Two sides to oil re­fin­ery’s plan

A pro­posed rail ter­mi­nal pits white- col­lar re­tirees against blue- col­lar work­ers.

Los Angeles Times - - CALIFORNIA - ROBIN AB­CAR­IAN robin.ab­car­[email protected] Twit­ter: @Ab­car­i­anLAT

SAN LUIS OBISPO — It’s al­most as if you’ve got two ver­sions of the Amer­i­can dream play­ing out on the Nipomo Mesa, where white- col­lar re­tirees are pit­ted against blue- col­lar re­fin­ery work­ers over a pro­posed crude oil rail ter­mi­nal off High­way 1.

The new ter­mi­nal would re­sult in a big in­crease in the num­ber of crude oil tanker trains cross­ing the state to bring the un­re­fined, highly flammable prod­uct to Phillips 66’ s Santa Maria re­fin­ery. The two op­pos­ing forces came to­gether last week here, dur­ing a two- day hear­ing be­fore San Luis Obispo County plan­ning com­mis­sion­ers, whose own staff has rec­om­mended the pro­ject be de­nied.

On one side, you had hun­dreds of up­per- mid­dle­class pro­fes­sional types, re­tirees from Cal­i­for­nia’s ur­ban cen­ters, who were beck­oned to the Cen­tral Coast by the lower cost of liv­ing and at­trac­tive new res­i­den­tial de­vel­op­ments like Monarch Dunes on the Nipomo Mesa, just across the high­way from the 60year- old Phillips re­fin­ery.

They are peo­ple such as com­puter con­sul­tant Tom Ne­fcy, 62, who lives a thou­sand yards from the pro­posed ter­mi­nal.

“I want you to look at my face,” he told com­mis­sion­ers, “and see the face of some­one who is not go­ing to be able to com­plain to you when one of th­ese trains ex­plodes. You should take some re­spon­si­bil­ity in that. You in­vited me here, you ap­proved Monarch Dunes. You ringed the Phillips 66 re­fin­ery with a bunch of re­tirees that vote. And by do­ing so, you ba­si­cally told the Phillips 66 re­fin­ery that their days are num­bered.”

On the other side, you had a hand­ful of re­fin­ery work­ers, peo­ple who grew up in the area, never made it to col­lege and yet have been able to make enough money to buy homes and send chil­dren to col­lege thanks to good union wages.

“To the re­tirees, I con­grat­u­late you, you guys who have made it,” said Mike Miller of the United Steel­work­ers union. “I want to talk about the peo­ple I rep­re­sent.”

He rep­re­sents peo­ple such as Juan Her­nan­dez, a train­ing lead at the re­fin­ery, who said he grew up in Nipomo, picked straw­ber­ries, joined the Marines and then found a good job with Phillips 66.

“If the re­fin­ery is not prof­itable, in my opin­ion, it’s go­ing to get shut down,” Her­nan­dez told com­mis­sion­ers. “I ask you to con­sider us lo­cals who grew up here in this county, and ap­prove the pro­ject.” ( There is no in­di­ca­tion that the re­fin­ery would cease to be prof­itable, or even close down. It’s an im­por­tant cog in the Phillips Pe­tro­leum ma­chine, send­ing re­fined crude by pipe­line up to the com­pany’s Rodeo re­fin­ery in Con­tra Costa County for fur­ther pro­cess­ing.)

Again and again, Phillips 66 em­ploy­ees vouched for their com­pany’s com­mit­ment to safety over prof­its.

“I want my chil­dren to have the bright fu­ture that I have,” said Mike Avila, 35, a re­fin­ery op­er­a­tor. “Phillips 66 is a busi­ness, they are try­ing to make money, but I, for one, have never seen them put prof­its over my safety.”

Which is all well and good, but is, in fact, be­side the point.

Phillips 66 can em­ploy ev­ery safety tool in its arse­nal and still jeop­ar­dize the health and well- be­ing of its neigh­bors and other com­mu­ni­ties in its path.

The Plan­ning Com­mis­sion’s staff listed nearly a dozen ef­fects that can­not be mit­i­gated — in­clud­ing car­cino­genic emis­sions from diesel trains; the lights and noise that will em­anate from the rail yard, par­tic­u­larly dur­ing night­time op­er­a­tions; the im­pact on en­vi­ron­men­tally sen­si­tive habi­tat; and the po­ten­tial for a deadly blast.

Per­haps most alarm­ing, how­ever, is that Phillips has no con­trol over Union Pa­cific’s tracks, on which its crude will ar­rive from points north and south, travers­ing a huge swath of Cal­i­for­nia. There has been an alarm­ing in­crease in Amer­i­can oil train de­rail­ments, be­lieved to re­sult from poor track con­di­tions or shift­ing weight in tanker cars.

So work­ers can talk about their com­pany’s com­mit­ment to safety, but it’s hard to com­pete with kids who talk about liv­ing in the “blast zone,” or the video shown by Nipomo res­i­dent Steve Dubow fea­tur­ing footage of oil trains ex­plod­ing into toxic mushroom clouds.

All it takes is one ac­ci­dent to wipe out a town.

Which is why mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties and coun­ties up and down the state have asked San Luis Obispo County to re­ject the ter­mi­nal.

“My con­cern is how this will im­pact my city,” said Steven Nash, who lives 130 miles south, in Ox­nard. Union Pa­cific’s tracks run right down the middle of his town, where he serves on the plan­ning com­mis­sion. “For you to im­pose sig­nif­i­cant, un­mit­i­gat­able im­pacts on my city is the height of ir­re­spon­si­ble gov­er­nance.” Or is it? “If we want the ben­e­fits of an in­dus­trial civ­i­liza­tion, all of us have a re­spon­si­bil­ity to share in the main­te­nance and growth of the en­ergy that al­lows us to have the type of civ­i­liza­tion that we do,” said Mike Brown, a pro- re­fin­ery lob­by­ist who rep­re­sents a coali­tion of farm­ers, ranch­ers, truck­ers, en­gi­neer­ing firms and oil com­pa­nies.

“There is a moral, eth­i­cal rea­son why peo­ple who want to drive around in Mercedeses and f ly around in 777 jets should sup­port the fac­tors of an in­dus­trial civ­i­liza­tion.”

This is a clever ar­gu­ment, but one that makes less sense at a mo­ment when the world is shift­ing its gaze from fos­sil fu­els to re­new­able en­ergy sources, and the state of Cal­i­for­nia is lead­ing the way.

What­ever the plan­ning com­mis­sion de­cides, the mat­ter will al­most cer­tainly be ap­pealed to the San Luis Obispo County Board of Su­per­vi­sors.

This is the wrong pro­ject, in the wrong place, at the wrong time.

Ldick­in­[email protected] thetri­bune­news. com

PRO­TEST­ERS march through San Luis Obispo in op­po­si­tion to a pro­posed crude oil rail ter­mi­nal off High­way 1. The ter­mi­nal would re­sult in a big in­crease in the num­ber of crude oil tanker trains cross­ing the state.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.