VALLEJO TIMES-HERALD: Attorney general letter disagrees with Valero, Benicia city staff

Repost from the Vallejo Times-Herald
(Also appearing in the East Bay Times, the San Jose Mercury News, the Santa Cruz Sentinel and the Monterey Herald)

Attorney general letter disagrees with Valero, Benicia city staff

By Irma Widjojo, 04/15/16, 5:43 PM PDT

Benicia >> The Office of Attorney General Kamala Harris has sent a strongly worded letter to the City of Benicia regarding Valero Benicia Refinery’s proposed crude by rail project.

In the letter, dated Thursday, Harris’ office disagrees with the city staff and Valero’s conclusion that Interstate Commerce Commission Termination ACT, or ICCTA, prohibits the city from taking rail-related impacts into account while deciding on the project.

The issue of preemption has been the crux of the discussion regarding the project. In March, the Planning Commission has denied the use permit application and declined to certify the project’s Environmental Impact Report, or EIR.

In its appeal, Valero states that it agrees with the city staff’s conclusion that the city is legally prohibited from making that decision based on the 11 “unavoidable and significant” rail-related impacts, which were included in the report.

In the letter written by Deputy Attorney General Scott Lichtig, the office said the conclusion is incorrect.

“… ICCTA does not preempt or constrain the city’s discretionary decision-making authority where, as here, the city is exercising that authority with respect to a project taken by an oil company that is not subject to the jurisdiction of the Surface Transportation Board,” the letter states.

In 2014, the office also sent a letter to the city urging it to correct “deficiencies” in the draft EIR.

“In fact, for Benicia to turn a blind eye to the most serious of the project’s environmental impacts, merely because they flow from federally regulated rail operations, would be contrary to both state and federal law,” according to the most recent letter.

On Monday, or if necessary Tuesday, the city council is set to meet to make a decision on Valero’s appeal and its request to postpone the decision making until the company receives a possible declarative order from the State Transportation Board regarding the issue of preemption in the project.

Many public members have spoken in support or opposition to the project in the beginning of the month, and the public comment session will continue on Monday.

When everyone is heard, Valero will have five minutes to make its case, followed by questions from the council before it makes its decision.

Valero is seeking the permit to build infrastructure on site to allow the company bring in two 50-car trains a day carrying up to 70,000 barrels of North American crude oil. The company’s oil is now being transported into the city by marine vessels and pipeline.

Each meeting is set for 7 p.m. at City Hall, 250 E. L St.