BENICIA (CBS SF) — A proposal to deliver crude oil by train to a Benicia refinery was rejected unanimously by the city’s Planning Commission Thursday night.
The proposal, by Texas-based Valero Energy, would allow for crude oil to be delivered to Benicia’s refinery from around North America by rail.
The planning commission, however, rejected the company’s request for approval of a use permit that would allow the refinery to transport up to 70,000 barrels of crude oil per day by rail, instead of the marine vessels currently in use. The refinery also gets crude oil via pipeline.
The commission also declined to approve the project’s environmental impact report.
Valero, a large source of revenue for Benicia and it’s largest private employer, pays the city a combined property, sales and utility user tax that makes up more than 20 percent of the city’s general fund revenue, according to city officials.
But citizens spoke out this week and demanded the rejection of Valero’s proposed rail terminal in Benicia.
The project’s Environmental Impact Report brought to light significant issues with the project, including air quality, hazards, biological resources, and greenhouse gas emissions.
Andres Soto, spokesman for the citizen group Benicians for a Safe and Healthy Community, said in a statement following the decision, that “The unanimous vote by the Planning Commission to reject this deeply flawed environmental review is a vindication of the concerns that people in the community have had since this project was first proposed.”
Soto said it took three years to build public pressure and that he felt the Planning Commission was “thorough and methodological in their deliberation.”
Last month, when a three-car train carrying sulferic acid derailed in Martinez, a five minute drive from Benicia, Soto said the community dodged a bullet because the acid didn’t leak out.
He said it represented a warning sign and reminded residents that transporting hazardous materials by railroads has its dangers.
Soto said the commission’s message to the city council is absolutely clear – “they must reject this proposal and reevaluate how much trust they can put in their own staff and city attorney.”
During the days of hearings that led up to the commission’s decision, city officials reminded the commission “again and again that Valero’s tax contributions make up a quarter of the general fund,” said Ethan Buckner, a campaigner with environmental non-profit ForestEthics.
Buckener said that on Thursday night, “commissioner after commissioner ripped apart the (sic) Valero’s faulty environmental review and questioned the motives of city staff and the Benicia city attorney. Commissioners affirmed the actual charge of their commission to protect the health and welfare of the community.”
The Sierra Club was also among the environmental groups to support the commission’s decision to stop the oil train project.
— Sierra Club (@sierraclub) February 12, 2016
By Hannah Albarazi – Follow her on Twitter