Valero appeal letter: blatantly false opening statement

By Roger Straw, March 4, 2016

Valero appeal letter: blatantly false opening statement

2015-06-21 RDS Guerneville indoors (edited, soft, noexit whiteout 350px bdr)Every time there’s an oil train derailment, and especially when that oil train erupts in shocking balls of fire, the tv reporters run to capture video, bloggers like me post a week’s worth of stories on the catastrophic explosions, and the public gathers in City Park to say “no more, not here.”

Imagine how many hidden stories go unnoticed and unreported every day when our air is polluted. Imagine how many videos are impossible, untaken, unwatched of children with asthma. How many dead fish, how many forests destroyed, how many cancer victims along the rails and in oil production communities and refinery towns.

Every day that extreme North American crude is produced, transported and refined, MORE toxic emissions pollute mother earth and enter into our bodies and the bodies of land on which we live.

My blog, the Benicia Independent, may seem to focus primarily on the extreme safety hazards of these dangerous oil trains. Shocked by news of the many horrific oil train accidents, I have taken to scanning the national news every day for stories on train derailments, discussions of safety regulations and other news relating to hazardous material transport. But I have also faithfully posted Valero’s project documents, Benicia’s studies and staff recommendations, and the massive outpouring of citizen and expert comments critical of Valero’s proposal, comments based on a wide range of health and safety issues.

This week, Valero’s attorney submitted a letter appealing the unanimous decision of Benicia’s Planning Commission. With the backing of Benicia’s staff, Valero wants our City Council to review and dismiss the authoritative deliberations of our Planning Commission and the Commission’s decision to deny the project.

Valero’s appeal letter opens with a flat-out falsehood. It states, “All of the public discussion about the Project has focused on the impacts of rail operations….”

Valero wants to characterize opponents of the project as ONLY concerned about safety, and uninterested in any environmental and health impacts related to Valero’s proposal.

But from the very beginning in 2013, Benicia citizens submitted comments easily accessible as part of the official public record documenting scientific expert analyses that raise serious concerns about toxic emissions during transport, offloading, storage and refining of sweet light crude (Bakken) and ultra-heavy diluted bitumen (tar sands). Benicia’s Good Neighbor Steering Committee, and later, Benicians for a Safe and Healthy Community (BSHC) specifically critiqued the environmental impacts related to construction and operation of the proposed new facility here in Benicia.

The Natural Resources Defense Council, California’s Attorney General, experts Dr. Phyllis Fox and Dr. Petra Pless, the Goodman Group, SAFER California, regional governmental staff and electeds, and many other knowledgeable commenters have joined with local opponents in raising extensive and detailed warnings about the environmental consequences of 1) building and operating the offloading rack, 2) positioning it in the heart of our Industrial Park so near Sulfur Springs and Valero’s existing storage tanks, and 3) refining extreme North American crude oil.

Concerns have been raised repeatedly regarding the “fugitive emissions” escaping during transport on rail cars in and out of the refinery, and especially during the daily repetition of opening and closing valves on 100 train cars in the proposed offloading rack (as compared to many fewer openings and closings of valves for a marine delivery of crude).

Commenters have documented asthma and cancer concerns. We have submitted letters, studied lengthy analyses, and spoken out at hearings in 2013, 2014, 2015 and again last month.

Valero would like not to have heard us.

Our Planning Commission was listening. I hope that our City Council is deep into the 25-inch stack of documents, with ears and eyes open. We (and our Planning Commissioners) should NOT have been mischaracterized and demeaned by Valero’s attorney.

Someone described the harsh and untruthful Valero appeal letter as a “scorched earth” approach. It seems that Valero would like to frighten our City Council members into voting in favor of the project in order to avoid facing a lawsuit by the huge corporation.

The Council will be called upon for courage to do the right thing, regardless of the threats and misleading statements of the project proponent.

All of the public’s comments on health and safety can be found on the City’s website, or at Valero’s appeal letter can be found here.