On May 18th, the Richmond City Council passed two important resolutions intended to protect local communities and the environment from the harmful impacts of coal and petroleum coke (petcoke) pollution.
The first resolution opposes the mining, export, and burning of coal, as well as the transport of coal and petcoke along waterways and through densely populated areas. That resolution includes a clause that would prohibit exports of coal and petcoke from ports on City land.
A second resolution calls on the Bay Area Air Quality Management District to require all piles of coal and petcoke to be stored in enclosed facilities.
Coal is currently being exported through the private Levin-Richmond Terminal on Richmond’s bay shore. The coal is extracted from mines owned by Bowie Resources and travels hundreds of miles to Richmond from either Colorado or Utah in uncovered rail cars. Each open-top rail car can lose up to 600 pounds of coal dust on the journey from the mine to the port; this translates to 60,000 pounds of toxic fine particulate matter entering our air and water for every trip made by a coal train.
According to the Energy Information Administration, between 2013 and 2014 coal exports through the Bay Area rose from 1.3 million tons to over 3 million tons — a 126% increase in one year. Eyewitness reports place long, uncovered coal trains parked right alongside Richmond’s BART tracks at least twice a week.
Coal dust contains arsenic, lead, mercury, chromium, nickel, selenium, and other toxic heavy metals. Prolonged, direct exposure to coal dust is linked to chronic bronchitis, decreased lung function, emphysema, and cancer. Residents living near the rail lines and export terminal are at greatest risk of these health issues and tend to be lower income communities and communities of color.
Ratha Lai, community organizer with the Sierra Club’s San Francisco Chapter, said, “The Sierra Club applauds the City of Richmond for formally recognizing the harmful impacts of coal and petroleum coke. Their actions today will protect the community, workers, and the environment. The Levin-Richmond Terminal Company has been profiting by shipping coal and petcoke overseas while the Richmond community suffers the harmful impacts. It is time to stop exporting dirty fuels through our ports and start protecting the community from the toxic pollution in coal and petcoke. Today’s City Council resolutions are landmark decisions in transitioning our community away from dirty fossil fuels to a clean and renewable energy future.”
We’re working hard to support a grassroots movement in Richmond and other communities across the Bay Area that suffer disproportionately from environmental degradation and corporate pollution. As always, one of our key strengths is the energy, thoughtfulness, and experience of our members. We will be canvassing and advocating in the coming months and your help would be greatly appreciated! To join the campaign, email Ratha Lai at email@example.com or call (510)848-0800 ext. 328.