On Monday, the Oakland City Council finally acted on its promise to protect the Bay Area by blocking coal exports through Oakland. Following the release of studies on the devastating public health and safety impacts of coal, the Council voted unanimously in favor of an ordinance prohibiting the storage and handling of coal and petroleum coke (a.k.a. petcoke, a byproduct of oil refining) in Oakland.
The ordinance, co-sponsored by Councilmember Dan Kalb and Mayor Libby Schaaf, is paired with a resolution applying the coal ban to the export terminal planned for the Oakland army base redevelopment project — thereby blocking a dirty deal that would have made Oakland into the West Coast’s largest coal exporter (read more at the bottom of this article).
Before the ordinance becomes law, it needs to get council approval one more time at a second reading on July 19. You can help us clear this final hurdle: Send a message to the City Council thanking them for standing up for our health and safety, and asking them to approve the ordinance at the July 19 meeting.
Once passed, the ordinance will effectively block the deal to ship up to 10 million tons of Utah coal annually through a new export terminal planned for the Oakland army base redevelopment — a taxpayer-funded project located on public land. The coal would travel to the Bay Area in mile-long open-top rail cars, spreading toxic coal dust through countless communities along the way. West Oakland residents, who already suffer disproportionately from bad air quality, would be hit hardest by health impacts including asthma, pneumonia, emphysema and heart disease.
By blocking this coal-export project, we’ll be strengthening the “thin green line” being drawn down the West Coast by communities like ours. The goal is a continent-wide blockade of coal exports, and the stakes are no less than the future of our planet. Because the coal industry is on the rocks — with coal-fired power plants closing across the country and demand falling worldwide — blocking this export deal means the coal will likely stay in the ground. That is the equivalent of wiping out the carbon emissions of seven average power plants.
After Monday’s City Council vote, local Sierra Club organizer Brittany King said: “Once the Council votes to confirm the ordinance to ban coal and petcoke on July 19th, we can finally get back to making a plan for the Oakland Army Base that will create good jobs for our community without sacrificing our climate and our health. It’s time for Phil Tagami and Jerry Bridges to listen to the people of Oakland, who stood up today and said very clearly: there will be no coal in Oakland.”
This victory was only possible because of the dedicated advocacy of Bay Area residents, workers, healthcare professionals, small businesses, and elected officials over 15 months. Thank you for all you’ve done to help keep dirty coal in the ground!
A portion of the former Oakland Army Base is being developed as a bulk export facility, known as the Oakland Bulk and Oversized Terminal (OBOT). CCIG, the developer, promised not include coal as a commodity handled by the terminal, but now they have solicited a partnership with four Utah counties that could allow the state to export up to 10 million tons of coal from their mines each year. A Utah funding body approved $53 million to buy space at Oakland Bulk Terminal for these exports. This deal is being conducted behind the backs of the Oakland City Council and the Port, both of oppose coal as a commodity for shipping in Oakland. Additionally, the developer promised residents that the city-owned port would be coal free. While the Mayor, members of the council and residents have demanded a stop to these talks, the developer has yet to abandon the plans.
Those opposing the plan to export coal through Oakland have voiced concerns over how this decision will affect the community’s safety, the environment, and public health. According to a national train company, each open-top rail car of coal can lose up to one ton of dust between the mines and the port, resulting in the release of 60,000 pounds of toxic fine particulate matter in communities near the rails. Additionally, this deal will stifle California’s strong commitment to cutting carbon pollution, especially as the state continues to suffer from extreme drought, forest fires, and other signs of climate disruption.