Editorials

SLO County has spoken on oil-by-rail project. Will Phillips 66 listen?

The San Luis Obispo County supervisors listen to public comment on Phillips 66 Co.’s appeal of the Planning Commission’s decision to reject its oil-by-rail project in Nipomo.
The San Luis Obispo County supervisors listen to public comment on Phillips 66 Co.’s appeal of the Planning Commission’s decision to reject its oil-by-rail project in Nipomo. mvaughan@thetribunenews.com

Sports teach some valuable lessons, including this one: Not every win is pretty.

That was the case Tuesday, when the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors turned down Phillips 66 Co.’s request to build a rail spur at its Nipomo Mesa refinery to accommodate oil trains.

The outcome was expected, because it appeared next to impossible for Phillips to get the required three votes. That’s because Supervisor John Peschong recused himself early in the process — Phillips 66 is one of his former clients — leaving the board’s conservative majority missing one of its key players.

Read Next

The only real question, then, was whether the project would be denied on a 2-2 tie vote by the board, or by a majority vote.

Ultimately, Supervisor Lynn Compton, a conservative who represents the South County, sided with liberal colleagues Adam Hill and Bruce Gibson in denying Phillips’ appeal.

Compton’s vote will almost certainly be interpreted as a re-election ploy by some political adversaries, including Tribune columnist Tom Fulks. In a recent column, he speculated that Compton might vote against the project to bolster her environmental record in the hope of winning over moderate voters.

Frankly, in this case, Compton’s motivations don’t concern us all that much. Though we will say this: When the 2018 election rolls around, there will be plenty of opportunities to examine her entire voting record, so we wouldn’t attach too much significance to any single decision.

So, no, we don’t really care how Compton arrived at her vote on the Phillips’ project. At the end of the day, she did the right thing, and we’re happy to take the “W.”

We believe an outright denial of the project sends a strong message from San Luis Obispo County that could carry weight in the future, and we thank both the Board of Supervisors and the county Planning Commission for putting the health and safety of their constituents over business interests.

Now, we urge Phillips to carefully consider its next steps.

It can appeal to the California Coastal Commission, but if it can’t get its project through a county with a conservative majority, what chance does it have with the Coastal Commission?

Phillips also can continue to battle in court, but that would be a costly and possibly drawn-out process that would further alienate many in the community. And that, according to a company official, is not its intent.

“We’ve been good neighbors, and we’ll continue to be good neighbors. We’re committed to that,” refinery superintendent Jim Anderson told the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday.

Phillips 66 now has an excellent opportunity to be a good neighbor not only to San Luis Obispo County, but also to communities up and down the coast.

We strongly urge the company to accept the decision of county leaders and abandon its plan to build a rail spur at its Nipomo Mesa refinery.

U.S. Rep. Salud Carbajal was one of more than a dozen speakers at an environment rally and a protest Monday, March 13, 2017, against Phillips 66's oil-by-rail proposal for its Nipomo Mesa refinery. The demonstration was held at the County Governme

Related stories from San Luis Obispo Tribune

  Comments