After months of poring over proposals from six different vehicle manufacturers, the Board of Directors of Sonoma-Marin Rail Transit (SMART) unanimously approved a $57 million contract for the manufacture and delivery of 18 rail cars by Sumitomo Corporation of America. The first vehicle will be delivered by October 2013. The announcement on Dec. 15 of the purchase signals a move forward at a time when SMART has been dogged by setbacks. Funded partially by Measure Q, the proposal for a quarter-cent sales tax passed by voters in Marin and Sonoma counties in November 2008, the project has grappled with the weak economy, making for meager sales tax revenues. Recently it was announced that the proposed 70-mile rail line will initially only stretch from downtown San Rafael to Railroad Square in Santa Rosa before spanning a full Cloverdale-to-Larkspur route, for which service could be delayed from three to five years. But the purchase of the train cars, which will be substantially built in Illinois, signals a positive shift. Sumitomo won the contract after coming in $23 million below the original engineer's estimated costs. Passenger rail service is scheduled to begin in fall of 2014.
Good news from the EPA for Californians who prefer an environment light on toxins. On Dec. 16, the EPA released data culled from its own Toxics Release Inventory (TRI), a large, publicly available database that provides information on more than 650 toxic chemicals sprayed into the air and water by different industries (Yes, Chevron—we're watching you). And—hooray! According to the latest data, there has been a 6 million pound decrease in toxics managed, treated or released into the environment by facilities operating within the state. In a 14 percent decline since 2008, this reflects reported decreases in air, water and land disposals, releases and off-site transfers. The TRI includes a useful list of the facilities that displayed the greatest total on- and off-site chemical releases in 2009. in the Bay Area, Chevron's refineries in El Segundo and Richmond, Conoco Phillips refinery in Rodeo and Valero Refining Company in Benicia all make the top of the list, with the dubious highest honor going to Chemical Waste Management Inc. in Kettleman City which released 14,693 pounds of chemicals into West Coast air and water last year. For more on the TRI program including additional city, county and facility information, visit www.epa.gov-tri.