Two controversial plans to bring half-mile-long trains carrying crude oil through California, including Sacramento, face key votes in the next two weeks.
The city of Benicia will take up Valero Refining Co.’s request for permits to ship two 50-car oil trains a day to its Benicia plant. The city’s planning staff on Thursday recommended that the commission approve the project. The trains would run through Roseville, Sacramento, West Sacramento, Davis and other Northern California cities. The train shipments will replace current oil deliveries via ocean vessels.
City officials have set aside several nights in a row, beginning Feb. 8, for public comment on the Valero plan. A large number of people are expected to attend to speak for and against the project, which has been hotly debated for several years.
Officials in Sacramento and other communities along the line have issued statements of opposition, noting that trains carrying crude oil have been involved in a handful of fiery explosions in recent years, including one that killed 47 residents of a Canadian town.
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An environmental analysis of the project by Benicia concluded the trains would create a “potentially significant” hazard to the public from oil spills and fires, but said a spill is likely to only occur once every few decades.
In a report issued Thursday, Benicia city planning department officials noted that federal rail regulations prohibit the city from denying the project or placing restrictions because of concerns about rail safety. City officials also noted that Valero is the city’s largest employer and that it provides “a large source of revenue for the city.”
In San Luis Obispo County, however, county officials took the opposite tack from Benicia, recommending that county’s Planning Commission reject a similar crude-by-rail proposal from Phillips 66. Phillips is proposing bringing crude oil to its seaside refinery five days a week via 80-car trains through both Northern and Southern California, including trains that would pass through the Sacramento area.
In a report, San Luis Obispo planning staff wrote this week they do not believe the economic and other benefits from the proposed project outweigh the unavoidable negative environmental impacts the project would cause. County officials listed the potential for elevated cancer risk from added air pollution near the tracks in the county and elsewhere in California.
“The project would be detrimental to the health, safety and welfare of the public and the residents of San Luis Obispo County due to the increase of hazardous accidents as a result of the project,” the county planning staff wrote in a report issued on Monday.
County officials declined further comment. The Planning Commission is scheduled to discuss the matter at several meetings beginning Feb. 4.
In an emailed statement to The Sacramento Bee on Tuesday, Phillips 66 spokesman Dennis Nuss wrote: “We understand that there are concerns about the project and we look forward to addressing questions raised in the final EIR during next week’s planning commission hearing.”
Oil train opponent Valerie Love with the Center for Biological Diversity called the San Luis staff recommendation a “huge win for the health and safety” of anyone along the train route.
“This recommendation is unprecedented in how clearly it spells out the health, safety, and environmental risks of this project,” she said, calling on the Planning Commission to follow staff advice in rejecting the project.