Category Archives: Valero Benicia Appeal

VALLEJO TIMES-HERALD: Valero crude oil by rail decision delayed to September

Repost from the Vallejo Times-Herald

Benicia: Valero crude oil by rail decision delayed to September

By Irma Widjojo, 04/21/16, 12:01 AM PDT

BENICIA — The public will have to wait until at least late summer for a possible resolution on Valero Benicia Refinery’s controversial crude-by-rail project, after the City Council voted 3-2 to postpone a decision to Sept. 20.

Vice Mayor Mark Hughes, Councilwoman Christina Strawbridge and Councilman Alan Schwartzman said they need more information to make any decision on the project, while Mayor Elizabeth Patterson and Councilman Tom Campbell said they are ready to move forward.

In December 2012, the refinery submitted an application seeking permission to build infrastructure to bring two 50-car trains a day carrying up to 70,000 barrels of North American crude oil into Benicia. The issue has sparked intense debate in the Solano County city amid growing environmental and safety concerns surrounding crude-by-rail traffic nationwide.

The issue of postponement was raised when Valero submitted the request last month during the first day of the appeal hearing. An attorney representing the company said the refinery is seeking to send a request for a declaratory order from the Surface Transportation Board, or STB, on the issue of federal pre-emption in regards to the project.

“I’m really frustrated with the whole pre-emption issue,” Schwartzman said following Tuesday’s vote. “If there’s an opportunity to narrow down that pre-emption issue, then gosh darn it, I want that opportunity. Let’s ask (Surface Transportation Board) and get some type of feedback. I know this is an emotional issue … but in my mind, at this particular point, there’s a lot of uncertainty.”

Much of the discussion during the Planning Commission hearing on the project revolved around federal pre-emption.

City staff and Valero asserted that the city is legally prohibited from imposing any mitigation measures on rail-related impacts, or denying the project because of those reasons. However, the commission unanimously voted to deny the project and declined to certify its environmental report citing vagueness in the law.

The report indicates that all 11 “significant and unavoidable” impacts are rail-related.

Valero officials said they plan to send the request to STB in 30 days, and estimated that an order will be issued within six months.

If no response is received by Sept. 20, the council would decide if it would wait further or make a decision based on current information.

“We are glad that the council took up our recommendation to seek more info from STB,” said Chris Howe, Valero’s health, safety and environment director.

Patterson and Campbell, who opposed the postponement, also said they were going to vote to deny the permit use application based on the information given. While Patterson said she was not going to vote to certify the project’s environmental impact report, Campbell said he would.

Meanwhile, state Attorney General Kamala Harris’ office sent a strongly worded letter to the city earlier this month saying it disagrees with the city staff and Valero’s conclusion that the Interstate Commerce Commission Termination ACT, or ICCTA, prohibits the city from taking rail-related impacts into account while deciding on the project.

CRAIG SNIDER: An interesting evening at City Hall last night

Nextdoor_logoRepost from Nextdoor, Benicia CA

An interesting evening at City Hall last night

By Craig Snider, April 19, 2016

It was an interesting evening at City Hall last night.

According to Valero, and the “City’s” Valero-funded contract attorney; the City of Benicia has no right to deny the project, because Valero is a “shipper” and when a shipper uses a train to ship their goods, under federal law, nobody can stop them. That’s it in a nutshell.

In other words, if Valero wanted to ship nuclear waste to their refinery and store it there, the City can do nothing to stop them. End of discussion.

Someone needs to tell the citizens of Oakland to stop wasting their time fighting the Utah coal proposal since that city is apparently powerless to prevent a coal exporter from setting up shop and shipping coal out of the Port of Oakland.

Fortunately, our Attorney General and many other knowledgeable attorneys have informed the Council that this interpretation is wrong. A shipper’s rights do not trump State, County, or City zoning laws.

Unfortunately (for those of us that are tired of this issue), three City Council members agreed to postpone the decision until an “opinion” can be obtained from the Federal Surface Transportation Board which may or may not choose to offer their opinion regarding our situation.

Their opinion, if they offer it, is just that. And the City Council will still have to weigh the merits of the various arguments on either side of this issue and choose.

And in either case, a suit will likely follow.

BREAKING: Benicia City Council approves Valero’s request to delay

By Roger Straw, April 19, 2016, 10:20 pm

Benicia City Council approves Valero’s request to delay

Valero will seek a declaratory order from the federal Surface Transportation Board

After posing questions and hearing additional testimony from a Union Pacific railroad executive, Valero executives, and the City’s contract attorney, Bradley Hogin, Benicia’s City Council members offered their opinions and took a 3-2 vote to approve a “continuance” until September 21, to allow Valero to petition the Surface Transportation Board (STB) for a declaratory order in search of clarity on the federally pre-empted limits on a city when considering a land use permit for a refinery’s crude by rail proposal.

Valero surprised everyone when its attorney asked for the delay at the Council’s March 15 meeting.

Council members Alan Schwartzman, Mark Hughes and Christina Strawbridge voted in favor of delay, stating that they needed clarifying information from the STB in order to make an informed decision.  Council member Campbell and Mayor Patterson voted against delay, stating that Council already has sufficient information to make a decision now, and that nothing would be gained by an STB opinion that could still be challenged in court.

During the continuance, (if I understand correctly), public comment will remain closed.  Nevertheless, it is likely the City will receive additional written comments and add them to the official record, as it has done in the past.

After the STB acts to deny Valero’s petition, or should it accept the petition and issue an opinion, the Council will reconvene hearings and vote whether or not to certify the environmental report and whether to approve or deny the land use permit for the project.