May 28, 2016

Alameda County fracking ban moves forward — Come to 6/1 campaign meeting to strategize next steps

What a whirlwind Monday’s hearing was! In case you missed it, after years of immense pressure and delays from the oil industry, the Planning Commission voted 6-0 to approve the anti-fracking ordinance! The next step is a vote of the Transportation and Planning Committee (stay tuned for details). Then it will move on to a final vote of the full Board of Supervisors.

We are well on our way to banning fracking and protecting our groundwater, our children’s health, and the future of Alameda County. What’s next? Join us at a critical campaign meeting Wednesday, June 1st, to hammer out how we’re going to win!

The fracking ban as it stands also prohibits cyclic steam injection, acid fracturing, well stimulation, and nearly every other dirty and dangerous method of extreme oil extraction. But here’s the tricky part: the ordinance that the Planning Commission recommended includes one weakness, which is a loophole allowing some kinds of waterflooding, a water-intensive “cousin” of fracking.

Can we stand behind this ordinance as it moves to the Board of Supervisors? As Alameda County Against Fracking, we have to decide. And for that, we need you. Join us at a can’t-miss campaign meeting to discuss our future and what winning will look like:

WHAT: Alameda County Against Fracking: What’s next? Campaign meeting and supporter meet-up
WHERE: Food & Water Watch, 1814 Franklin St., 11th Floor, Oakland, CA (take BART to 19th St.)
WHEN: Wednesday, June 1st, 6-7:30 PM
RSVP: on Facebook, or email

We’ve come this far, thanks to your tireless work. Now it’s time to think hard about the future of Alameda County.

Ella Teevan, Food & Water Watch

Zeke rides again! Fourth annual climate ride for 15-year-old from Berkeley

Zeke and his bike, from his Instagram page, @zekegerwein

Zeke and his bike, from his Instagram page, @zekegerwein

Now 15 years old, Zeke Gerwin will ride again this summer to raise awareness of climate change and raise money for the Bay Chapter’s work to create a just transition to a 100-percent-renewable-energy economy and stop dangerous fossil fuels from coming through the Bay Area.

This is the fourth year in a row that Zeke will be spending his summer  break pedaling for climate justice. Last year he raised $4,939 from fans and supporters who share his concerns about the climate and want to encourage Zeke’s dedication. Here are a few words from Zeke about this year’s ride:

“This summer I’ve chosen to ride my bicycle along the dirt roads and trails that run 4,000 miles along the length of the Rocky Mountains through three countries (Canada, the U.S., and Mexico).

While I am super excited about this ride because it will be an amazing adventure, it does not seem like it will do all that much to stop climate change. It might not. It might be useless (come to think of it, this might not actually be the smartest thing to put in a letter imploring people to give money to the Sierra Club). But I really, really hope it will do at least something, act as a tiny levee to stop the flood of carbon dioxide.

I want to talk to the people who live along the Great Divide; the First Nations people of Alberta whose homes are destroyed by the Tar Sands; the ranchers in Montana who have watched coal mining ruin whole mountains; the Coloradans who have to admire the view of miles of pine forest scoured by the pine beetle (which is now surviving through the winter due to global warming); farmers in Estado de Chihuahua who have observed the Chihuahuan Desert march forward, once lush mountainsides ravaged by drought.

I want to talk to people who subscribe to the views of the Koch Brothers and Cruz and Trump and Kasich and Clinton. It will be hard, and I may end up avoiding it, but I want to convince them that this is happening, to show them the evidence.

The Sierra Club has defeated over half of the coal plants in the United States, worked with many other environmental groups to stop the Keystone XL pipeline, and is now battling on the front lines to stop coal exports, right here in the Bay Area.

And in case you were wondering, since this is a self-organized ride funded by my oh-so-generous parents, every cent of your donation goes to the Sierra Club.”

Show your support

Zeke dipping his tire in the Pacific after last summer’s 4,000-plus-mile ride across the continental U.S.

Zeke dipping his tire in the Pacific after last summer’s 4,000-plus-mile ride across the continental U.S.

If you believe in Zeke’s mission, please give today! You can make a donation online, or make out a check payable to “SF Bay Chapter, Sierra  Club” and send it to:

2530 San Pablo Avenue, Suite I
Berkeley CA 94702

Put  “Zeke’s Ride” in the memo line so that your contribution counts toward Zeke’s goals.

Want to ride with Zeke?

Zeke is looking for a biking buddy for the last leg of his trip from August 15th in Los Angeles to August 24th in Mexico. If you are a seasoned cyclist interested in joining the trip, send an email to for more information.

Follow Zeke’s ride online

Can’t get enough Zeke? Follow him on Instagram @zekegerwein and check out his blog. Happy trails, Zeke, and thanks!

Oakland City Council moves forward with process to ban coal exports — Critical hearing on June 27

Oakland residents have been protesting the coal-export proposal for over a year. Here, Katy Polony of No Coal in Oakland carries the message to Oakland City Hall last July. Photo by Brooke Anderson.

Oakland residents have been protesting the coal-export proposal for over a year. Here, Katy Polony of No Coal in Oakland carries the message to Oakland City Hall last July. Photo by Brooke Anderson.

Early in May, the Oakland City Council took an important step toward banning coal exports from the redeveloped Oakland Army Base. The Council voted unanimously to approve a contract with consulting firm ESA to prepare a report on the health and safety impacts of coal exports. Signing a contract now means that it is still possible to get a final decision on this matter before the Council’s upcoming summer recess.

Now that the City has finalized this contract, the consultant can begin the process of evaluating the thousands of pages of evidence pointing to the significant health and safety impacts of coal exports, submitted by experts and advocates including the Sierra Club. From increased asthma rates to decreased emergency vehicle access, the risks of exporting coal through Oakland are grave. We expect ESA’s findings to concur.

The City Council was originally scheduled to approve a contract with ESA on February 16th that would have pushed the timeline well into the fall and cost the city nearly $250,000. Prior to the February council meeting, Mayor Libby Schaaf released a statement urging the council to postpone contracting with ESA to evaluate more options.

The city ultimately decided to stay with ESA, while scaling down its scope of work. In a recent statement, the mayor said, “The revised contract with ESA is more financially responsible and appropriately limits their role to validating evidence and assisting the City in its job to determine whether there is ‘substantial evidence’ to find ‘substantial endangerment’ of health and safety. The revised scope clarifies that this determination belongs to the City and not a contractor.”

Hearing set for June 27

The consultant, ESA, has been given a mid-June deadline to evaluate evidence so that an initial consideration by the Council of any health and safety regulations can be heard prior to July. Acting on a recommendation from council member Rebecca Kaplan, the full council voted unanimously to take up the issue on June 27th at a special City Council meeting.

Setting June 27th for a hearing of findings is a step in the right direction to getting the city to enact a ban on coal exports, as any action the city takes to enact such a ban will require two readings of an ordinance. A first reading in June gives the council enough time to have a second reading and final vote in July, before council goes on break for summer recess.

Blocking additional fossil fuels

On May 9th, the City Council held a special public hearing to receive information, testimony, and evidence regarding the public health and  safety impacts of transportation, transloading, handling, and export of fuel oil, gasoline, and crude oil in and through the City of Oakland. Although there are no current plans to ship these products through Oakland, both fuel oil and gasoline were listed among the potential commodities that could be shipped through the terminal at the army base redevelopment.

In 2014, the city passed a resolution opposing the transportation of hazardous fossil fuel materials, including crude oil, coal, and petroleum coke, through the City Of Oakland. As a follow-up to that resolution, ESA will consider the health and safety impacts of these additional fossil fuels in their report on coal.

If all goes as planned, the city will be able to introduce and pass an ordinance banning all fossils fuel exports, though the council has made it clear that coal is the top priority. We will be watching to make sure the council acts on their resolution to ban these dirty and dangerous products before they go on summer break. After more than a year of waiting, the people of Oakland deserve to know where their council members stand on this important issue before casting their votes in November.

To get involved in this campaign, contact Brittany King at (510)848-0800 or

– Brittany King

A cap on refinery emissions can keep tar sands and fracked oil out of the Bay Area

At a recent community forum in Richmond, Sierra Club organizer Ratha Lai explained why we need refinery emission caps to protect public health and the climate.

At a recent community forum in Richmond, Sierra Club organizer Ratha Lai explained why we need refinery emission caps to protect public health and the climate.

Back in 2012, the Bay Area’s air regulators determined that changes in the types of crude oil being brought in by local refineries would lead to an increase in emissions. Since the Air District’s own research had found that levels of toxic air pollution were already “unacceptably harmful to public health,” they resolved to pass a regulation preventing increases in refinery-wide emissions. Four years later, we’ve seen a lot of delays and excuses, but still no rule to keep emission levels from rising.

What the Air District foresaw back in 2012 has now come to pass. From 2012 to 2015, Bay Area refineries have requested permits for at least ten infrastructure projects that would allow them to bring in and refine dirtier and more dangerous grades of crude oil like Canadian tar sands and fracked Bakken shale oil. And to our dismay, the Air District has proceeded to rubber-stamp these refinery proposals with little or no public input.

A rule capping refinery emissions including particulate matter and greenhouse gases would effectively keep out these dirtier and more dangerous oils. It would protect Bay Area families from pollutants that cause asthma, cancer, and heart disease, and protect the global climate from the most carbon-intensive types of crude oil.

Unfortunately, the Air District staff has again and again delayed the introduction of a rule capping refinery emissions (also known as Rule 12-16). Any further delays could push introduction of this rule into 2017, when a turnover in board members could make adoption of a strong rule much more difficult.

We’re asking the Air District board to do three things:

  1. Direct the Air District staff to prepare a rule adoption package for Rule 12-16 that will allow the board to consider adopting refinery emission caps no later than August 20, 2016.
  2. Ensure that Rule 12-16 includes specific, enforceable, numeric emission limits on each refiner’s facility-wide emissions, based on actual current emissions.
  3. Hold the adoption hearing in a Bay Area refinery community on a weekday evening so that the communities most impacted by refinery emissions are able to attend.


If you’ve had enough polluted air for one lifetime, tell the Air District board. You can send a message online here.

To get involved in this campaign, contact organizer Ratha Lai at (510)848-0800 or

Sierra Club and allies help shape a clean-energy program for the East Bay

The Sierra Club’s allies at the East Bay Clean Power Alliance carry signs at the May 5th meeting of the Alameda County Board of Supervisors reading, “Community Choice should represent the diversity of the East Bay!” Photo courtesy of the Local Clean Energy Alliance.

The Sierra Club’s allies at the East Bay Clean Power Alliance carry signs at the May 5th meeting of the Alameda County Board of Supervisors reading, “Community Choice should represent the diversity of the East Bay!” Photo courtesy of the Local Clean Energy Alliance.

Planning is underway for a Community Choice Aggregation (CCA) clean-energy program for Alameda County. The East Bay Clean Power Alliance, of which the Bay Chapter is a member, has been closely following this process to ensure that Alameda County’s program emphasizes community participation, development of local renewable resources, and the creation of local clean-energy jobs.

On May 4th, the Steering Committee for the development of Alameda County’s CCA met to discuss two meaty items: draft results of the CCA feasibility study, and a draft Joint Powers Authority (JPA) agreement.

CCA Feasibility Study

The County’s technical consultants, MRW & Associates, presented the overall electricity load of the County — assuming all eligible cities are participating — and presented three scenarios the program’s energy portfolio could move forward on.

  1. Minimum Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) compliance: 33% to 50% qualifying renewables;
  2. More aggressive: Initially 50% RPS with lower greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions; and
  3. Very low GHG emissions: 50% to 80% by year five.

The analysis then projected the program’s rate and how competitive it was in comparison to Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E). For Scenarios 1 and 2, the CCA’s rates were, on average, 5% less than PG&E’s; but, for Scenario 3, the rates were closer to PG&E’s rates. The analysis then provided different energy portfolios for the above scenarios with different levels of non-renewable, hydro, and renewable sources.

For a comprehensive view, the study then provided a rate projection of all three scenarios in comparison to PG&E, depending on real-life possible situations that may occur over the years, such as high natural-gas prices, a high Power Charge Indifference Adjustment fee (or PCIA, and also known as “exit fees,” levied on customers who leave PG&E for a CCA), and the relicensing of the nuclear power plant in Diablo Canyon.

Outside of the program’s energy portfolio, the study also presented the macroeconomic implications of each scenario (spurring local economic development and jobs), the administration and development of energy-efficiency programs, and the capacity for building local renewable resources; the study estimated that up to 10% of the program’s renewable supply could come from local resources by 2030.

JPA Agreement

The Joint Power Authority agreement is the legal document that will officially form the agency that will run Alameda County’s CCA program. At the May 4th meeting there was a general overview by County counsel of the draft JPA agreement, with much of the discussion focusing on the voting procedures of the JPA board. In sum, all matters, except as expressly required, need a simple majority of all Board members. However, two or more Board members may request a “voting shares” vote, which is a weighted vote that is calculated through a formula of a city’s annual electricity usage.

There was also major support for spelling out the community goals in the JPA agreement. As the program’s founding document, it is critical that desired values, goals, and priorities are enshrined in it, including: community representation, aggressive greenhouse gas reductions, local jobs and renewables development, and more.

The Alameda County Steering Committee meets every first Wednesday of the month in the Castro Valley Library. County staff is expected to return with the results of the feasibility study and JPA agreement in June to show any feedback that was integrated in the drafts and continue the discussion to finalize the documents.

You can view a presentation of the CCA status update online here, and the draft JPA online here.

– Luis Amezcua

Bay Area cities can lead the way to 100% clean energy

Activists at the 2015 Paris Climate conference made a full-body appeal for 100 percent renewable power. Credit: Yann Arthus-Bertrand / Spectral Q.

Activists at the 2015 Paris Climate conference made a full-body appeal for 100 percent renewable power. Credit: Yann Arthus-Bertrand / Spectral Q.

In his blog post “America’s Ready for 100,” the Sierra Club’s executive director Michael Brune wrote: “Time, tides, and climate disruption wait for no one. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and NASA announced that global temperatures last year reached their highest level in 136 years of record-keeping. There’s only one rational response to news like that: cut climate pollution as fast as we possibly can. That means not only pushing back against fossil fuel projects but also expanding and accelerating our development of renewable energy. As Buckminster Fuller put it, we need to ‘build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.’”

That’s where the Sierra Club’s “Ready for 100” campaign comes in. We know it’s possible for the United States to power itself with a new model of 100 percent clean energy. Solar prices have fallen 80 percent in recent years. Wind prices have fallen 60 percent. In several regions of the country, clean energy is already cheaper than coal and gas and nuclear power. But the necessary transition to clean fuels won’t happen fast enough unless we set and meet some ambitious goals. Right now, the most effective way to do that is for cities, businesses, and local communities to commit to renewable power.

The “Ready for 100” campaign kicked off early in 2016 with a surprise action during the U.S. Conference of Mayors meeting in Washington, D.C., and a challenge to get 100 U.S. cities to commit to 100 percent renewable energy. Already, 15 U.S. cities have declared they will go all-in on clean energy. Three of them, Burlington, Vermont, Greensburg, Kansas, and Aspen, Colorado, have already achieved that goal.

San Francisco was one of the first cities to commit to going 100 percent renewable, with a target date of 2020. CleanPowerSF — the local “Community Choice” clean-energy program that launched in May to provide an alternative to PG&E’s dirtier, pricier power — is a big part of how the city plans to reach that goal. Programs to increase energy efficiency and ramp up local renewable-power generation will also be key.

In addition to San Francisco, there are several other Bay Area cities that are ready to step up to meet the “Ready for 100” challenge. This year, the Bay Chapter and our local partners will be focused on getting Richmond and Oakland to take the pledge to commit to 100 percent renewable energy. Both cities have large environmental justice communities that are impacted by the fossil fuel industry (just look at emissions from Richmond’s Chevron refinery and the proposal to export coal through Oakland). Both cities also have Bay shorelines threatened by sea-level rise.

For Richmond and Oakland, as for San Francisco, being part of a Community Choice local clean-energy program will be an important part of getting to 100. Richmond already gets its power from Marin Clean Energy, which offers customers the option of 52 percent (the base “Light Green” option) or 100 percent (“Dark Green”) clean energy. As the cost of clean energy continues its downward trajectory and more renewable resources are developed locally, the percentage of clean energy in MCE’s “Light Green” option will rise, and more customers will migrate to the Dark Green option. Oakland, meanwhile, is likely to join the Alameda County Community Choice energy program now in development and projected to launch in early 2017.

The transition to a clean-energy economy will help Bay Area communities now, not just down the line. A recent economic study estimated that a transition to clean energy will add 1 million jobs in the U.S. by 2030 and increase household disposable income by $350-$400 in 2030 and by as much as $650 in 2050. San Francisco’s CleanPowerSF program, for example, is projected to create 8,100 construction jobs by building $2.4 billion worth of proposed solar, wind and geothermal projects.

As Richmond works to develop a Climate Action Plan and Oakland re-opens its own for updates, now is the time for these Bay cities to show their climate leadership and commit to 100 percent clean energy. Making this commitment will help create a safer, healthier world for future generations, as well as supporting our local economies.

We need your support to convince Bay Area cities to take the “Ready for 100” challenge. The first thing you can do is send a message to your mayor that you’re ready for 100 percent clean and renewable energy. Take that action today!

To get involved in the “Ready for 100” campaigns in Oakland and Richmond, email conservation organizer Nathan Duran at

SF’s long-awaited renewable-energy program launches with strong enrollment, low rates

Energy from the Montezuma Hills Wind Resource Area — located in the rolling green hills of southern Solano County, deep in the Delta — will supply CleanPowerSF with a portion of its energy supply. Photo courtesy Greg McQuaig via Flickr Creative Commons,

Energy from the Montezuma Hills Wind Resource Area — located in the rolling green hills of southern Solano County, deep in the Delta — will supply CleanPowerSF with a portion of its energy supply. Photo courtesy Greg McQuaig via Flickr Creative Commons,

On May 1st, following years of advocacy and planning, CleanPowerSF officially launched as the default energy provider for San Francisco. This is a major milestone in the ongoing campaign to power San Francisco with 100 percent clean and renewable energy — and it is only possible because of the thousands of San Francisco residents who wrote letters, made calls, and showed up at events to support CleanPowerSF over the past decade. Thank you to everyone who took action to make CleanPowerSF a reality. Your hard work has contributed to a big step forward on the path to a 100 percent clean-energy future!

Enroll by August 1st

San Francisco residents and businesses will be enrolled in CleanPowerSF in phases, neighborhood by neighborhood, with businesses in parts of Districts 5 and 8 up next — but you don’t have to wait! Pre-enroll at before August 1st and you’ll be part of the next wave of CleanPowerSF customers this November.

City seeing strong enrollment

The rollout of CleanPowerSF is going even better than expected. When Marin Clean Energy launched in 2012, around 20 percent of potential customers opted to stay with PG&E. So far in San Francisco, less than 1 percent of customers have opted out of CleanPowerSF. The rollout of CleanPowerSF to all San Francisco customers should take about five years, so don’t wait until your neighborhood is automatically phased in — enroll yourself today at

Go 100% clean with SuperGreen

You can sign up for the default Green program (cleaner and cheaper than what you were getting under PG&E), or better yet, you can opt up to SuperGreen, the 100 percent clean energy choice. For the average residential customer, SuperGreen will cost just $6 more a month: a low price to pay to slash your carbon footprint. Either way, sign up today at!

Alameda fracking ban gets a special hearing on May 23rd

The Alameda County Planning Commission has scheduled a special meeting to review an ordinance banning fracking and other extreme oil-recovery methods in Alameda County. Join us at the special hearing and vote on Monday, May 23rd, at 6 pm in Hayward. Wear blue! More details below. RSVP here.

IMG_9511With close to 80 supporters at the hearing on May 2nd — many directly addressing the members of the Planning Commission with heartfelt messages — Alameda County Against Fracking (ACAF) once again delivered the message that fracking and other extreme oil-recovery methods should be banned from the County. And the message was received. Three members of the Planning Commission voted in favor of the draft ordinance. But we needed a fourth vote, which was not forthcoming. So we appreciate and thank Commissioners Ratto, Rhodes, and Kastriotis for their votes. And we look forward to convincing Commissioner Goff to approve the ordinance at the May 23rd meeting.

The May 2nd meeting was essentially a continuance of the Planning Commission meeting on April 4th. ACAF was satisfied with the draft heading into the April 4th meeting: it was comprehensive, addressing both well stimulation and enhanced recovery. It was modeled in part on the San Benito county ordinance. Voter-approved by a substantial margin, San Benito’s ordinance is a model for community-sponsored protection against extreme oil recovery methods.

But a day before the April 4th meeting, the current sole oil producer in the county, E&B Natural Resources, proposed several revisions to the draft. The commissioners put off further consideration until the May 2nd meeting, giving both ACAF and the County planners time to review this 11th-hour input.

Heading into the May 2nd meeting, ACAF had reviewed three versions of the ordinance prepared by County planning staff. Version A was the original version from April; Version B dropped the ban on enhanced recovery methods, including waterflooding and steam injection; and Version C retained a ban on enhanced recovery methods but created an exception for waterflooding, albeit with a restriction to limit the water used to only produced water — no imported water from other sources.

ACAF and its supporters spoke strongly in favor of Version A. Ultimately, it was this draft, slightly modified to enable E&B to continue its current practices for disposing of produced water and maintaining its wells, that garnered the votes of three commissioners.

But this was not the last word. Knowing how important the issue is to County residents, the Planning Commission scheduled a special meeting for May 23, where this ordinance is to be the only item on the agenda. We are hopeful that one or both of the commissioners not at the May 2 meeting — Hal Gin and Jeffrey Moore — will be able to attend and vote for a strong ordinance.

Meeting details:

WHAT: Special Planning Commission hearing and vote on the Alameda County fracking ban
WHEN: Monday, May 23rd, 6 pm
WHERE: Alameda County Buildings, Public Hearing Room, 224 W. Winton Avenue, Hayward
Wear blue!

– Rebecca Franke

Crucial hearing of bills to halt coal exports on 4/12 — Make a call to show your support!

coaltrainOn Tuesday, April 12th, at 1:30 pm, two important coal-busting bills will be heard in the Senate Transportation Committee. Introduced by Senator Loni Hancock, the two bills are intended to restrict coal exports through California. Senator Hancock wrote the bills in reaction to the dangerous proposal to export coal through the Oakland army base redevelopment.

  • SB 1277 would protect residents and workers in West Oakland by declaring that the transportation, loading, and unloading of coal through West Oakland would present a danger to health and safety. It also requires a supplemental environmental impact review of the use of the terminal for the shipment of coal pursuant to CEQA. Read and download a fact sheet here.
  •  SB 1279 would prohibit the California Transportation Commission from allocating any state funds for any project at a port facility located at, or adjacent to, a disadvantaged community if it exports, or plans to export, coal from California. Read and download a fact sheet here.


Senator Hancock has asked supporters of her bills to call Democratic Transportation Committee members before this crucial Tuesday hearing. If you live in any of these representatives’ districts, please make a call today! (Bay Area senators in bold)

  • Senator Jim Beall (Committee Chair) (District 15: San Jose, Campbell, Cupertino, Los Gatos, Monte Sereno, and Saratoga): (408) 558-1295
  • Senator Anthony Cannella (Vice Chair) (District 12: Central Valley between Modesto and Fresno): (916) 651-4012
  • Senator Benjamin Allen (District 26: Southern California): (310) 318-6994
  • Senator Patricia C. Bates (District 36: Orange and San Diego counties): (916) 651-4036
  • Senator Ted Gaines (District 11: Northeast California): (916) 651-4001
  • Senator Cathleen Galgiani (District 5: San Joaquin County and portions of Stanislaus and Sacramento Counties): (916) 651-4005
  • Senator Connie M. Leyva (District 20: parts of San Bernardino and Los Angeles counties): (916) 651-4020
  • Senator Mike McGuire (District 2: North Coast / North Bay including Marin County): (415) 479-6612
  • Senator Tony Mendoza (District 32: parts of Los Angeles and Orange counties): (916) 651-4032
  • Senator Richard D. Roth (District 31: Riverside County): (916) 651-4031
  • Senator Bob Wieckowski (District 10: Southern Alameda County and part of Santa Clara County): (510) 794-3900

Tell them:

  • Transportation of coal through our communities creates health, safety, and climate problems.
  • Funding projects and developments that contribute to pollution and climate change is contrary to the state’s goals.
  • West Oakland, the location of the proposed coal terminal, is already heavily impacted by pollution and related health impacts, including asthma, cancer, and heart disease.
  • Proposition 1B funds are supposed to be restricted to projects that reduce pollutant emissions. Yet $176 million in 1B funds have gone to the redevelopment of the former Oakland Army Base, site of the proposed coal terminal, which would increase emissions.

Community urges Benicia City Council to deny Valero’s dangerous oil-train proposal

Opponents of Valero’s oil train proposal rallied in front of city hall before the Benicia City Council hearing.

Opponents of Valero’s oil train proposal rallied in front of city hall before the Benicia City Council hearing.

On April 4, scores of concerned Californians converged on Benicia City Hall to urge the city council to reject Valero’s plan to transport volatile crude to its Bay Area refinery in dangerous oil trains. In February, local planning commissioners unanimously rejected the proposal, which would send two 50-tanker oil trains through California communities each day. Valero appealed that decision to the city council. Given the intense public interest in the crude-by-rail project, the city council has scheduled four public hearing dates this month.

Before Monday’s city council hearing began, opponents of Valero’s dangerous plan held a rally in front of city hall. Rally speakers included Berkeley City Councilmember Jesse Arreguín and Andres Soto of Benicians for a Safe and Healthy Community, as well as a local business owner and a senior scientist from Communities for a Better Environment, an environmental justice organization. Benicia residents were joined by members of “up-rail” communities (including Sacramento and Davis) who would be endangered by the oil trains rolling through their cities and towns on the way to the Valero refinery. Oil train derailments and explosions have skyrocketed in recent years — including the July 2013 derailment in Lac-Megantic, Canada that killed 47 people and obliterated several city blocks.

Berkeley City Councilmember Jesse Arreguín addressed the crowd at the rally outside Benicia City Hall.

Berkeley City Councilmember Jesse Arreguín addressed the crowd at the rally outside Benicia City Hall.

Inside the city council chambers, public comment began with testimony by a series of elected officials and agency representatives concerned by the risks posed by Valero’s oil train project. Speaking on behalf of the Sacramento Area Council of Governments (which represents six counties and 22 cities), Yolo County Supervisor Don Saylor urged the Benicia City Council to consider impacts on up-rail communities, including the 260,000 people in the Sacramento region who live within a quarter-mile of the railroad tracks. A representative from the Sacramento City Unified School District noted that 17 schools in the district are within the “blast zone” that would be put at risk by explosive oil trains on the railroad tracks. Other speakers included Berkeley Vice-Mayor Linda Maio and representatives testifying on behalf of up-rail air quality management districts, the City of Davis, and State Senator Lois Wolk.

After the elected officials and agency representatives spoke, residents of Benicia and up-rail communities voiced their concerns about the severe public health and environmental risks posed by Valero’s proposal. Although a few people expressed support for the project, the majority opposed it. Benicians for a Safe and Healthy Community presented the city council with a petition — compiled along with the Sierra Club, Stand, CREDO, Center for Biological Diversity, and 350 Sacramento — with 4,081 signatures of people opposed to Valero’s oil train project.
Benicians for a Safe and Healthy Community presented the city council with a petition signed by over 4,000 people who are opposed to Valero’s oil train project.

Benicians for a Safe and Healthy Community presented the city council with a petition signed by over 4,000 people who are opposed to Valero’s oil train project.

In addition to urging the Benicia City Council to uphold the permit denial, many speakers urged the council to reject Valero’s request to delay the appeal process. At a city council meeting last month, Valero unexpectedly asked the council to put the appeal on hold while the company seeks a declaratory order from the federal Surface Transportation Board regarding the scope of the legal doctrine of preemption. Valero has insisted that federal regulation of railroads means that Benicia is prohibited from considering the project’s impacts on communities and sensitive environments along the rail line (including derailments, oil spills, and explosions).

At the Benicia Planning Commission hearings in February, attorneys from the Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council, and the Stanford Law School clinic refuted this expansive interpretation of the preemption doctrine, and the commissioners ultimately rejected Valero’s interpretation as overly broad. Notably, the California Attorney General has previously weighed in on the shortcomings of the city’s environmental review, and specifically noted the failure to adequately analyze impacts to up-rail communities. Valero has not offered a compelling rationale for why the Attorney General would request that analysis if preemption renders those impacts irrelevant. The oil industry’s self-serving interpretation of preemption was also recently rejected by planning staff in San Luis Obispo County, who recommended denial of a similar oil train proposal at a Phillips 66 refinery due in large part to the environmental and health impacts along the rail line.

Rallying in front of Benicia City Hall.

Rallying in front of Benicia City Hall.

In a letter submitted to the Benicia City Council last week, the Sierra Club and our allies explained why federal law does not preempt Benicia from denying the permit for Valero’s project. The letter also reiterated that the project’s local impacts, especially increases in refinery pollution, require the city to deny the permit. For years, the Sierra Club and our partners have pushed back against Valero’s efforts to hide the true impacts of its oil train proposal — including submitting comments at each stage of the environmental review process. Our allies in these efforts include NRDC, Benicians for a Safe and Healthy Community, Stand (formerly ForestEthics), Communities for a Better Environment, Center for Biological Diversity, SF Baykeeper, and Sunflower Alliance, among others.

Additional city council hearings are scheduled for April 6, 18, and 19, as needed for public comment and council action.


Submit a comment to the Benicia City Council: Take Action: Protect California’s communities from explosive oil trains!