November 26, 2015

Sierra Club and community partners keep pressure on Oakland City Council to ban coal exports—Join Dec. 8 teach-in and action

Margaret Gordon testifies at the Oakland City Council's hearing on the public health and safety impacts of coal exports. She said, "If we bring in coal we can't boast about being a green city."

Margaret Gordon testifies at the Oakland City Council’s hearing on the public health and safety impacts of coal exports. She said, “If we bring in coal we can’t boast about being a green city.”

Since the Oakland Army Base adjacent to the Golden Gate Bridge was decommissioned in 1999, Oakland officials and community groups have been planning a project at the site of the former Army Base that would benefit the local economy and clean up the local environment. That vision of the project is now in jeopardy.

The redevelopment project, now called the Oakland Global Trade & Logistics Center (aka Oakland Global), is being built by private developer Phil Tagami. Last April, the Sierra Club discovered that Tagami had been in backroom talks with four Utah counties to make a deal that would dedicate at least half of the planned Oakland Global bulk marine terminal’s capacity to exporting millions of tons of Utah coal abroad. This deal would make Oakland the largest coal-exporting site on the West Coast, and would increase national coal exports by 19%!

Hundreds of anti-coal protesters at Oakland City Hall

Hundreds of anti-coal protesters at Oakland City Hall

Tagami has solicited hundreds of millions of public dollars to make Oakland Global a reality. Perversely, if the coal deal is allowed to go through, our taxpayer dollars will fund a project that would make air quality worse in West Oakland, a community that’s already overburdened by pollution.

That’s why we have spent the last six months fighting alongside labor, environmental justice, faith, and community groups to counteract the influence of private developers and coal companies at Oakland City Hall. To protect communities from West Oakland to Utah, and to put a stop to the catastrophic climate change caused by burning fossil fuels, this coal needs to stay in the ground. Oakland Global can and should be a success without transporting toxic fossil fuels.

After a summer of activism, the City Council acknowledged thousands of community petitions by hosting a public hearing on the potential health and safety impacts of local coal exports. On September 21st, hundreds of residents, activists, and experts came to City Hall and spoke out against coal exports.  Thanks to community pressure, the Council then ordered staff to review public testimony, and investigate courses of potential action.

Because of the imminent threats to the health and safety of the workers and the community that coal exports pose, the Oakland City Council has the legal authority to ban coal exports from the Oakland Global terminal. They set December 8th as a deadline for themselves to take action on this issue — though action may now be delayed. We need to stand strong on December 8th and demand immediate action on this urgent issue.

For the city to finalize the coal exports ban, an ordinance will have to see at least two more readings.  Thus, the Council will need to take at least two more meetings in the beginning of next year to finalize the ban.


Join us on December 8th as we return to City Hall for a teach-in and action calling for an end to this crazy coal plot. We have a better vision for Oakland: good, safe jobs, healthy communities, and public land used for the public good.  Now it’s time to make our voices heard and make this vision a reality.

WHAT: Teach-in and action for a coal-free Oakland
WHEN: Tuesday, December 8th, 5:30 to 7 pm
WHERE: Oakland City Hall

If you are an Oakland resident, please take the time to call your council member now and ask them to vote to keep Oakland coal free! If you are not an Oakland resident, please call Mayor Schaaf and tell her that coal exports would be a disaster for the local economy, public health and safety, and climate.

  • Dan Kalb, District 1, (510) 238-7001
  • Abel Guillen, District 2, (510) 238-7002
  • Lynette Gibson McElhaney, District 3, (510) 238-7003
  • Annie Campbell Washington, District 4, (510) 238-7004
  • Noel Gallo, District 5, (510) 238-7005
  • Desley Brooks, District 6, (510) 238-7006
  • Larry Reid, District 7, (510) 238-7007
  • Rebecca Kaplan, At Large, (510) 238-7008
  • Mayor Libby Schaaf, (510) 238-3141

Jeremy Gong

The ‘Freedom Breathers’ of Pittsburg: students gather data as weapon against polluters

The Freedom Breathers

The Freedom Breathers

The final school bell rang at Pittsburg High School, and students poured out of the classrooms, heading to sports practice, their home, or an afternoon out with friends. A small group of students, however, gathered in a science classroom and looked over their notes. After two years of working to investigate, publicize, and ultimately improve the air quality in their hometown, they were finally ready to meet with representatives from the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD), the governing agency charged with regulating Pittsburg’s air.

A community impacted by industry

Pittsburg is a city of 63,000 residents located on the San Francisco Bay Delta, a stretch of waterfront dense with industry. Home to industrial sites operated by DOW, Praxair, USS POSCO, and K2 Industries, Pittsburg is also located downwind of several nearby refineries. Over the years, chronic exposure to air pollution has had a deleterious effect on the health of residents of this high-poverty California city.

Frustrated with poor air quality, Pittsburg residents were shocked to learn, two years ago, that the city council was contemplating issuing a permit to oil-infrastructure company WesPac for an oil transfer and storage facility to be located near homes and schools. Outraged citizens spoke at city council council meetings, gathered signatures, and held marches. (The WesPac project is still on the table; click here for the latest update.)

Seeing the efforts of older citizens propelled young leaders to step up and take action. Pittsburg High School students educated themselves about issues in their community, conducted their own youth activism meetings, and organized community rallies. Eventually, Pittsburg students and community leaders realized a problem with their efforts: they did not have concrete data on their air quality that could give quantitative evidence to oppose the WesPac project. Their claims and first-hand experiences with the bad air quality were not enough to put an end to WesPac and other polluters within the community.

Insufficient data hampers activists’ efforts

The lack of hard air quality data in Pittsburg was not always an issue. BAAQMD once maintained a permanent air monitor in Pittsburg, but decommissioned it in 2008 as a cost-cutting measure during the recession. Even when the economy recovered, BAAQMD did not replace the Pittsburg air monitor, claiming that its readings and data had been duplicative with a monitor in neighboring Concord, ten miles from Pittsburg. Despite their proximity, the cities have dissimilar economic profiles. Concord is a wealthier community than Pittsburg, and does not have the heavy industrial base prevalent in Delta communities. Pittsburg is home to a number of polluting industries including Dow, Praxair, and K2. What’s more, Concord is located inland from the Delta and so avoids much of the wind-driven pollution that worsens Pittsburg air quality. These disparities resulted in measurements at the Concord monitor that were hardly representative of the air quality experienced by Pittsburg residents.

2015-09-10 03.46.37A year and a half after the first grassroots efforts to stop WesPac, a coalition of students, teachers, and non-profits formed the Freedom Breathers. This new organization came together to conduct independent air sampling in Pittsburg, temporarily filling the role of the missing Pittsburg monitor to demonstrate the need for a permanent replacement. For months, the students worked alongside their teachers to set up, program, and analyze the results from the air monitors. They used two MiniVol portable air samplers that were loaned to them by an organization known as Global Community Monitors. The air samplers pumped 5 gallons of air per minute through a special filter designed to trap either fine particulate matter (PM 2.5) or diesel.

Once the sample was captured, the filters were shipped on ice to an analysis company. The results revealed that one PM 2.5 reading was above the 24-hour standard for PM 2.5 determined by the World Health Organization. In addition, the average of all five diesel samples taken at the high school were above the annual standard for diesel pollution set by the World Health Organization and the United States Environmental Protection Agency.

Students speak, regulators listen

Data in hand, the students then organized the information and presented their message to the Pittsburg City Council on July 6. About a month later, on September 10, they were ready to present to the BAAQMD regulators.

At the high school that afternoon, BAAQMD representatives listened attentively to the students as they described the chronic health problems in their city associated with dirty air and the need for quality, publicly available air data in their city. At the end of the presentation, the team of BAAQMD employees had good news for the students. The district was in talks with their city to site a new permanent monitor. The new monitor would not completely replace the functionality of the one decommissioned in 2008, but would look for some of the chemicals most at fault for the community’s health problems. Best of all, the monitor would be located in the city of Pittsburg. Once installed, Pittsburg’s air quality will be judged on its own merits and not by its wealthier neighbors’.

That day, a group of high school students won a battle in the long war to gain the freedom of clean air. They did not shut down any polluters, but the new monitor in their city will provide its citizens with the opportunity to make a data-driven case. Yet, all across the US and the world, low-socioeconomic communities like Pittsburg continue to suffer the consequences of dirty air and a lack of data. Respiratory illnesses caused by poor air quality lead to thousands of premature deaths each year in the US alone, but an inadequate network of monitors and spotty regulation has led to a failure by government to stop these preventable deaths or improve overall quality of life in communities such as Pittsburg. Watch as the Freedom Breathers from across the world in small, underserved communities step up and take action to ensure that they and their future generations enjoy breathable air.

For further information about the Freedom Breathers and their efforts, visit their website.

By Manisha Rattu and Helen Fitzmaurice of Freedom Breathers

SF voters give city leaders a clear mandate on clean energy

12190093_1012811862104723_6520032632775527339_nOn November 3rd, San Franciscans voted overwhelmingly for a clean energy future by passing Proposition H and defeating Proposition G — by more than 50 percentage-point margins in each case. These victories show that the city’s residents saw past the confusion and deception surrounding Prop. G and that they want San Francisco’s local renewable-energy program, CleanPowerSF, to be a success.

Considering the Mayoral and District 3 Board of Supervisors races, as well as hotly contested housing affordability measures — Props. F and I especially — this was a high stakes election, with unprecedented amounts of money being thrown into controversial issues that voters had not until now had the chance to grapple with.

But the election also showed that CleanPowerSF is not a controversial issue. Almost 100,000 people voted “No” on Prop. G and “Yes” on Prop. H. Clean, community-controlled, affordable energy is a clearly a top priority for the City. As the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC) gears up to launch CleanPowerSF this spring, our big wins at the polls leaves city officials with a clear mandate: San Francisco wants a robust, just, and accountable clean-energy program now!  

After a decade of planning and advocacy, CleanPowerSF will launch next spring. The program, like similar Community Choice energy programs spreading across the Bay Area and the nation, responds to the demand from residents, workers, and environmental advocates for a better energy system with: a higher percentage of renewable energy (33-50% with the option to opt up to 100%) than what PG&E provides (only 27%, which barely meets State standards); the build-out of local renewable-energy infrastructure which will create good jobs and reduce our dependence on outside sources; and public, community control over our energy. Energy is a public good, and CleanPowerSF will put an end to the corporate energy monopoly that results in higher toxic emissions, price instability, and blackouts.

Prop. G was a deceptively worded measure that would have placed onerous restrictions on CleanPowerSF — such as preventing it from using rooftop solar in its renewable portfolio — that would not apply to PG&E. Prop. G was specifically designed by PG&E’s allies to undermine CleanPowerSF and prevent it from outcompeting PG&E in terms of affordability and sustainability. That’s why CleanPowerSF’s allies came together in opposition to Prop. G and in favor of Prop. H, a measure that will annul Prop. G and reinforce fair standards for all energy providers, including CleanPowerSF and PG&E.

Pre-enroll to get cleaner power this spring!

CleanPowerSF will launch this April in the Bayview-Hunters Point neighborhood before rolling out city-wide over the following months. Even if you don’t live in Bayview-Hunters Point, you can pre-enroll in CleanPowerSF to begin getting cleaner power as soon as the program launches. Pre-enrolling will show your support for CleanPowerSF and power your home or business with affordable, renewable energy — at or below PG&E’s current prices.

You can do even more to help make the program a success by opting up to CleanPowerSF’s voluntary 100-percent-renewable option for a small premium, encouraging the growth of the program’s local renewable-energy build-out. Head to today to pre-enroll for cleaner power and opt up to 100% SuperGreen!

Peskin’s election brings progressive majority back to Board of Supervisors


Sierra Club SF Bay Chapter staff and leaders with Aaron Peskin (center)

CleanPowerSF and other green programs will have a boost at City Hall with the election of Aaron Peskin for District 3 Supervisor. Aaron, who previously served on the SF Board of Supervisors, has long been an environmental ally. In 2001, he prevented the ill-advised infill of two square miles of the Bay for runway expansion by the San Francisco International Airport. And in 2007, Aaron helped win $30 million of increased funding for SF Muni, helping to reduce the emissions, costs, and health impacts of cars in our City.

Aaron also ran on affordability. While his opponent, Julie Christensen, was supported by landlords and developers, Aaron’s victory was thanks in part to the help of tenants, labor unions, and community groups who all want to see an end to rising rents and evictions. The more unaffordable the City becomes to those who work there, the more people that will become displaced to car-dependent suburbs, and the more people that will have to drive long commutes to get to work. That’s why affordability is another top environmental priority: we need affordable and transit-oriented development, good jobs, and healthy communities — not urban sprawl. In his previous terms as a supervisor, Aaron sponsored legislation to curb the Ellis Act, frequently used by landlords to evict tenants.

With a new progressive majority on the Board of Supervisors, we’re excited for Aaron’s leadership on affordability, accountability, and environmental protection.

You can see how all the Sierra Club’s endorsed candidates and ballot measures fared on our website.

By Jeremy Gong

Your presence requested by future generations — Final refinery emissions rules to be presented Dec. 16

last-mile-aheadMuch like a hiker on the last mile of a long, winding trek, we are in the final stretch of one of the most important local policy transformations in the region’s history — one with huge implications for the future of the Bay Area and our planet.

On December 16th, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District is expected to vote on new regulations governing emissions from the Bay Area’s five refineries. It’s been a long road to get to this point. As the result of an extended campaign by a coalition led by the Sierra Club, Communities for a Better Environment, and front-line community members, the Air District board passed a resolution in October 2014 to issue rules requiring Bay Area refineries to reduce toxic emissions 20% by 2020. In the intervening year, we have followed along closely as the Air District staff drafted the promised resolutions.

Our coalition of community members, labor, health care workers, and environmental justice groups agrees: the rules must include hard numeric caps on refinery pollution including greenhouse gases. Unfortunately, we have been frequently frustrated by the staff’s willingness to placate oil industry demands.

After turning out at several community forums and many heated public hearings, we have finally succeeded in educating some members of the Air District board about why emissions caps at today’s levels (to be brought down over time) are critical to public health and the environment. At our urging, some of our allies on the board have pushed back against Air District staff on the weakened rules.

As of this writing, in mid-November, the rules are in flux. It’s up to us to keep pushing through this last mile to make sure the strongest possible regulations are enacted. We have two choices; we can give up now, or we can fight like hell. I personally am not going to give up, but this last stretch cannot be done alone or by a brave few.

Your choices are: show up and speak up for clean air, or suffer the consequences of an oil industry hell bent on squeezing every last dollar out of the refineries at our expense. That means they will bring in tar sands by train and ship, putting everything along the rails at risk of spills and explosions—from our water supply to our schools and homes. Our air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions will skyrocket, and we will have more health problems—and let’s not forget that a public hospital closed down this year in West County.


There are industry forces out to choke the community I live in and I can’t stand for that any longer. If you won’t stand for it either, join me and others on December 16th at 9:30 am for the rule adoption hearing at 939 Ellis Street in San Francisco. Your presence is requested by future generations. Let’s not regret words we never say and instead show the board and the oil industry that our community is not for sale.

You can also sign our petition to the Air District here.

Questions? You can contact me at or 510-848-0800.

By Ratha Lai

Certification revoked for dirty power plant planned for Contra Costa County

cancelledThe citizens of Contra Costa County won a major victory this month with a decision by the California Energy Commission (CEC) to terminate the certification of the proposed “Willow Pass” natural gas plant in Pittsburg, California. Two other natural gas plants were also blocked at the same time: the Sun Valley plant in rural Riverside County and the San Gabriel facility in San Bernardino County.

The 550-megawatt Willow Pass facility was certified in 2008 and would have added substantial air pollution in a low-income community that is already overburdened by emissions associated with fossil fuel energy generation.

Sierra Club My Generation senior campaign representative Sarah Friedman said: “Since the certifications were originally submitted, California has undergone monumental changes in air quality, traffic and water resources. It was a common sense decision for the CEC to close the book on these dirty proposals, and the health of citizens located near the proposed sites in the Bay Area and Inland Empire will be far better off as a result.”

Thanks to everyone who showed up at the California Energy Commission meeting and stood up for public health and climate!

Draft Alameda County anti-fracking ordinance would protect prime agricultural resources

Photo by johnjoh on Flickr Creative Commons

Livermore winery. Photo by John Joh.

With the backing of the Sierra Club (through Alameda County Against Fracking) and support from several vineyards in the Livermore area, Alameda County staff presented a new draft ordinance designed to limit new oil and gas operations. While not as comprehensive as the earlier draft, which would have removed the possibility of any new and expanded oil production, the proposal is still tough. The draft specifically prohibits hydraulic fracturing and various forms of acid stimulation. It also bans enhanced recovery through such means as steam, water, and carbon dioxide injection.

The ordinance has passed through the Transportation and Planning Committee with the strong support of Supervisor Haggerty and been reviewed by the Agricultural Advisory Committee. As the language is finalized, ACAF is working on including additional restrictions pertaining to percolation ponds and setbacks from homes, schools and other facilities.

This measure is made all the more necessary with the publication in July of the second volume of An Independent Scientific Assessment of Well Stimulation in California. Commissioned by the state, the report’s findings include how little control there has been over the use of chemicals in fracking, some of them known to be toxic; how groundwater has been contaminated by chemically laced water in percolation pits; and how toxic contaminates are emitted into the air from both fracked and conventional wells.

Forestalling such harmful effects in Alameda County, which has a significant agricultural sector, is important. Both wine grape and vegetable production in the County increased in 2014. The gross value of fruit and nut crops amounted to over $16 million, with a multiplier effect of perhaps three times that amount. It is not just the farmer, vineyard owner, or rancher who benefits, it is the overall community that shares in a thriving agriculture. And, of course, it is the community that suffers when agriculture is hit by adverse conditions.

Weather, climate, and water are key variables in the amount and quality of crops produced. Wine grape harvests have been coming in earlier due to higher temperatures in the Livermore area, as well as across the state’s other wine growing regions. Yields have been lower. The amount of water available from the State Water Project for the Livermore region has been restricted significantly, creating a greater reliance on local groundwater supplies. Passing this ordinance minimizes the risk that agriculture will be competing with oil over scarce resources in the County; it gives growers the space to make the inevitable adaptations caused by predicted changes in climate. Within the larger context of climate change, passing this ordinance constitutes one more small action of many such actions needed to mitigate more erratic weather patterns and rising temperatures.

Want to join the effort to limit oil and gas extraction in Alameda County? Email Rebecca Franke at

By Rebecca Franke

More magic tricks from the Air District

Your weekly update on the campaign for refinery emissions regulations from Bay Chapter organizer Ratha Lai.

 Careful: if you take your eyes away for a second you might miss the magic trick. The Bay Area Air Quality Management District seems to be consulting with magicians to try and make the community disappear! Last week we reported how the Air District’s Air Pollution Control Officer, Jack Broadbent, cancelled a very important sub-committee meeting at the eleventh hour. The meeting was then punted to the next scheduled date for the Stationary Source Committee Meeting, November 16th.

However, the Air District’s community rep has now reported that the meeting has again been cancelled and is now tentatively moved to November 30th, the Monday after Thanksgiving.

Communities for a Better Environment and the Sierra Club, in coalition with several other Bay Area community organizations, have been promised a chance to present to the 22 Air District board members the worker-community proposal to cap refinery pollution, including greenhouse gases. We will be presenting a summation of letters we’ve submitted to the board over the last two years detailing the legality, necessity, and ability of implementing pollution caps (including caps on greenhouse gases) on oil refineries.

Stay tuned, folks! Over 3,000 people have signed our petition to cap refinery pollution, and that number is growing. In fact, I haven’t personally come across anyone (who wasn’t part of the fossil fuel industry) who has said ‘no’ to pollution caps. We’ll find out when the date is for the stationary source committee meeting, and when we do, we hope you take some time to support our leaders and our work for a clean and healthy breathing Bay Area.

Some big gains, some telling losses mark 2015 legislative session

Interior of the California Capitol dome, photo courtesy Earth66

Interior of the California Capitol dome, photo courtesy Earth66

The headline-making environmental story coming out of the legislature this year was passage of new legislation to combat climate change.

Senate Bill 350, co-authored by Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León and Senator Mark Leno, established a new goal for electricity retailers to produce 50 percent of their electricity from renewables by 2030, and doubled the goal for energy efficiency in buildings by that year.

However, before the Assembly would pass it, the authors had to strip the bill of a provision that would have established a goal of reducing oil use in transportation by 50 percent by 2030. Oil industry lobbying and deceptive advertising managed to hold up votes of so-called moderate Democrats.

The legislature also passed a bill (SB 185 by de León) that requires the two state employee pension funds to divest from thermal coal investments, and a bill to help increase availability of rooftop solar in multi-family affordable housing (AB 693 by Eggman).

Taken together, these three bills send a strong signal that California is committed to assertively cutting pollution that creates climate change and transitioning rapidly to clean energy.

The legislature also passed—and the governor signed—bills to ban microbeads in cosmetics and health care products (AB 888 by Bloom),  regulate the environmental impacts of legal marijuana grows (AB 243 by Wood), and ban the sale of ivory (AB 96 by Atkins).

The governor also signed bills that add two new members to the California Air Resources Board. That addition is expected to help increase representation of people living in disadvantaged communities that are hard hit by air pollution. And he signed legislation that will automatically register eligible residents to vote when they apply for or renew their driver’s license or state identification card at the Department of Motor Vehicles.

Unfortunately, the governor vetoed several bills designed to reform the California Public Utilities Commission. However, he indicated in veto messages that he would be willing to work with the authors on similar bills in the next legislative session.

Several bills with strong environmental support did not make it out of the legislature this year. A number of those had one thing in common: strong opposition by the oil industry. Among these was SB 788 (McGuire and Jackson), which would have closed a loophole in the law that allows new oil drilling in state waters in a biologically rich region off the coast of Santa Barbara. Senator McGuire has pledged to try again to close that loophole through legislation in January.

Sierra Club California tracks hundreds of environmental bills each year, and takes positions on a majority of them. You can see a list of our top priority bills and their status this year on our website.

By Kathryn Phillips, reprinted from Sierra Club California Capitol Voice October 2015 Bulletin.

Cast your vote for clean energy in the SF elections!

Vote No on G and Yes on H!

PG&E allies try to define renewable energy to rid electricity sector of competition

no on g yes on hSan Francisco’s mandate to create a clean energy option for residents and businesses has been on the books since 2004 and reaffirmed by a majority of the Board of Supervisors more than a handful of times. Despite that, the deployment of such a program, now known as CleanPowerSF, has been continually challenged and delayed by public officials heavily influenced by the region’s investor-owned utility, PG&E.

The current fight at the ballot box — this time in the form of two ballot measures vying to define what kinds of renewables CleanPowerSF can provide to customers — is just the latest in a long war waged by PG&E to maintain its dirty energy monopoly.

The Sierra Club urges a No vote on Prop. G and a Yes vote on Prop. H; it’s important to cast a vote on both ballot measures, because if H passes with more votes than G, only H goes into effect.

No on G, the Dirty Energy Scam

Prop. G is a thinly veiled attempt to unravel the good work that San Francisco has done to shape the CleanPowerSF program — a program designed to put control of the City’s energy future in the hands of the people of San Francisco. Prop. G would block CleanPowerSF from including rooftop solar in the renewable energy package offered to its customers. Rooftop solar and energy efficiency upgrades are essential components of a local clean energy program, and both are areas with great promise for local jobs creation. Prop. G would put CleanPowerSF at a competitive disadvantage to PG&E while enabling PG&E to deceive energy customers by claiming its own nuclear and fossil fuel power is just as clean and green as CleanPowerSF’s far more renewable energy mix.

The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission has said that Prop. G would drive up costs for ratepayers without any environmental benefit. Even the original proponent of Prop. G, IBEW Local 1245, now opposes this measure and has called for a Yes on Prop. H vote instead. Prop. G is not about defining renewable energy; it’s about maintaining PG&E’s monopoly. Save the clean energy option and solar power in San Francisco. Vote no on Prop. G.

Yes on H, the Clean Energy Right to Know Act

Prop. H is a widely supported compromise measure that will ensure that both CleanPowerSF and PG&E follow the same clean-energy reporting rules required by existing state law. Prop. H will help us move more quickly to a clean-energy economy by creating greater demand for in-state and local renewable energy projects and allowing rooftop solar within San Francisco to be counted by CleanPowerSF as “clean” or “green” energy. As a countermeasure to Prop. G, Prop. H is a vital tool at the ballot that would protect the right of San Franciscans to choose clean energy to power their homes and businesses. Vote Yes on H to protect your choice for a clean energy future.

You can find all of the Sierra Club SF Bay Chapter’s November 2015 endorsements here.

Community and environmental groups challenge proposed Oakland coal-export terminal—California law requires environmental review of coal impacts

A coal-export terminal.

A coal-export terminal on the Oakland waterfront would have major health and safety impacts on the local community and would mean massive emissions of climate-destabilizing greenhouse gases.

Today, Earthjustice, on behalf of Communities for a Better Environment, Asian Pacific Environmental Network, the Sierra Club, and San Francisco Baykeeper, filed a California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) action in Alameda County Superior Court to challenge the proposal to export Utah coal out of Oakland’s proposed bulk terminal at the former Oakland Army Base.  The project, known as the Oakland Bulk and Oversized Terminal, is being built by a group of developers led by Prologis CCIG Oakland Global LLC. Contrary to the fundamental requirements of CEQA, the environmental review for the project failed to include any discussion or analysis of the impacts of transporting, handling, or exporting coal from Oakland on surrounding neighborhoods or the environment. This is particularly problematic given the project’s disproportionate impact on Oakland’s most vulnerable communities of color.

After years of assurances that coal would not be transported through the bulk terminal, in April 2015, community members learned that the developers had secretly cut a funding deal with four Utah counties that would bring coal into Oakland. In exchange for $53 million in project funding, the developers promised the Utah counties shipping rights to at least 49% of the bulk terminal’s 9-10-million-ton annual shipping capacity. Utah officials have stated that they intend to use this capacity to export coal to overseas markets. This development followed a number of public statements by CCIG’s President and CEO, Phil Tagami, that the company had “no interest or involvement in the pursuit of coal-related operations at the former Oakland Army Base.”

“We have been working for many years to combat the environmental harms that our neighborhoods were subjected to through neglectful and discriminatory policies that disproportionately affected our community,” said West Oakland resident Karin Mac Donald. “Our vision for the future is a safe and healthy environment and dirty coal is certainly not part of that. Phil Tagami needs to follow the law, stick to his promises, and listen to the community that would be impacted by coal shipments.”

The Oakland City Council held a hearing on September 21st, 2015, to gather evidence on the health and safety issues associated with the proposed coal export facility. At the end of the six-hour hearing, the Council adopted a resolution to review the information and consider potential action before December 8th, 2015.

“Shipping coal through the bulk terminal would be devastating to the health of the West Oakland community and many other communities along the rail line,” said Irene Gutierrez, attorney at Earthjustice. “The California Environmental Quality Act was meant to protect the public from being kept in the dark about what this new coal project means for their health, safety and environment.  We seek to hold the City to its duties to inform and protect the public.”

“The proposal to ship coal out of Oakland would not only impact our air quality, but our water as well,” George Torgun, Managing Attorney at San Francisco Baykeeper. “Coal dust released by open train cars will pollute our Bay, and the process of suppressing coal dust is itself highly water-intensive. As we head into our fourth straight year of drought conditions here in California, we can’t afford to be wasting water on spraying down tons of dirty coal to minimize dangerous coal dust. For the sake of our water and the health of our communities, we must keep coal out of Oakland.”

“Tons of coal dust every week all year round is a dangerous threat to the lungs and well-being of Oakland residents who are already disproportionately impacted by air pollution,” said Michael Kaufman, a member of Communities for a Better Environment. “After working for decades to improve the air we won’t stand for this assault.”

“We support bringing jobs to Oakland through the Army Base Redevelopment project and the proposed bulk terminal, but not at the expense of the health of West Oakland communities and our global climate,” said Jess Dervin-Ackerman, Conservation Manager with the Sierra Club’s Bay Chapter. “We will continue to work closely with the Oakland City Council and Mayor Schaaf to encourage the project’s backers to move forward with the plan as originally proposed, without dirty coal exports. This case will ensure that the environmental impacts of this project are fully considered.”

“Coal has no place in the vision for a vibrant and thriving local economy that we all have for Oakland, especially for our most vulnerable residents,” said Miya Yoshitani, Executive Director of the Asian Pacific Environmental Network. “We fully support the Army Base Redevelopment project and believe it is an opportunity to create jobs and stabilize our neighborhoods, and last century dirty coal exports keep us from realizing that important goal.”

Communities for a Better Environment, Asian Pacific Environmental Network, Sierra Club, and San Francisco Baykeeper are represented by Irene Gutierrez and Stacey Geis at Earthjustice, and the Sierra Club is represented by Jessica Yarnall Loarie.