Valero’s appeal: ok, this was expected. What’s next?

By Roger Straw, March 1, 2016

We’ve been expecting this for years. Get on with it!

Yes, this pep talk is for myself – but it might work for you, too: This is no surprise. Stop worrying over Valero’s attorney-driven shock and awe.

Yes, for a week or two, we entertained a slim hope that Valero would do the right thing.  A huge turnout of local and distant residents showed overwhelming opposition.  Our Planning Commission arrived at a unanimous decision to turn down the EIR and deny the project.  Oil train projects across the Strait in Pittsburg, in San Luis Obispo and in Washington state have been stopped or met with official disapproval.  Oil prices are down.  And this is a Benicia City Council election year.

We dared to hope.

But yesterday, Valero showed its hand: it will disregard the public’s concerns for health and safety.  It will rely on an unproven federal exemption to muzzle local decision-makers and to allow dangerous and polluting railroad traffic uprail from Benicia.  It will rely on that exemption with legalese and not-so-hidden threats of litigation, hoping the City of Benicia would rather be sued by environmentalists than by the corporate legal muscle of the largest refinery in the U.S.

Valero showed its hand: corporate profit trumps all.

And so many of us thought Valero was a “good neighbor.”

Clearly Valero is not Davis’ good neighbor, nor Sacramento’s. Clearly not neighbor to the Feather River Canyon or Donner Lake or the lands and inhabitants of the Upper Midwest and Alberta, Canada.  Mother Earth is Valero’s neighbor, but it doesn’t seem to matter.

I have been openly critical of the Crude By Rail proposal here in Benicia since my editorial in the Benicia Herald in June of 2013.  At every turn, I have politely invited Valero to consider withdrawal, to do the right thing.  My voice and that of a growing tide of concerned citizens, the voices of California’s Attorney General and other attorneys, the detailed studies of environmental experts, and the unanimous vote of a Planning Commission that studied the proposal for months – all these ignored.

So … our disappointment is real, but we need to forget it and move on.  Remind yourself: this is exactly what we expected.  Now comes the real test.

Sure, we’re tired.  Yes, we need new energy, new volunteers, more yard signs, more letters, and stamina for yet another series of long nights at City Council hearings.  That’s what we signed on for.

We will soon have yet another chance to STOP Crude By Rail.

So what’s next?

For now, we know this (check for updates later):

  • Benicia City Council will consider the appeal on Tuesday, March 15 at 7pm.  This will only be a formal setting of dates for public hearings on the matter. Still, you may want to show up to send a signal.
  • Sometime in late March or April, the City Council will hold a series of hearings much like those recently held by the Planning Commission.  Stay tuned for those dates and plan to attend.
  • Sign the petition if you haven’t already done so.
  • Write to Benicia’s City Council members.  Send your email to City Planner Amy Million at  Be sure to note that your comments are “for the public record on Valero Crude By Rail.”
  • Benicians For a Safe and Healthy Community needs your help. Please go to their Facebook page and their website,