Woodland Democrat: Senator Lois Wolk responds to draft environmental report on crude shipments

Repost from the Woodland Democrat

Senator Lois Wolk responds to draft environmental report on crude shipments

By DigitalFirst, 06/20/2014

Environmental documents released this week report that there are “significant and unavoidable” air quality impacts if a project from a local refinery to move crude-by-rail moves forward.

That’s not going far enough, however, according to Senator Lois Wolk, D-Davis.

The Valero Benicia Refinery is seeking approval to bring two 50-tanker car trains of crude oil in and out of Benicia every day, replacing crude shipments by boat. A draft environmental impact report on the plan was released earlier this week.

Valero officials have said the project is necessary to remain competitive on the West Coast. Opponents, however, have raised concerns about the type of crude that could be coming in those tanker cars, such as highly flammable oil from the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota, or Canadian tars sands oil, regarded as more polluting than other crude stocks.

Wolk, who has authored a bill to provide funding for cities to adequately respond to rail emergencies, weighed in on the Draft Environmental Impact Report Thursday.

“The community was wise to demand an EIR for this project,” Wolk said in a prepared statement. “Now that we have one, I seriously question whether the EIR has adequately evaluated the true risk of an accident or a spill involved with this project. In the past year there have been six major incidents across North America where rail accidents resulted in millions of gallons of spilled crude oil. Yet the EIR estimates the risk of oil train spills between Roseville and Benicia would be about only once per 111 years? That defies logic and is a risky assumption based on recent experience. It only takes one minor mishap to cause a major accident or spill and potentially catastrophic impacts to the heavily populated communities through which these trains will run.”

Wolk said the risk requires more action.

“Given the risk from possible spills and accidents involving this hazardous cargo and the project’s anticipated effect on air quality, I urge the City of Benicia, Valero, and Union Pacific to work with the community to implement extraordinary safety measures to guarantee public safety if this project moves forward,” she said.

Wolk, along with Senator Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, authored Senate Bill 506 to provide funding to help communities like Benicia provide adequate emergency response to accidents and spills involving rail transports of crude oil and other hazardous materials.

“California needs to keep in step with the significant increase in shipments of these dangerous materials in order to respond to the growing risk to California’s citizens,” she said.

The EIR also noted that the project would result in “no impact” or “less-than-significant” impacts locally to biological resources, cultural resources, energy conservation, geology and soils, greenhouse gas emissions, hazards and hazardous materials, water quality, land use and planning and noise.

The roughly 1,500-page report will be circulated for a 45-day public comment period ending on Aug. 1, city officials said.