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Phillips 66 oil-by-rail plan rejected once again

Greta Mart/KCBX
During Monday's hearing, opponents of the project unrolled a listing of thousands of signatures asking the board to reject the appeal.

Opponents of the Phillips 66 oil-by-rail project celebrated Tuesday after the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors voted three to one to deny the company’s appeal. 

The appeal was filed after the county planning commission voted last fall to reject the company’s proposal to build a rail spur line to its Nipomo Mesa refinery. The company is seeking to increase processing of crude oil transported to the refinery via oil trains rather than pipeline.

The proposal proved unpopular with many county residents, and people statewide who could be affected should a rail accident happen. Before the vote, the Board heard over seven hours of public comment from 160 individuals. A handful supported the company’s project, like this Nipomo resident and Cal Poly grad who works in the oil industry.

“According to the Congressional Research Office, rail is the least environmentally impact[ful] form of transporting crude than any other forms, even pipelines,” Ian Marquardt said. “So [if] this project is denied, it’s actually going to be worse for the environment overall, because the crude is going to moved.”

But the vast majority of the public speakers expressed their opposition to the project.

“Besides the environmental issues, there’s the public health and safety issues. There would be cancer-causing air pollution, there’s the risk of explosions and fires...the trains go through our communities, next to hospitals, government centers. If our first responders are subject to an accident, how are they going to be there to help the rest of us,” Linda Krop, Environmental Defense Council chief counsel, said.

During board deliberations, Supervisors Compton, Gibson and Hill said they couldn't ignore county residents' objections to the plan. Supervisor Arnold voted in favor of Phillips 66 and its appeal. Supervisor Peschong had recused himself from the hearings due to his past work for the company.

Phillips 66 can appeal the county's veto one more time, this time to the California Coastal Commission.

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