BENICIA — The Benicia Planning Commission met Thursday night to discuss the draft environmental impact report for the proposed expansion of the Valero oil refinery, voting to extend the public review period from 45 to 90 days and adding a second public comment day on Aug. 14.
Hundreds of residents from across the Sacramento Valley turned up to give public comment or watch the proceedings. Many encouraged the city to extend the written comment period, arguing that at 1,469 pages, the report is too long for the average resident to read through in 45 days.
The city of Davis and the Sacramento Area Council of Governments previously requested more time to review the material.
The expansion would allow the refinery to process an additional 100 oil tanker cars each day, and has drawn widespread concern from communities along the Capitol Corridor train route, including Davis.
After some of the members expressed concern about the EIR’s complexity, the commission voted 4-2 to extend the public comment period through Sept. 15. The room erupted in applause, with activists high-fiving each other during the subsequent break.
Damien Luzzo, 25, attended the meeting with the Sunflower Alliance, an anti-fossil fuel group that brought 47 sunflowers to commemorate the deaths at Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, Canada, after a train carrying crude oil derailed in July 2013.
“I work in Sacramento, I live in Davis, I grew up in Dixon,” Luzzo said.
He cited concerns about the safety of the trains and California’s reliance on fossil fuels, considering the extension a small step in the right direction.
“It’s all about one victory,” Luzzo said. “It’s about giving the climate movement its momentum.”
The commission also heard presentations from city staff and Valero’s lead environmental engineer, Don Cuffel.
“It is a logistics project that will provide us with a third means of receiving the oil,” Cuffel said.
He emphasized that Valero has reduced its greenhouse gases in the last three years, and that this project would help keep the company competitive. The California Energy Commission estimates the state could be importing 230,000 train cars of oil by 2016, up from just 70 in 2009.
After the presentations, the commission opted to schedule a second public hearing, allowing out-of-town residents to speak Thursday while encouraging Benicia residents to wait until August. The report ranked the chances of an accident or spill as insignificant, which drew the most criticism from commenters, especially those from Davis.
Elizabeth Lasensky, 65, reminded the council about two previous Davis derailments in 2003 and 2009.
“We get none of the benefits that Benicia will get, while taking substantial risks,” Lasensky said.
— Reach Elizabeth Case at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-747-8052. Follow her on Twitter at @elizabeth_case