Dana Stokes’ Testimony to Benicia Planning Commission on February 10, 2016

Posted: February 12, 2016 in Uncategorized
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Dana Stokes spoke on the True Cost of Oil that must be paid by someone!

Dana Stokes spoke on the True Cost of Oil that must be paid by someone!

Dear Planning Commissioners,

Thank you for listening to my commentary this evening.  Here is the written version of my comments regarding the Final Environmental Impact Report and the Valero Crude–by-Rail Project.

The True Cost of Oil – Who Pays?

I wish to address the section of the staff report entitled “Significant and Unavoidable Impacts (Impacts without Mitigation Measures)” beginning on page 26.   The identified impacts are summarized for informational purposes only, as the staff report summarizes in several paragraphs why under federal preemption no mitigations of any kind can be offered for any of the impacts.

We uprail communities appreciate that the report acknowledges the issues so many agencies, environmental groups, and individuals brought to your attention in the course of the CEQA study and further that they are recognized as significant impacts.  Eleven is a sobering number of impacts.

In an effort to work with Benicia in its desire to bring volatile Bakken crude and perhaps in the future toxic tar sands into California by rail, a danger not previously faced by all the communities along the three northern routes the railroad is free to choose from, the same governing agencies offered possible solutions and mitigations to make the impacts more livable.  The series of joint letters from the Air Quality Management Districts in particular offered staff time to help work out specific mitigation plans for a number of the impacts. All of the governmental responses countered with legal cases showing mitigation despite claims of federal preemption.

The basic issue is this:  the true cost of oil must be paid somehow.  If this Planning Commission certifies the FEIR and approves the Valero Project, Benicia gains financially as does Valero and the Railroad.  But the environmental costs in degraded air quality, adverse effects on wildlife, additional greenhouse gas emissions, and exposure and risk to the public and public lands of hazardous materials should there be a spill, accident, explosion or fire falls on all those communities and lands uprail on a daily basis.

All routes into California traverse high risk rails where the risk of accident is greater than the statistics.  Please see the Oil by Rail Safety in California Report 6-10-14, State of CA, Interagency Rail Safety Working Group which include an Oil by rail Risk and Response Map including high risk rails, haz mat team locations, fault lines, and more.  In addition they are underlaid by earthquake faults, some probably unknown to us as the recent Napa earthquake indicated.  In the case of Lac Megantic, the two railroads involved went bankrupt immediately after the accident and left the government to cover the prohibitive expenses.

Only Benicia gets to approve the FEIR and the Project, but the entire uprail community will pay the true cost.  I ask you to consider whether it is right to pass either the FEIR or the Project until at least the mitigations requested in the most recent letters from the City of Davis, Yolo County, and SACOG as well as the 7 Air Quality Management Districts are in place.  If Benicia will never have control over the railroad and its deliveries, perhaps it is a bad bargain for Benicia as well.

Thank you for thinking of your neighbors and fellow Californians in making your decisions.  You have a chance to protect California and many fellow citizens.

Dana Stokes


From Staff Report p. 26 and EIR

Significant and Unavoidable Impacts (Impacts without Mitigation Measures)

Air Quality

  • Locomotive emissions associated with the Project’s transportation of crude oil by rail could conflict with implementation of applicable air quality plans [Impact 4.1-1].
  • Locomotive emissions required to transport Project-related crude by rail would contribute to an existing or projected air quality violation(s), including NOx [Impact 4.1-1b].
  • Locomotive emissions required to transport Project-related crude by rail could result in a cumulatively considerable net increase in criteria pollutant and ozone precursor emissions [Impact 4.1-2].
  • Locomotive emissions associated with operation of the Project could contribute to an existing or projected air quality violation uprail from the Roseville Yard [Impact 4.1-5].
  • Locomotive emissions associated with operation of the Project could result in cumulatively considerable net increases in ozone precursor emissions in uprail air districts [Impact 4.1-7].

Biological Resources

  • The Project could have a substantial adverse effect on candidate, sensitive or special-status wildlife species or migratory birds, including injury or mortality, resulting from collisions with trains along the North American freight rail lines as a result of increased frequency (high traffic volumes) of railcars [Impact 4.2-10].

Greenhouse Gas Emissions

  • Locomotive emissions associated with the Project would generate direct and indirect GHG emissions [Impact 4.6-1]. (28)
  • GHG emissions resulting from the increase in locomotive emissions required to transport Project-related crude oil by rail would conflict with Executive Order S-3-05 [Impact 4.6-2].

Hazards and Hazardous Materials

  • The Project could pose significant hazard to the public or the environment at points along the North American freight rail lines through reasonably foreseeable upset and accident conditions involving the release of hazardous materials into the environment [Impact 4.7-2]. Although the risk of such an occurrence is extremely low, the potential consequences of such an event could be extremely high.
  • Train derailments and rail car unloading accidents that lead to hazardous materials spills, fires, and explosions could result in substantial adverse secondary effects, including to Biological Resources, Cultural Resources, Geology and Soils, and Hydrology and Water Quality [Impact 4.7-6]. As analyzed in the EIR, these extremely low-risk events could have extremely high consequences.
  • Operation of the Project could expose people or structures to significant risk, injury, or loss from wildland fire if a train derails in a fire hazard severity zone and a resulting fire or explosion causes a wildland fire [Impact 4.7-9].

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