Via Elly Benson

Benicia is a small waterside town close to San Francisco that may be most likely easiest recognized for in short serving because the California state capital within the 1800s. However final week, six making plans commissioners on this quiet group dealt a blow to the oil business once they unanimously rejected oil large Valero’s inspiration to move crude to its native refinery in bad oil trains. Valero’s plan to obtain 50-tanker oil trains on a daily basis on the Benicia refinery is emblematic of broader business efforts to ramp up shipping of oil — together with grimy tar sands crude from Canada and explosive Bakken crude from North Dakota — in mile-lengthy trains to refineries alongside the West Coast.

The 6-zero vote got here in a while sooner than middle of the night on Thursday, February eleventh — after 4 consecutive nights of public hearings that lasted till eleven pm or later. While the hearings started at Benicia Town Corridor on Monday night, greater than one hundred fifty folks had signed as much as talk and the gang crammed the listening to room, a couple of overflow rooms, and the construction’s courtyard. The commissioners heard from ratings of involved Benicia citizens — and in addition from citizens of “up-rail” cities and towns (together with Sacramento and Davis) who can be endangered by way of the oil trains rolling thru their groups so as to the Valero refinery. Oil teach derailments and explosions have higher dramatically in contemporary years — together with the July 2013 oil teach derailment in Lac-Megantic, Canada that tragically killed forty seven folks.


Benicia Town Corridor used to be nonetheless packed at eleven:30pm on night time three of of the Making plans Fee hearings.

In denying the challenge, the commissioners went towards Town making plans team of workers’s advice to approve Valero’s inspiration. Group of workers advisable approval in spite of concluding that the advantages don’t outweigh the a large number of “vital and unavoidable” affects on up-rail groups (together with derailments, oil spills, and explosions). The body of workers document insisted that federal law of railroads signifies that the felony doctrine of preemption prohibits the Town from mitigating — and even making an allowance for — any of the intense dangers that oil trains pose to groups and delicate environments alongside the rail line.

Throughout the general public listening to, the agreement lawyer employed through the Town again and again advised the commissioners that they surely lack any authority to disclaim the allow in line with those rail affects — and went as far as to mention that mere disclosure of those affects may well be illegal.

Lawyers from the Sierra Membership, Herbal Tools Safety Council, and the Stanford Regulation Faculty health center testified on the listening to, refuting this expansive interpretation of the preemption doctrine and urging the commissioners to reject it. Ahead of vote casting to disclaim the challenge, a few commissioners expressed skepticism that they’re legally required to show a blind eye to the grave risks that oil trains pose to up-rail groups. One commissioner advised the agreement lawyer that his interpretation of the preemption factor is “one hundred eighty levels other” from the view expressed by way of different lawyers. (The use of extra colourful language, any other commissioner stated: “I do not need to be the making plans commissioner in the only town that stated ‘screw you’ to up-rail towns.”)

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Linda Maio, Vice Mayor of the Town of Berkeley, California, chatting with the Benicia Making plans Fee.

For years, the Sierra Membership and our companions have driven again towards Valero’s makes an attempt to hide the real affects of its oil teach inspiration. The Town to begin with attempted to approve the venture with out carrying out complete environmental evaluation. In 2013, we submitted feedback difficult that plan of action, which contributed to the Town’s choice to flow into an “environmental have an effect on record” (EIR) for the undertaking. We then submitted remark letters settling on prime flaws within the the draft EIR (2014), revised draft EIR (2015), and ultimate EIR (2016). Our allies in those efforts come with Benicians for a Protected and Wholesome Group, NRDC, ForestEthics, Groups for a Higher Surroundings, Middle for Organic Variety, Sunflower Alliance, and SF Baykeeper, amongst others.

The Lawyer Basic additionally weighed in at the inadequacies of the Town’s environmental assessment — in particular noting the failure to thoroughly examine affects on up-rail groups. And the Sacramento Space Council of Governments, which represents 6 counties and 22 towns, characterised the Town’s environmental evaluation as “a non-reaction” to its public protection considerations approximately oil trains traversing the Sacramento space.

After vote casting to disclaim the venture, the Making plans Fee issued a solution deciding on 14 deficiencies within the ultimate environmental have an effect on record. The solution additionally concluded that “Group of workers’s interpretation of preemption is just too wide….” (Particularly, only a few days prior to the Benicia hearings, loads of folks converged on San Luis Obispo to induce county making plans commissioners to reject a equivalent oil teach idea at a Phillips sixty six refinery. In direct distinction to the placement followed by way of the Benicia making plans workforce, the San Luis Obispo county making plans team of workers beneficial denial of the undertaking — due largely to the environmental and well being affects alongside the rail line. The San Luis Obispo making plans commissioners are anticipated to vote at the Phillips sixty six notion in March.)

Valero has till February twenty ninth to attraction the Making plans Fee’s choice to the Benicia Town Council.

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Benicia citizens got here to Town Corridor to voice their competition to Valero’s oil teach challenge.

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