High School student Malia Street writes about her classmates from the Port of LA High School who traveled 200 miles to speak out at the hearing and rally against a plan by Phillips 66 to ship volatile and toxic tar sands crude via rail into California.
Students rally against oil “bomb trains”
By Malia Street, Business Manager, Published in The Anchor from Port of Los Angeles High School
POLAHS’ Environmental Engineering class gathered alongside concerned community members in San Luis Obispo on Feb. 4 to rally against the expansion of Phillips 66 Nipomo Mesa Rail Spur Expansion. The suggested Phillips 66 Project would mean that over 300 hundred trains would offload crude oil in San Luis Obispo County a year. It would bring nearly 3 million gallons of Canadian tar sands crude oil five days a week into California to be refined.
People angered by the proposed expansion gathered in a theater located next to the San Luis Obispo County government center in downtown San Luis Obispo. At the theater, the screen projected live arguments displaying supporting and opposing views regarding the transportation of the tar sands. Some who spoke against the proposal were local city council members, school board members of elementary schools, concerned citizens and high school and college students.
The trains transporting the tar sands have been nicknamed “bomb trains” by opponents. In the last year, nine trains have derailed in North America causing explosions, deaths and environmental disasters. If the project continues, 5 million California residents statewide would be in the potential blast zone if a train derailed, a one-mile radius.
“Enough is enough,” said Walker Foley, organizer for Food and Water Watch, when asked why he attended the rally. “California wants to say it’s a climate leader, but as long as it expands the oil industry and all the dirty things they subject our communities to, there is no way we can consider ourselves leaders.”
The California Nurses Association joined the march against the rail yard expansion, noting the negative effect it would have on people’s health.
According to research on the project, 80 car trains that are one and half miles long, leak toxic sulfur dioxide and cancer-causing chemicals into the air and will increase the risks of heart and respiratory diseases. If a train were to derail, fire departments do not have ample amount of equipment and supplies to respond to the explosion.
“I wanted my students to have the opportunity to be part of a global empowerment and to know that whenever there is an issue they believe in they need to be organized and make something happen,” said POLAHS’ Environmental Engineering teacher Rachel Bruhnke when asked why she invited her students to the event.
“I attended the event because Ms. Bruhnke has really opened my eyes to the footprint I am leaving on planet earth,” said POLAHS’ senior Sabrina Rosales. “I want to help make a difference. My health and the health of my future kids matter, and that’s what the oil companies do not realize. They’re all about the money.”
“I will be attending Cal Poly SLO, and it’s really near and dear to my heart that this doesn’t happen,” said West Torrance High School senior Maddison Gilmartin. Gilmartin attended the event and spoke on behalf of her school and the youth community that was not able to attend the rally.
Over 500 hundred people gathered at San Luis Obispo to stand against what they oppose. The hearings will continue on February 25, and a decision by the Planning Commission is expected soon thereafter.