A front-page story in the Oct. 12 Tribune on the risk of oil spills from the Phillips 66 rail project may have given readers a false sense of security by citing figures from the draft environmental impact report such as “once every 19 to 31 years” in California.
However, an environmental impact report is supposed to evaluate potential “impacts,” not potential “risks” — impacts and risks are very different things.
Even though the risk of a train derailment is equal in both cases, an oil spill that contaminates the water supply for 50 people has less impact than the same spill affecting the water supply for 50,000 people. Fifty-thousand is not a random number; it’s about the population of San Luis Obispo.
That week, The Tribune ran a different story about grave safety concerns over California’s 5,000 aging railroad bridges. One of those bridges is the 120-year-old Stenner Creek trestle at the bottom of Cuesta Grade — poised precariously over the city’s water treatment plant. Even though the potential risk may be equal, is the potential impact for San Luis Obispo the same as the potential impact for, say, Nipomo?