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.
Here on the Central Coast, these trains would run immediately adjacent to homes, schools, hospitals, and businesses. Areas within one mile of the oil train tracks is considered the blast zone. This includes Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital.
Nurses are also fighting the Phillips 66 oil train project because of the effects of diesel pollution and other train-related chemical emissions on childhood asthma, respiratory illnesses, and compromised immune systems, and because of the health and safety risks for all in the case of oil train leaks or derailments. The U.S. Department of Transportation predicts 10 oil train derailments every year in the United States.
Teachers are also involved in stopping the Phillips 66 oil trains because of the direct threat to students in blast zone schools. There are 44 blast zone schools in Santa Barbara County and hundreds of blast zone schools in California’s rail communities.
Nurses and teachers are reaching out to businesses, homeowner associations, churches, and other community groups to help stop this threat to our community’s health and safety. We are working with city councils and school boards in rail communities throughout the state.
California refineries typically offer many millions in “Community Service Agreements” to the governing body responsible for issuing or denying the necessary permits. Phillips 66 will openly offer many millions of dollars to influence the SLO County Board of Supervisors in order to get this project approved. This kind of money is simply the cost of doing business for them. However, for the people of communities along the oil train routes — school children, residents and businesses alike — any short-term monetary gain will only come at the risk of us all becoming another potential Lac-Megantic.
So far in Santa Barbara County, the city councils of Carpinteria and Goleta have written letters opposing the Phillips 66 oil train project, as have Goleta Unified School Board and Santa Barbara County’s 3rd District.
Nurses and teachers strongly encourage the remaining city councils and school boards to write a letter opposing the Phillips 66 oil train project to protect your schoolchildren, residents, visitors, and businesses.
Nurses and teachers also ask each person reading this article to write directly to the SLO County Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors encouraging them to deny the permit for the Phillips 66 oil train project.
If you write just one email, you can make a difference. Here’s how:
• Send your email to ProtectSLO@calnurses.org, and the California Nurses Association will forward your email to both the SLO County Planning Commission and to all five SLO County supervisors.
• Include in your message your name and street address; describe your family, your business, and why you want the SLO County Planning Commission and Supervisors to deny the permit for the Phillips 66 oil train project.
For more information, go to ProtectSLO.org or email the nurses at ProtectSLO@calnurses.org.
UPDATE: The Santa Barbara City Council will consider a letter to the SLO supervisors at its Tuesday meeting, July 28, which starts at 2 p.m. It is the last item on the agenda before closed session.
Sherri Stoddard is a registered nurse and on the Board of Directors of the California Nurses Association. She is also a Labor and Delivery RN at a San Luis Obispo hospital, which is within the oil train “Blast Zone”.