This story was published in partnership with Capital & Main, an award-winning publication that reports from California on economic, political, and social issues.
Last fall, as presidential candidate Donald Trump promised America more oil and coal production, a small refinery town in Northern California stood up against its biggest employer and taxpayer. Valero, the Texas-based petroleum giant, had sought routine approval for a huge crude-by-rail project. The city council of Benicia, however, decisively rejected Valero’s proposal.
The project proposed to take crude oil from what is described in an environmental impact report as “sites in North America” — a possible euphemism for Bakken crude — and roll it in rail cars to Benicia. But the project proved so unpopular among the city’s nearly 27,000 residents that three of the five city council members who had started out backing the project joined in a unanimous vote against it. An energized group of local administrators and activists had managed to derail a project that national policy makers couldn’t touch.
“We had a small, but extremely well-informed group of people who have been working on th... Read more