retrofitted or replaced by 2020.

Valero, which wants to build a rail spur and unloading station at its refinery, is expected to appeal to the Benicia City Council. The planning commission in San Luis Obispo is scheduled to vote in late March or April.

Officials could still overturn the recommendations and approve these trains. But at least now, they must justify why safety concerns are outweighed.

KCRA: Residents voice concerns over proposed rail transport in Benicia

Repost from KCRA News, Sacramento
[Editor:  This report suffers from a few errors of fact, but is a welcome bit of coverage.  Very few news reports have surfaced following last night’s important hearing.  I wasn’t able to embed the video of reporter Tom Miller.  Go to KCRA to watch.  – RS]

Residents voice concerns over proposed rail transport in Benicia

Two 50-car trains would move through cities like Sac, Davis

By Tom Miller, Feb 08, 2016 11:58 PM PST

KCRA 2016-02-08BENICIA, Calif. (KCRA) —A push to bring crude oil on trains through Northern California to the Bay Area has many residents in the towns and cities it would pass through worried about the environmental and safety risks that go with it.

Valero Energy Corporation is asking the Benicia Planning Commission to approve $55 million in upgrades to its local refinery.

The project would allow two 50-car trains, each carrying 35,000 barrels of crude oil, to unload at the refinery each day.

The crude would come from all over the continent and would be carried through major urban centers like Sacramento, Roseville and Davis.

“We are not confident that the cars that are being used for this transport will safely transport them through our communities, our sensitive habitat, along the rivers and streams in our region,” Yolo County Supervisor Don Saylor said.

According to Saylor, 500,000 people live within a half-mile of the tracks in El Dorado, Placer, Sacramento, Sutter, Yolo and Yuba counties.

An environmental impact report found eight “potentially significant impacts” that could be addressed with mitigation measures and 11 “significant and unavoidable impacts.”

Both categories include environmental effects on air quality and biological resources.

However, in the unavoidable impacts section, the report lists greenhouse gas emissions in addition to hazards and hazardous materials.

The report states the project could pose a significant threat to the public or environment in an accident involving a spill.

The report goes on to say, “Although the risk of such an occurrence is extremely low, the potential consequences of such an event could be extremely high.”

In 2013, 47 people were killed in Quebec, Canada, after a crude oil train derailed there.

Saylor is worried a similar incident could happen in Northern California.

“The highly volatile substances included within this transport could be very damaging to our communities, to our businesses (and) to our homeowners,” he said.

Valero insists that’s unlikely in Northern California. The company plans to use upgraded train cars and said its crude oil is less volatile.

“Some of the early concerns about rail safety are based on scenarios that wouldn’t exist in our project,” Valero’s Heath, Safety and Environment Director Chris Howe said.

The company, which contributes 20 percent of the money in Benicia’s general fund, currently employs 500 people within the city.

Howe said the upgrades at the refinery would create 120 temporary jobs during the anticipated five months of construction and 20 new, permanent jobs.

However, Howe said ultimately it is not Valero’s responsibility when it comes to assuring the public a disaster would not occur in Northern California.

“We look to the railroad to safely deliver that material to our refinery, but I point out that marine deliveries in the bay, much larger volumes, will be reduced in risk through the delivery of crude by rail,” he said.

Despite the environmental concerns, Benicia city staff recommended the planning commission approve the Valero project.

On Monday, Benicia City Hall was filled with more than a 100 people, hoping to weigh in on the proposal.

Elizabeth Lasensky carpooled from Davis with nearly a dozen others, hoping her anti crude-by-rail stance would be heard by the commissioners.

“Every time a train goes through, our probability is increased, and that’s just for an explosion,” Lasensky said. “We still have to deal with the air pollutants and the noise pollution.”

Because of the number of residents hoping to voice their concerns, the planning commission has scheduled public comment sessions every day through Thursday, when it’s expected to vote on the project.