Harmful coal may become California's next export (East Bay Times guest commentary)
By Sen. Loni HancockEast Bay Times guest commentary
POSTED: 06/25/2016 09:00:00 AM PDT
Environmental injustice doesn't happen overnight. It comes from decades of local and state decisions that slowly allow a community to become a dumping ground for industrial pollutants.
Many of our choices have turned West Oakland into a place where three freeways meet, where cancer-causing agents have been deposited in the soil and groundwater and where the diesel traffic from the Port of Oakland is an unremitting irritant.
Now the community's residents, mostly low-income people of color, face the challenge of yet another environmental hazard in their backyard: a terminal that would import up to 10 million tons of coal a year through a proposed shipping center on city-owned land adjacent to the Port of Oakland.
I hope and expect that the Oakland City Council, which is keenly aware of this burden, will vote Monday to eliminate coal from the project.
If the city's elected officials needed a stark reminder of the harmful effects of moving coal across California and into the East Bay, they recently received a study by an independent panel of California public health experts.
Led by Dr. Bart Ostro, former chief of Air Pollution Epidemiology for the state EPA, the panel found that coal dust and diesel exhaust from the project would likely combine to push concentrations of fine particulate matter in West Oakland above state and federal safety limits.
These pollutants, among the most dangerous to human health, are linked to lung cancer, asthma and heart disease.
Advertisement"This is a community already disproportionately burdened by multiple sources of air pollution with high rates of emergency room visits and hospitalizations for asthma and heart disease as well as increased cancer risk from existing pollution," Ostro said.
The revitalization of the former Oakland Army Base is a project I very much support. Done well, it will enhance world trade and provide many local jobs. But support of the project has been undermined by revelations that the developer hid his intent to transport coal from the dying mines of Utah through California to China and other Asian countries.
If this happens, it will turn our state from being a worldwide leader of the growing green economy into the largest West Coast exporter of coal -- a major public health danger and greenhouse gas polluter.
Nowhere in preliminary meetings and documents was "coal" mentioned. Despite the assurances of the coal industry, no one has yet designed a widely used way to haul coal by train without sending millions of tons of coal dust -- carbon, mercury, arsenic, fine particles that can trigger asthma and heart disease -- into the air.
And what about the workers whose jobs it will be to move all that coal from train to ship? This is why the Longshoreman's union and the Sierra Club, not always allies, are standing firmly together against the coal terminal.
Shipping coal imported across borders belongs to California's past. More than any other state, we are aggressively moving beyond fossil fuels. To now embrace a project that moves us backward on the issue of climate change would be a serious mistake.
I believe the Oakland City Council will stand up for its people and eliminate the possibility of a coal terminal. We were promised an economically and environmentally healthy revitalization of the Oakland waterfront. It was, and remains an effort we can be proud of.
But coal was never part of the bargain. Our deal was a clean deal.
Loni Hancock, author of two pending bills that would block the proposed coal terminal, represents nearly 1 million residents of Senate District 9, in the East Bay.
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