By David DeBolt
Posted: 02/16/2016 05:32:14 PM PST
OAKLAND -- A new poll released Tuesday by the Sierra Club and supported by local clergy show most Oakland residents surveyed oppose the idea of coal transports through the city.
"This poll clearly demonstrates what we've learned from our conversations on the ground with Oaklanders," Brittany King of the San Francisco Bay Chapter of the Sierra Club said in a statement. "Oakland residents do not want dirty coal exports in their city."
The Oakland City Council at its meeting Tuesday had been scheduled to get an update on coal and consider a $208,000 contract with an environmental group to examine the health and safety effects of transporting the ore by rail through Oakland and loading it onto ships for export overseas. Despite a packed house, the council announced that no action would be taken and another meeting would be scheduled in April.
Prominent Oakland developer Phil Tagami is building a large shipping terminal near the Port of Oakland to handle non-containerized commodities. Activists say the new terminal could bring between 5 million to 10 million tons of coal to Oakland, and cause health problems for residents here.
Of the 400 registered voters recently surveyed, 56 percent opposed coal transport to Oakland, 23 percent supported it and 21 percent had no opinion, according to the poll.
Opposition grew when pollsters read pro and con statements on the issue: 76 percent were against the idea, including 55 percent "strongly opposed," according to the poll. The pro statement said builders would use environmentally friendly practices and the plan would add jobs and bring in millions of dollars to Oakland. The con statement said coal dust from trains could increase risk of asthma, bronchitis and cancer, and moves away from the city's commitment to counter climate change.
The Sierra Club poll was conducted by Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz and Associates, a firm often used by school districts, cities, and labor, energy, environmental and other politically active groups. All of the people surveyed were registered to vote in Oakland, the firm said in its poll.
Those polled also said they are more likely to vote for an Oakland city council candidate who is opposed to coal.
Mayor Libby Schaaf and some council members have publicly denounced any plans to ship coal here, as have environmentalists who say coal dust would harm residents, especially those who live adjacent to the port in West Oakland. Residents there are already more likely to suffer from respiratory illnesses, according to Alameda County Public Health.
"No community, rich or poor, should endure the effects of coal. But the environmental inequity of the coal terminal proposal cannot be disregarded," said Rev. Kenneth Chambers of West Side Missionary Baptist Church in Oakland, one of several clergy opposed to the project. "West Oakland already bears a disproportionate burden of pollution, of toxic contamination from diesel exhaust spewing from (roads and freeways) crisscrossing through the community."
Late Tuesday Mayor Libby Schaaf released a statement reiterating her opposition to coal transports, and asked the council to postpone awarding the contract to Environmental Science Associates so that the city can "further evaluate other, potentially more effective options."
The contract is the council's latest effort to determine if it can legally prohibit the coal shipments. A 2013 agreement between the city and Tagami to develop a large shipping terminal at the former Oakland Army Base did not include restrictions on shipping coal. David Smith, an attorney for Tagami, declined to comment on the poll.
Since approval of the Bulk Commodities Terminal near the Port of Oakland, four coal-producing Utah counties have set aside $53 million to invest into the new $250 million center.
David DeBolt covers Oakland. Contact him at 510-208-6453. Follow him atTwitter.com/daviddebolt.