The northern California town of Benicia, population 27,000, is earning praise for stopping a huge oil-by-rail project proposed by Texas-based fossil giant Valero, the town’s biggest employer and taxpayer.
In the end, Greenpeace blogger Dean Kuipers writes on Grist, “an energized group of local administrators and activists had managed to derail a project that national policy-makers couldn’t touch.”
When Valero first proposed the project, three out of five city council members were inclined to support it, Kuipers recalled. By the time the question came to a vote, they were unanimous in their opposition. That experience, coupled with another recent oil-by-rail win in San Luis Obispo, has activists looking to the “hyper-local” level is the place to win ground in national campaigns.
“We had a small, but extremely well-informed group of people who have been working on these issues for a long time,” said Benicia Mayor Elizabeth Patterson, a veteran environmentalist first elected mayor in 2007. “I give all the credit to that group.”
“In all these fights, it was totally grassroots people coming together to work with people who are advocates for various aspects of the environment,” said local organizer Andres Soto of Benicians for a Safe and Healthy Community.
Local policy campaigns “are simpler, in a way,” said Whit Jones, campaign director for Lead Locally. “The people in the community understand the issues because these things are proposed in their backyards. This isn’t some obscure, abstract conversation about the nation’s energy policy or climate change. This is about whether or not a polluting facility will be sited in their town.”