Andrew Graham, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
A mysterious Wyoming-based firm believed to be pushing a controversial coal-by-rail export proposal along the Northern California coast has made a new filing with a powerful federal board to advance its bid to seize control over the defunct lines running between Willits and Eureka.
The June 1 filing indicated the so-named North Coast Railroad Company, which wants to ship Rocky Mountain coal out of the port at Humboldt Bay, had at least $15 million in the bank — enough to clear an initial federal hurdle in which a company must prove it can cover the cost of a line’s scrap steel and two years of maintenance.
But that company is not the only entity vying for control of abandoned track running through Mendocino and Humboldt counties — along a right of way state lawmakers hope will one day welcome a 320-mile multiuse trail stretching south to San Francisco Bay.
In an unrelated venture, Mendocino Railway, owners of the tourist excursion Skunk Train, are petitioning the federal rail board to restore 11 miles of track north of Willits to run loads of gravel. Mendocino Railway also filed with the board indicating it had the resources to take on that project.
Either bid could complicate the more broadly-supported venture: the proposed Great Redwood Trail, a recreational route planned from Eureka in the north to Larkspur in Marin County on the south. A state agency has already begun planning the conversion of abandoned segments of the rail line in Mendocino and Humboldt counties for the trail.
The three competing ventures must now vie for the endorsement of the U.S. Transportation Board, a body that aims to preserve the nation’s rail corridors but has proven amenable to allowing recreational trails along disused rights of way.
Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/news/north-coast-rail-dispute-intensifies-with-competing-bids-from-skunk-train-a/
Andrew Graham, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
The federal body that oversees the nation’s railroad rights of way indicated this week that it will consider the proposal from a mysterious Wyoming company to reconstruct defunct rail lines and ship coal out of Humboldt Bay to Asia.
The coal export proposal, widely regarded as unrealistic, is facing staunch opposition from local and state lawmakers, the tight margins of a declining coal industry and would need up to $2 billion to restore abandoned sections of track in Mendocino and Humboldt counties, according to previous state estimates.
But the decision by the U.S. Surface Transportation Board could complicate another North Coast venture: the proposed Great Redwood Trail, a 320-mile bicycle and pedestrian recreation route along former railways stretching from Eureka to San Francisco Bay.
The trail project, championed by state Sen. Mike McGuire, D-Healdsburg, and many other elected officials, conservationists and economic development officials, made significant strides in March with the creation of a state agency to spearhead the effort.
The coal shipping proposal surfaced in August 2021, when a newly-formed, Wyoming-based entity called the North Coast Railroad Co. filed documents with the federal rail board suggesting it could raise the funds to restore abandoned rail segments.
Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/news/federal-rail-board-wants-to-hear-out-mysterious-coal-train-proposal-jeopar/
Joe Brock, Valerie Volcovici and John Geddie, REUTERS
In early 2018, residents of Boise, Idaho were told by city officials that a breakthrough technology could transform their hard-to-recycle plastic waste into low-polluting fuel. The program, backed by Dow Inc, one of the world’s biggest plastics producers, was hailed locally as a greener alternative to burying it in the county landfill.
A few months later, residents of Boise and its suburbs began stuffing their yogurt containers, cereal-box liners and other plastic waste into special orange garbage bags, which were then trucked more than 300 miles (483 kilometers) away, across the state line to Salt Lake City, Utah.
The destination was a company called Renewlogy. The startup marketed itself as an “advanced recycling” company capable of handling hard-to-recycle plastics such as plastic bags or takeout containers – stuff most traditional recyclers won’t touch. Renewlogy’s technology, company founder Priyanka Bakaya told local media at the time, would heat plastic in a special oxygen-starved chamber, transforming the trash into diesel fuel.
Within a year, however, that effort ground to a halt. The project’s failure, detailed for the first time by Reuters, shows the enormous obstacles confronting advanced recycling, a set of reprocessing technologies that the plastics industry is touting as an environmental savior – and sees as key to its own continued growth amid mounting global pressure to curb the use of plastic.
Read more at https://www.reuters.com/investigates/special-report/environment-plastic-oil-recycling/
Joe Garofoli, SFGATE
Petaluma Mayor Teresa Barrett knew exactly what was going on when a coalition of multinational oil companies spent roughly $78,000 to support her opponents in her last re-election campaign.
That kind of cash stood out in a city where there is a $200-per-person cap on campaign donations.
Why would an oil-funded political action committee care about who held a part-time job that pays $40 a month? They went after Barrett because she represents Sonoma County as one of the 24 locally elected representatives who also serve on the Bay Area Air Quality Management District. “It was very clear that they didn’t want me on the air district board,” she said.
Barrett won re-election anyway in that 2018 race and remains on the air board, where another bruising political battle is being waged. And local officials who typically fly below the radar are being targeted again because they serve on a regional board that is far more powerful — and potentially influential to the rest of the country.
The fight is between forces who are usually united under the Democratic Party umbrella: It’s labor unions — siding with the oil companies who provide their jobs — against environmentalists and racial justice advocates.
Their standoff affects the air breathed by the 7 million Bay Area residents whom the air district is charged with protecting. But it is a complicated battle. And this disagreement in California previews the challenges facing America as it transitions away from fossil fuel — something both Gov. Gavin Newsom and President Biden have promised to do.
The proximate issue is a proposal coming before the air board on Wednesday. The proposed change would require refineries to install technology that greatly reduces the particulate matter they emit. It is a technology that, environmentalists point out, is already widely in use, including even in oil-friendly states like Texas.
If the board made those changes, it would not only reduce the number of particulates, according to the air district, but could literally save lives. The district has calculated that exposure to particulate matter from the Chevron refinery in Richmond increases mortality in the region by up to 10 deaths per year and up to six deaths per year from the PBF Martinez refinery.
Read more at https://www.sfchronicle.com/politics/article/Cleaner-air-and-racial-justice-versus-jobs-The-16211535.php?cmpid=gsa-sfgate-result