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San Luis Obispo

People Vs Big Oil, Part I: Washington Victory Over Shell Oil Trains Signals A Turning Tide

By Matt Stannard - Occupy.Com, October 17, 2016

A Bad Month for the Earth-Burners

From Standing Rock Reservation to the Florida Everglades, 2016 has been an unprecedented year in people’s resistance to the fossil fuel economy. October especially has been a banner month: Mass convergence around the indigenous-led Dakota Access Pipeline protests, activists in three states audaciously (and illegally) shutting down three pipeline valve systems, and groups in the state of Washington forcing Shell to abandon a dangerous oil train unloading facility it had proposed in Anacortes in the northwest corner of the state. The earth-burners have had a difficult month.

I asked Rebecca Ponzio, Oil Campaign Director at the Washington Environmental Council, what it took to accomplish that last goal: How does a group of citizens stop one of the most powerful, frequently vile and ruthless companies from doing something as routine as unloading rail-transported crude oil?

“We sued,” she answered, and through the lawsuit, WEC, Earthjustice, and other groups “won the ability for a more thorough and comprehensive environmental review.” That Environmental Impact Statement in turn concluded: “The proposed project would result in an increased probability of rail accidents that could result in a release of oil to the environment and a subsequent fire or explosion... [that] could have unavoidable significant impacts.”

The EIS wasn’t bullshitting about that. Oil train transport is disastrous, and companies lie about their safety records. Shockingly, trains racing at unsafe speeds with volatile, difficult-to-contain oil is incredibly dangerous. Accident risk is extremely high. Magnitude of impact of such an accident is also extremely high.

“This review process created the space to really evaluate the impacts of the project and to engage the public on how this project would impact them – from Spokane, the Columbia River Gorge, through Vancouver and the entire Puget Sound," Ponzio said. And upon the release of the draft EIS, Shell pulled the project. “Once the public had the chance to engage and evaluate this project for themselves, the level of risk became clear and the opposition only grew in a way that couldn’t be ignored."

Puget Sound refinery officials claimed the decision was purely market-driven, but the subtext was clear: Activists had forced a scientific review, and the review cast the project in the worst possible light. Fighting back worked this time.

Oil Trains Pose Unacceptable Health and Safety Risks Reject Project that Puts Communities at Risk

By Sherri Stoddard - Santa Barbara Independent, July 24, 2015

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

As a registered nurse, a member of the California Nurses Association, as well as a San Luis Obispo County resident and homeowner, I have been following Phillips 66’s attempt to win approval from the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors and Planning Commission, to build an expansive new rail spur at its refinery in Nipomo. The plans include a route through San Bernardino and Los Angeles counties and up the coast through the heart of Santa Barbara County.

Under the Phillips 66 proposal, mile-long oil trains, carrying highly volatile oil tar sands from Canada, would run through San Luis Obispo (SLO) County several times a week to its refinery in Nipomo. However, the project requires a permit from SLO County to build the rail yard at the existing refinery to unload the oil trains. If Phillips 66 doesn’t get the permit, the oil trains cannot come.

This is a project that puts our local communities at risk, and one that should be firmly rejected.

This year alone, several derailments and explosions involving these trains have occurred around the country. July 6 was the two-year anniversary of the deadly Lac-Megantic oil train catastrophe in Quebec. On that date, 47 people were incinerated by an oil train derailment, explosion, and subsequent fire in the heart of their small downtown. Twenty seven children and adolescents lost either one or both of their parents. Despite a recently proposed legal settlement of $431 million to the town and to survivors of those killed, the actual cost of rebuilding the downtown could cost $2.4 billion over the next decade.

The real cost is the number of families devastated and lives lost and displaced.

California Nurses, Teachers Oppose Phillips 66 Oil Train Project

Press Release - California Nurses Association, June 15, 2015

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

“What should be the top priority, student and school staff safety, or oil company profits? We hope that the elected officials of San Luis Obispo County believe that their first responsibility is to the health and well-being of students and families that go to school and live near the railroad tracks,” said Joshua Pechthalt, president of the California Federation of Teachers.

The CFT vote followed last weekend’s decision by the 325,000-member California Teachers Association to oppose the Phillips 66 oil train project.

“Educators are very concerned about dangerous oil trains running past California schools. Hundreds of California schools are located near current and future oil train routes,” said CTA President Dean E. Vogel. “Educators and parents can help stop these Phillips 66 oil trains by encouraging local officials in San Luis Obispo County to put student and community safety first and not issue Phillips 66 a permit for their oil train project.”

The 85,000-member California Nurses Association, which sent a letter to the San Luis Obispo County Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors opposing the Phillips 66 oil train project last November, is pleased to join forces with the teaching profession in California on this important health and safety issue.

“Nurses are thrilled to know that teachers also are strongly opposed to the Phillips 66 oil train project. The Phillip 66 oil trains present significant and unacceptable risks to the health and safety of our communities throughout California and beyond, due to toxic emissions and the potential for a catastrophic derailment, spill, explosion and fire,” stated Amber Wiehl, RN at Sierra Vista Regional Medical Center in San Luis Obispo.

“Our most vulnerable populations are particularly at risk,” said Wiehl. “Children and infants are at greater risk due to their still-developing lungs and respiratory systems. The elderly and people with pre-existing respiratory and cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, and cancer all face greater risks than the general public. As the mother of a child who has been hospitalized with respiratory issues, these concerns hit especially close to home.

“To protect our children and our communities, we must stop the oil trains, ” added Wiehl.

Phillips 66 wants to begin running mile-long oil trains five days each week carrying tar sands oil from Canada to its refinery in southern San Luis Obispo County. Phillips 66 needs a building permit from San Luis Obispo County officials to build a rail yard at the refinery to accept these trains.

Nurses, teachers, and other California residents oppose the project and the issuance of a building permit by SLO County both for increased asthma risks from diesel train air pollution but also because of the risk of a catastrophic derailment, spill, explosion and fire from this hazardous cargo.

The Department of Transportation estimates that there will be ten oil train derailments each year based on the increasing number of crude oil trains in the United States and Canada. July 6 is the two-year anniversary of the catastrophic derailment in Quebec that leveled the downtown of Lac-Megantic and killed 47 people.

So far 13 California city councils, 12 school boards, 5 counties and one fire district in the potential blast zone of the Phillips 66 oil train route have written letters to the San Luis Obispo County Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors opposing the oil train project. The term “blast zone” refers to the two-mile-wide area along an oil train route corresponding to the Department of Transportation’s potential evacuation zone and area of concern for crude oil train derailments.

In San Luis Obispo County, both the city council of San Luis Obispo and the Lucia Mar teachers association have written letters opposing the project.

The Final Environmental Impact Report is expected in the coming months, followed by a vote of the County Planning Commission, then a vote of the County Board of Supervisors. More than 20,000 public comments from individuals and organizations throughout California have been received by the SLO County Planning Commission opposing the Phillips 66 oil train project.