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Benicia Planning Commissioners Unanimously Reject Valero’s Oil Practice Proposal

Benicia is a small waterside city near San Francisco that is perhaps greatest recognized for briefly serving because the California state capital in the 1800s. However final week, six planning commissioners on this quiet community dealt a blow to the oil business after they unanimously rejected oil giant Valero’s proposal to transport crude to its native refinery in harmful oil trains. Valero’s plan to obtain two 50-tanker oil trains each day on the Benicia refinery is emblematic of broader trade efforts to ramp up transport of oil — including soiled tar sands crude from Canada and explosive Bakken crude from North Dakota — in mile-lengthy trains to refineries alongside the West Coast.

The 6-0 vote came shortly earlier than midnight on Thursday, February eleventh — after 4 consecutive nights of public hearings that lasted till 11 pm or later. When the hearings began at Benicia Metropolis Hall on Monday night, greater than one hundred fifty folks had signed up to talk and the gang stuffed the hearing room, several overflow rooms, and the constructing’s courtyard. The commissioners heard from scores of involved Benicia residents — and also from residents of “up-rail” towns and cities (including Sacramento and Davis) who could be endangered by the oil trains rolling through their communities on the approach to the Valero refinery. Oil practice derailments and explosions have elevated dramatically lately — including the July 2013 oil prepare derailment in Lac-Megantic, Canada that tragically killed 47 people.

Benicia City Hall was still packed at eleven:30pm on night time three of of the Planning Commission hearings.
In denying the venture, the commissioners went against Metropolis planning employees’s recommendation to approve Valero’s proposal. Staff advisable approval despite concluding that the benefits don’t outweigh the numerous “vital and unavoidable” impacts on up-rail communities (including derailments, oil spills, and explosions). The employees report insisted that federal regulation of railroads implies that bloomberg new energy finance intern the legal doctrine of preemption prohibits town from mitigating — and even considering — any of the severe risks that oil trains pose to communities and delicate environments alongside the rail line.

During the public listening to, the contract legal professional hired by the city repeatedly told the commissioners that they unquestionably lack any authority to deny the permit based mostly on these rail impacts — and went so far as to say that mere disclosure of these impacts might be unlawful.

Attorneys from the Sierra Club, Pure Sources Defense Council, and the Stanford Legislation College clinic testified at the hearing, refuting this expansive interpretation of the bloomberg new energy finance intern preemption doctrine and urging the commissioners to reject it. Earlier than voting to deny the challenge, a number of commissioners expressed skepticism that they’re legally required to turn a blind eye to the grave dangers that oil trains pose to up-rail communities. One commissioner instructed the contract legal professional that his interpretation of the preemption subject is “180 degrees completely different” from the view expressed by different attorneys. (Using more colorful language, another commissioner famous: “I do not need to be the planning commissioner within the one city that stated ‘screw you’ to up-rail cities.”)

Linda Maio, Vice Mayor of town of Berkeley, California, speaking to the Benicia Planning Fee.

For years, the Sierra Membership and our companions have pushed again towards Valero’s attempts to conceal the true impacts of its oil prepare proposal. The city initially tried to approve the undertaking with out conducting full environmental assessment. In 2013, we submitted comments difficult that course of action, which contributed to the city’s choice to circulate an “environmental impression report” (EIR) for the undertaking. Cutting plate machine We then submitted comment letters figuring out main flaws within the the draft EIR (2014), revised draft EIR (2015), and ultimate EIR (2016). Our allies in these efforts embody Benicians for a Safe and Wholesome Community, NRDC, ForestEthics, Communities for a greater Environment, Middle for Biological Variety, Sunflower Alliance, and SF Baykeeper, among others.

The Attorney Basic additionally weighed in on the inadequacies of town’s environmental evaluate — particularly noting the failure to adequately analyze impacts on up-rail communities. And the Sacramento Space Council of Governments, which represents 6 counties and 22 cities, characterized the town’s environmental evaluate as “a non-response” to its public security issues about oil trains traversing the Sacramento area.

After voting to deny the challenge, the Planning Fee issued a decision identifying 14 deficiencies in the final environmental impression report. The resolution also concluded that “Workers’s interpretation of preemption is too broad….” (Notably, just a few days earlier than the Benicia hearings, hundreds of people converged on San Luis Obispo to urge county planning commissioners to reject a similar oil train proposal at a Phillips 66 refinery. In direct contrast to the position adopted by the Benicia planning employees, the San Luis Obispo county planning workers beneficial denial of the venture — due in large part to the environmental and well being impacts alongside the rail line.

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