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I've got the power! 

I don’t want to pat myself on the back, mainly because I’ll feel like I’m doing yoga, but when I’m right, I’m right, and baby, I’m on a roll! Last week I wrote about tool bag Ted Cruz and his stance on same-sex marriage, predicting that the 14th Amendment constitutionally guarantees a right to marriage, and the next day—bamo!—SCOTUS rules in favor of federally recognized same-sex marriage rights citing the 14th Amendment.

A couple weeks before that I wrote about rip-off artist Kelly Gearhart, and last week one of his victims, Chuck “Iceman” Liddell, won a $1.9 million case against Gearhart’s escrow company, Cuesta Title.

The week before that, I took Cal Poly to task for threatening hotel construction over the university’s prime ag land, and then Cal Poly President Jeffrey Armstrong came out with a guarantee to preserve the land for agricultural use. 

click to enlarge 886b9f0ba6e4a062cfd3c9e38b531ddd.jpg

This power is dizzying! What other problems could I solve with the clickity-clack of my keyboard? World hunger? Peace in the Middle East? Canceling Keeping Up with The Kardashians? The possibilities are endless!

One issue that’s been blowing up my inbox is the Phillips 66 proposal to bring oil trains through SLO County. I’m no disaster expert—I consider myself more of a gifted amateur—but I understand oil is flammable, trains derail, and people and property near a derailed oil train frequently die and/or are destroyed. No bueno!

In one corner we have Birkenstock-wearing, granola-eating concerned citizens and environmental groups who cite a U. S. Department of Transportation (DOT) report predicting around 10 oil-train derailments per year over the next 20 years, causing potentially $4 billion in damages and possibly killing hundreds of people, some of whom you may know or even like. One could be you! You!

In addition to the potential disasters, these opponents also cite spills, oil pollution at the Nipomo Dunes refinery, diesel fumes, asthma-causing particulate matter, noise, and traffic delays as these mile-long oil tanker trains move through the county near people’s homes, businesses, and schools. Think about it! Innocent little children with their whole lives ahead off them playing at recess and … disaster! 

That sounds pretty awful. For example, in 2013, an oil train explosion in downtown Lac-Megantic, Quebec, killed 47 people and leveled buildings. Down in Oceano and Grover Beach, a majority of the population lives within the potential blast zone of such a disaster.

The SLO County Board of Supervisors—Adam Hill, Lynn Compton, Bruce Gibson, Frank Mecham, and Debbie Arnold—has the power to decide Phillips 66’s fate. They’ll decide if these trains carrying 2.4 million gallons of flammable oil can travel through the county five times a week for the next 20 years. 

Opponents have been out in force, putting up fliers, soliciting signatures on petitions, and raising awareness about the potential dangers. “Stop Oil Trains,” read their fliers with big Xs on them.

In the other corner are those who charge these oil train opponents with rank NIMBYism. If these trains don’t come through SLO County, they’ll go through another county, and until we stop consuming oil, we ought to share the danger of such a system. 

They also point out that the DOT report was flawed and based on projections that assume no new regulations are enacted. The train that leveled Lac-Megantic, for instance, was traveling at 65 mph, and oil trains moving through populated areas should be traveling at 40 mph or fewer, vastly lowering the risk of derailment.

What to do?

Unlike same-sex marriage being a civil right, the evils of defrauding people, and protecting prime ag land used for education, this oil train dilemma isn’t quite so obvious. I don’t want to see a bunch of blown-up and burned elementary school kids or a toxic oil spill that takes months to clean up. 

I also want to get in my car, turn the key, and drive off while blasting ABBA through my boss sound system. I want to flip a switch and see my string of red chili pepper lights turn on. I want to open my fridge and find that all my artisanal craft beer and half empty condiments are still cold. Hey, is that leftover Chinese food? Rad! 

Yes, I want all the good stuff that comes with energy. 

I guess the real question is this: For those demanding that oil trains be forbidden from SLO County, are you willing to give up your cars? Your lights? Your leftover Chinese food?

Power is dizzying, and perhaps the best way the county Board of Supes can wield their power is to demand that all possible safety precautions be used if they allow oil trains through the county, including advanced braking systems, fail safes, strict speed limits, and effective disaster response plans. 

Even more important is wielding our own power to demand new, renewable, environmentally safe energy sources. Because I don’t care how my beer stays cold, I just want those suds frosty, baby!

The Shredder likes cold beer and for oil to stay in the ground. Send ideas and comments to shredder@newtimesslo.com.

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