Posted April 20, 2020
Last year, Sierra Club and partner organizations submitted a letter to the US Army Corps of Engineers strongly warning against efforts to dredge a deeper shipping channel through San Francisco Bay. The SF Bay to Stockton Navigation Project would dredge along 13 miles from the San Francisco Bay through the Carquinez Strait past Martinez to Avon in order to deepen certain channels by three feet, allowing for larger shipments of crude oil, coal, and other commodities.
Our letter outlined several oversights in the environmental justice and ecological impacts of this dredging project. These include significant increases in local air pollution, a higher risk of oil spills, and a threat to imperiled fish and marine mammals living in the Bay and Delta.
In March of this year, the Army Corps released the Final Environmental Impact Statement for the proposed project. Unfortunately, it did not adequately address the concerns we raised. The FEIS fails to comment on certain issues like environmental justice and health concerns, and dismisses other concerns by repeating one formulaic response word-for-word. As such, this project should not go forward until there is a clearer understanding of the impact that this dredging project will have.
This project is specifically designed to support the fossil fuels industry. Five refineries sit along the northern Bay Area straits, and dredging would make it easier for oil tankers to move greater amounts of crude to and from four of the refineries on the corridor. Fossil fuels already receive government subsidies (and are even seeking bailouts while workers and families are suffering during the COVID-19 pandemic) and this project would be further support for these industries, costing roughly $57 million between federal and local funds. It is past time to stop propping up the energy industry of the past when we know the future requires a rapid transition to clean energy.]
Although the project is designed to increase shipping capacity, the Final Environmental Impact Statement makes the dubious claim that it would reduce ship traffic and thus pollution. There is little substantiation for this and plenty of reason to believe that ships would continue to operate at current levels and with more fossil fuel cargo — likely leading to greater pollution here and elsewhere. Communities already bearing the brunt of the negative health impacts of fossil fuels will be subjected to even more harmful air pollution.
Most surprisingly of all, there is no local agency that has a voice in this project. Three of the four benefiting refineries are in Contra Costa County, and the fourth is in Solano County, yet the project’s non-federal co-sponsor is the Port of Stockton in San Joaquin County 65 miles away from the closest refinery. This is improper and implies an inappropriate piecemealing of the project to extend deepened channels from Avon to Stockton, setting the stage for an additional 65 miles of dredging in the future. Until there is local representation to speak up for the people actually impacted by the project, it should not move forward.
And finally, there have been insufficient opportunities for the public to weigh in on this very important issue. There is no public hearing happening, and now that California has instituted shelter-in-place orders, there also haven’t been any virtual hearings planned. The original comment period was slated to end on April 6. It has been pushed back to April 21st thanks to requests from environmental groups, but these are unprecedented times and there has been inadequate outreach to the public about this project.
Our organizations are working on another letter to submit before the comment period closes on April 21st. Join us by submitting a public comment using the Sierra Club's online action form. Let the Army Corps know they need to bring this dredging project to a halt.