July 31, 2014

Port of Oakland rejects coal export terminal–Bay Chapter launches coal campaign with victory

On Feb. 27 the Port of Oakland Board of Commissioners rejected a proposal to build a dirty, dangerous coal and petroleum-coke export facility.

Citing environmental impacts, climate change, public-health hazards, economic pitfalls, and public opposition, the commissioners voted unanimously to reject Bowie Resource Partners’ proposal for an 8.3-million-ton-per-year bulk-export facility at the 50-acre Charles P. Howard Terminal. The facility would have exported over four million tons of coal and one million tons of petroleum coke (petcoke) annually.

Another proposal from Kinder Morgan, Metro Ports, and California Capital Investment Group might also have included a fossil-fuel-export component. This proposal lacked sufficient information to be fully considered, and was also rejected. Note that Kinder Morgan last year had abandoned plans for a coal export terminal at the Port of St. Helens on the Columbia River in Oregon, and Metro Ports walked away from plans for a coal export terminal in Coos Bay, OR.

Coal dust and particulate matter from diesel engines, coming from numerous mile-long open-top trains, would pose significant threats to Bay Area air and water quality. Coal breaks apart easily to create dust and contains mercury, arsenic, uranium, and hundreds of other toxins harmful to humans and marine animals. Petcoke, a byproduct of refining dirty and heavy crudes such as tar-sands oil, is transported and stored like coal and has similar adverse impacts. Port of Oakland staff had recommended rejecting the proposals due to air-quality and other environmental concerns, as well as the climate impacts of burning coal abroad.

“West Oakland already faces a disproportionate burden from illnesses associated with air pollution. The rate of asthma hospitalization visits in West Oakland is over two times higher than the Alameda County rate and one of the highest in the county,” said Nile Malloy, northern California program director for Communities for a Better Environment.

There are other potential proposals to develop coal and petcoke export facilities at the Oakland Army Base, the Port of Oakland, and the Port of Richmond. There are currently two facilities that export coal in the Bay Area: the privately owned Levin-Richmond Terminal and the Port of Stockton.

Coal companies have been seeking to massively expand exports of coal—particularly from the West Coast—in the face of declining U.S. markets. Only three of the original six coal export facilities proposed for the Northwest are still in consideration, due to the opposition from tens of thousands of residents and a coalition called Power Past Coal. The Bay Chapter is working with West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project, Communities for a Better Environment, San Francisco BayKeeper, and Earthjustice to mount heavy opposition to any proposal for coal or petcoke export facilities in the Bay Area.

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