The Benicia Planning Commission voted unanimously to reject Valero's proposal for a crude-by-rail project at its Benicia refinery in February. The vote was a stunning victory for citizens, Benicians for a Safe and Healthy Community, and environmental groups who have been campaigning for years against Valero's proposed crude-by-rail project. It came after four nights of testimony from citizens, lawyers, up-rail communities, environmental groups, & Valero. It was the second major defeat of proposed fossil fuel expansion projects in the Bay Area recently. The Pittsburg City Council voted this winter to kill WesPac's proposal to build massive storage terminals in the city. The February hearing in Benicia was packed with people in the chambers as well as three overflow rooms waiting all week into the wee hours to testify.
One important point was the issue of federal preemption. The Interstate Commerce Commission Termination Act of 1995, or ICCTA, preempts state and local regulation of rails and gives jurisdiction to the federal Surface Transportation Board, or STB. While Valero argued that federal preemption applied in this case, several lawyers from environmental groups such as Communities for a Better Environment, Sierra Club, and others testified that this is not an accurate reading of the law and that the city has authority over the use permit.
Another issue is the the changing composition of the crude oil to be processed by the project. Scientists from environmental groups point out that part of the reason for this project is to bring in tar sands oil from Alberta, Canada which is more toxic than traditional crudes.
Valero had ten days to appeal the unanimous decision by the Planning Commission to reject their proposed project, & they appealed it during that time period, so the appeal went to the city council. The Benicia City Council began hearing presentations on the project on March 15th. They will continue to hear testimony from citizens on April 4, 6, & 19 or until everyone who has shown up has had a chance to speak. Then the council will vote, and after that the next stop is litigation which could tie the project up for years. The outcome at the city council is crucial. It will determine whether the project can't happen or whether it gets to go forward for the years during the litigation.
Please join us, let your voice be heard or just come to support those who are speaking. This is the first of the four days that have been scheduled (4/4, 4/6, 4/18, & 4/19) for the city council's meeting on Valero's appeal. They may not use all of the days depending on how long it takes to get through all of the public comments.)
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7pm City Council Meeting
250 E L St
Benicia, CA 94510
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