WDEL Blog: Allan Loudell

Another loss for Delaware environmentalists...

If the first few years after Delaware's passage of the Coastal Zone Act represented the high water mark for Delaware's environmentalists, the last few years have seen an erosion, despite a succession of Democratic governors.

Two Democratic constituencies - labor and green - are frequently at loggerheads. Add to that the business lobby and tough economic times.

The latest example: The Coastal Zone Industrial Control Board dealt a decisive blow to environmental groups contesting the Delaware City Refinery's plans to offload Midwestern and Canadian crude oil. PBF argued the Delaware City Refinery's very survival hinged on the expansion of this crude-by-rail operation.

The Coastal Zone Industrial Control Board concluded the Delaware Audobon / Sierra Club environmentalists lacked standing to seek an overturn of a key state permit. But environmentalists see this as a dangerous precedent. So much for the traditional public reviews.

There's little question: Rather like the battering and erosion of Delaware beaches during coastal storms, the protections of Delaware's historic Coastal Zone Act are eroding too. And the Markell Administration is allowing that to happen.

Throw safeguards and oversight to the wind.

Posted at 7:13am on July 17, 2013 by Allan Loudell

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Comments on this post:

Mike from Delaware
Wed, Jul 17, 2013 8:31am
There should have been public hearings. Well that explains all those tanker-cars parked in a field along Del Route 1 just above the canal near Red Lion and the Route 72 exit.

Have their sources of crude oil from overseas "dried" up? Why is this a crisis now?

Obviously, it's far less expensive to lay-down some railroad tracks and ship the stuff in via rail than to get permits, government hassle, environmentalist hassle, and the cost to build a pipeline from the Midwest to Delaware City, assuming you could get all that first stuff approved [the Keystone Pipeline is a classic example of government {Obama and the DEMS} getting in the way too much].

Ah, reality has hit the DEMS, or at least Jack Markell. It's easy to spout about being green and making the "big evil corporations" the villain, but when that refinery closed down, thousands of good-paying jobs vanished from Delaware. Giving Governor Markell some credit for getting the refinery re-opened and those good-paying jobs restored to Delaware as a plus. I see his problem: If the refinery needs that crude to stay in business or be competitive, etc., then Markell is faced with a no-win choice. Say NO to the rail-tankers and watch the refinery close again, this time during his watch. Or say YES to the rail tankers, and save those jobs. One decision torques the jaws of the environmentalists and the other decision torquest the jaws of many working-class folks, plus hurts the state's revenue stream as much tax-revenue is generated via that refinery [Why do we think Markell gave that 8-million-dollar helping hand to the Racinos? To save those jobs and to keep the tax-dollar, revenue stream from the three race-tracks flowing to Dover]. Yep, a no-win decision. Damned if you do and damned if you don't. Sounds like maybe Governor Markell has learned something about getting and keeping jobs in his state from another governor who's been very successful in doing that in his state, Texas Governor Rick Perry.

Wed, Jul 17, 2013 5:52pm
Any blow to environmental groups is a victory for the Constitution, the economy, and the good old-fashioned freedom
and liberty that makes America great.

If the environmentalists want to do something good, they should go clean up China.

Wed, Jul 17, 2013 10:44pm
Two points here: First, the Coastal Zone Act saved Delaware's coastal environment for future generations. In the distant future, the Coastal Zone Act will be acknowledged as a great legislative contribution to this State's heritage. Second, I am always amazed at our constant inability to do business and protect the environment -- at the same time. This is where Governor Markel, and other government officials before him, fall short. They should facilitate both goals, not favor one over the other.

Mike from Delaware
Wed, Jul 17, 2013 10:59pm
Bgc: Using the railroad shouldn't be any environmental issue unless it ever derails. So what would you propose?

Wed, Jul 17, 2013 11:16pm
The Coastal Zone Act was passed in 1971 and has fulfilled its purpose. My argument is that 40+ years later, environmental groups have carried things to excess, even to the point of economic strangulation.

Yes, I think there are ways to address both environmental and economic concerns. In the case of crude-by-rail, the main concern should be safety as demonstrated by the recent horrible accident in Canada. However, just because people get killed in car wrecks on a daily basis - about 30,000 per year in America - we don't outlaw the horseless carriage and revert to prehistoric means of travel.

We desperately need to drill, transport, and refine our own oil and tell Saudi Arabia and whomever else to take a hike. Fuel is unnecessarily too expensive and most environmental "concerns" are really a lot of hype. We have the technology to do it right. Let's use it.

Wed, Jul 17, 2013 11:25pm
I guess Kavips and Bill Smith are both worn out and taking a break after all this Zimmerman stuff.

They'll need that time off in order to get ready for the next big media circus (in Delaware): Richard Korn

Mike from Delaware
Thu, Jul 18, 2013 8:11am
Mrpizza: It is summer time, maybe Billsmith and Kavips are on vacation sitting some place cooler or at least on some beach sipping a Mai Tai.

Your comments on the Coastal Zone Act are spot on, in my opinion. Gov. Peterson did a great job giving Delaware that piece of legislation that has indeed protected our coast line [go visit Bombay Hook Wildlife Preserve if you want to see what real quiet and beauty is in Delaware].

You are also correct, there needs to be balance. We need petro products to fuel our society, like it or not [maybe some day we'll be able to use non burnable sources like wind/solar/ geothermal, but that day isn't here yet], and YES we do have the technology to produce such products in a safe, environmentally clean way.

So what needs to happen is for Delaware to stiffen the fines substancially so its no longer considered the price of doing business to pay the pultry fine for each problem at the refinery and other polluters, but make that fine hurt fincancially, THEN they'll pay the money to repair and upgrade the refinery or their plant, insure safety on the rails, pipelines, etc, etc, because then it will be cheaper to do that than to pay the fines. THAT's what needs to change, in my opinion. THAT way we protect our environment while producing what we need in this country without having to depend on the Arabs, Russians, or Venezulaians, etc, for petro products.

You'd think with DEMS running Delaware, this would have been done years ago as they tend to be more in favor of environmental stuff than the GOP, but DEMS just like GOP folks can be bought off by powerful industrial lobbyists.

So Delaware needs to say, yes we welcome any and all legal business to Delaware, we have low business taxes, etc, etc, BUT be aware that we also have very stiff fines for polluting our air, water, land, etc, so if your plans are to run a business in a sloppy manner ignoring such things, be prepared to pay fines that will make your board of directors lose sleep, because IF you pollute our fine state, YOU WILL PAY THE PRICE via a whopping fine.

My guess is some businesses might leave or not come to Delaware, but that's life. Delaware isn't someone junk yard to where you can just come and pollute and get a wink and a nod.........or at least it shouldn't be.

Thu, Jul 18, 2013 9:32am

In all candor, I don't have a specific solution.

My point, maybe not well-articulated, is that creative problem-solving that invokes government leadership can break the business vs. environmental trade-off that defines many current solutions on the table. To follow up on your question, it cannot be true that protecting the environment means we can't allow the refinery to conduct business.

Mike from Delaware
Thu, Jul 18, 2013 10:09am
BGC: I agree. That's why I suggest raising the fines so they're not just an annoyance, but actually hurt. I remember years ago, before the Route One Bridge was built, and the Army Corps was doing some much-needed repair work on the St. Georges' Bridge and had signs detouring trucks to Route 896 to cross the canal. The truckers just blew it off until one day one trucker was stopped and fined $10K; he got on his CB radio [remember those?]; and sent out the word on the fine. All of a sudden, no more trucks went over the St. George's Bridge until the detours were lifted.

Make the fine hurt enough and people AND businesses would obey, because it's not worth taking the chance of getting caught. Let's face it, IF the fine for speeding even 5 mph over the speed limit was $1,000, would you risk getting caught? I know I'd sure be watching that speedometer far more closely or using my cruse control far more often.

So I see this as a great first step to "encouraging" businesses to NOT pollute and to do their business in a safe, environmentally sound way. Problem is getting politicians in either party - DEM or G.O.P. - to have large enough "stones", or intestinal fortitude, to do it.

Thu, Jul 18, 2013 7:27pm

Sat, Jul 20, 2013 2:27pm
I heard that.

Having watched the environmental movement and the rise and fall of business cycles over a lifetime, I can say there is a pretty clear pattern.

Environmental concerns take a back seat to making money in areas where there are more acres of land than people.. Environmentalism really first got its roots dug deep into urban areas where there are far more human beings than acres to spread them out upon.

Two separate worlds: In one, no matter what you do, you hardly make a dent in the world around you. Just take a walk through Yellowstone. In the other, every little thing someone does affects you in one way or another. Someone spits on the sidewalk before you arrive; you track its pathogens into your house.

Delaware doesn't have the land area of a Wyoming, yet it has more than 160% of Wyoming's population. We can't be lax on pollution.

That said, the PBX refinery is a specialist whose needs are ours at the moment. Being an older refinery it was originally built to refine Texas crude. The oils of the North Sea and Arabian peninsula are of a very high grade, and only specialized refineries can refract them. All the refineries built the last 50 years are such specialized refineries. This one was considered inefficient just a few years ago when we got our oil offshore from the Mid-East. We are now back to domestic drilling thanks to fracking. Such extracted oil is similar to the heavier Texas crude for which is was designed and this is one of the very few U.S. refineries where it can be done.

Which puts Delaware in a pretty good spot.

Now the drawbacks: Whereas natural gas burns cleaner than fuel oil, this baser crude burns dirtier than Iraqi Gold. More carbon. Second, it is imported by rail which creates delays as Delaware has one major highway (Route 40) and one major arteries (Route 4, Newark) where traffic must stop as the oil passes by. Third, since PBF bought two refineries, the one in Paulsboro, New Jersey, now gets its oil barged up the river from Delaware City which consolidates the acquisition process of both refineries by taking the crude from the rail cars..

There were two quibbles with the Coastal Zone Act. One was that the railyard extended beyond the area grandfathered by the original bill. The offloading area I believe is still within the grandfathered section, but long lines of rail cars need somewhere to park, and so they are in what is now in the approved expansion. The quibble was that since they were simply sitting and not part of the refinery operation they did not violate the spirit of the act. It comes down to a matter of interpretation.

The second argument was that off-loading to barges would be deemed a new operation, and all new operations were banned by the Coastal Zone Act. But, the analogy was made that if a tanker pulled up into Delaware City, unloaded a portion of its oil in Delaware, then continued north to a refinery, it would essentially be doing the same thing. Again, it depends upon which interpretation of the law one wants to go by.

I bring these details to illustrate this point: That we deal too much in generalities in search of headlines, and divide ourselves over those very headlines based on a side we are purportedly, supposedly supposed to be on. In this case, environmentalists versus big business and blaming Democrats for championing big business by allowing harm to the environment. This, of course, is all done without looking at the facts of what is really taking place.

Is the Coastal Zone Act going to crumple and fall? No. Was it really violated? Well, if one interprets it by the strictest definitions available, then the answer could be a weak maybe. But my guess that even the crafters of the bill who were racing to protect the environment from any new refinery going in, would have no qualms about letting PBF do what it needs to do to process North Dakota crude, which without refining would be useless and simply sit in the ground, waiting for a new refinery to be built somewhere in the future, while we continued to be totally dependent upon Arabian oil.

If anything, this is not a defeat for environmentalism; it is just another defeat against absolutism. Just like allowing a 7-year-old not to go to jail for life because he/she violated a school rule which says (even if you have to cut a cake), you can't bring a knife to school, this aberration makes perfectly good sense for the time and place it is taking place.

Mike from Delaware
Sat, Jul 20, 2013 4:59pm
Kavips: Your excellent analysis has been missed. Welcome back. Thanks for the background and putting it together. Definitely well said, I agree.

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