By EVAN HALL
Northern California communities are divided over the building of an Oakland port that would send Utah coal across the Pacific Ocean.
11 Bay Area mayors signed a letter on Thursday urging Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf to consider the impacts of the proposed coal port. The letter detailed worries about the environmental cost of using the port to ship Utah coal.
Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates said that while many residents in the area are against the proposal, the only way to halt the project would be an official study showing immediate harm.
“The City of Oakland gave all of the rights to the developer. It’s insane that they did that but they did,” Bates said. “Oakland has one way that they can definitely block this, and that is to do a study of the health and safety of their citizens. If they make a determination that it’s not safe and it’s not healthy, the whole thing can be derailed right there. Once they get that, they can actually get out of their contract.”
If the study reveals negative impacts, Bates said that litigation could also be used if the port’s developers challenge the findings. He said that even the coal’s delivery route has aroused opposition.
“This train is either going to come through the northern route—which would bring it around by the San Francisco Bay and go to the Port of Oakland—or there’s a southern route, which would bring it through the Altamont Pass east of us. That would impact the mayor of Livermore, Pleasanton, Hayward, and San Leandro before it reaches Oakland,” he said. “Either way, the mayors on both of those routes have said, ‘We don’t want it. Please make a finding. We don’t want this coal.’ So, the mayors are already saying, ‘We don’t want it.’”
The letter also warned that no proven method has been found to contain coal dust during shipments.
Mayor Tom Butt among 11 East Bay mayors backing letter opposing coal shipments
April 15, 2016
Mayors of 11 East Bay cities — including Richmond Mayor Tom Butt — have sent a letter urging Oakland leaders to reject coal shipments from an Oakland marine terminal that’s currently under development.
The mayors said health impacts of shipping coal from the new terminal, which the city’s council approved in 2012, was not addressed in an environmental review. They fear coal bound for the Oakland terminal will be shipped by rail through multiple cities including Richmond and Berkeley.
“If you don’t stop what would be the largest coal terminal on the West Coast of the U.S. the health and safety impacts would be severe, not just for Oakland but also for our communities and for the world,” the mayors said in the letter.
Rail transport of coal will release dust and diesel emissions into neighborhoods already burdened by the health impacts of industry, the mayorsadded.
The debate has also moved to Sacramento. On Tuesday, a state senate committee voted in favor of Sen. Loni Hancock‘s legislation requiring a new environmental report coal transport at the Oakland terminal, which will reportedly create 2,000 jobs. More on that bill in the East Bay Times.
In May of last year, Richmond, also impacted by rail and port activity, passed a two-part resolution opposing rail transport of coal and petroleum coke along California waterways and through populated cities. The city has also been fighting efforts to prevent shipments of crude oil over the risk of derailments and explosions.
“We sincerely urge you — for the sake of all of us and the planet — to take action to reject the coal plan and protect the health and safety of our communities,” the mayors said.
Along with Mayor Butt, signing the letter were Mayors Peter Maass of Albany, Tom Bates of Berkeley, Greg Lyman of El Cerrito, Dianne Martinez of Emeryville, David Haubert of Dublin, Bill Harrison of Fremont, Barbara Halliday of Hayward, John Marchand of Livermore, Pauline Cutter of San Leandro and Carol Dutra-Vernaci of Union City.
BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
Throughout his lengthy political career, California Governor Jerry Brown has probably been called just about everything in the book; from Governor Moonbeam (during his first tenure) to hopeless optimist (his run for the presidency), from crass opportunist (his period as two-term mayor of Oakland), to environmental visionary (his current tenure as Governor leading the fight against climate change). However, he’s probably never been characterized as a “head in the sand” kind of guy, and yet that’s exactly the ground he’s occupying by continuing to remain silent about plans by one of his closest friends and political allies to export millions of tons of coal from Oakland’s port; a plan that could have a devastating environment and heath impact on Oakland communities.
As the Contra Costa Times reported this past November, Oakland is on the precipice of “becoming the largest coal exporter on the West Coast.” And Oakland officials have spent months reviewing “thousands of documents to determine whether they can legally oppose coal shipments from a city-owned bulk commodities terminal being constructed on the old Oakland Army Base.”
One exceedingly important issue is whether city officials, who appear to be remarkably united in their opposition, has the authority to block the plans of Phil Tagami, a prominent Oakland developer who is a longtime friend, political ally and financial supporter of Governor Brown.
“Tagami, a former port commissioner with deep personal and business ties to Gov. Jerry Brown, won the contract to oversee the city's portion of the Army Base redevelopment to transform about 160 acres adjacent to the Port of Oakland into a $500 million logistics center with new shipping terminals and warehouses,” the Contra Costa Times reported.
“Tagami has claimed that because his contract doesn't expressly prohibit coal, the city has no right to restrict his business. He has said the coal cars would be covered, reducing or eliminating the local threat of airborne pollutants,” The Times pointed out. And he has threatened to sue if he doesn’t get his way.
According to the San Francisco Chronicle’s Rachel Swan, “Tagami said he and Brown have privately discussed the coal plan …. [but] he wouldn’t elaborate on the nature of … questions” Brown had. And while many of tried, reporters, environmental activists, and government officials have yet to pry an opinion out of the governor.
As the East Bay Express’ Robert Gammon reported in late December, “Brown made quite a splash at the UN Climate Change talks in Paris this month. The mainstream press fawned over California's governor, lavishing praise on him for supposedly being a world leader in the fight to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.” And yet, the governor continues to remain silent on Tagami’s project.
Gammon points out that while Brown “has long had a reputation for being a cautious politician who shies away from controversial issues, coal is not that controversial — at least not in California. The state has no coal industry to speak of, and California's utilities long ago shifted away from the dirty fossil fuel and now depend largely on natural gas, hydroelectric power, and renewables. And in October, Brown even signed a law requiring the state's two major pension funds to stop investing in coal companies. Coal, in short, has virtually no impact on the state's economy — and no effect on California politics.
Tagami and Brown “are close friends and real estate investment partners in Oakland,” the East Bay Express’ Gammons noted. “In fact, Brown and his wife Anne Gust were married in Tagami's Rotunda Building in 2005. Brown also houses his charter school, the Oakland School for the Arts, in the Tagami-refurbished Fox Theater in Uptown. And it was Brown who originally made Tagami his point man on the Army Base redevelopment authority when Brown was mayor of Oakland.”
In addition, in 2012 Brown “recruited Tagami to serve on the California Lottery Commission, and on the state medical board in 2013.
On its web page entitled “Fight for a Coal-free Oakland,” the San Francisco Bay Chapter of The Sierra Club points out that a poll [conducted in the first few months of this year] shows that 76 percent of Oakland voters oppose the coal-export proposal, including a majority (57%) who oppose it “strongly.”
The Sierra Club has also prepared an “Oakland Coal Exports” fact sheet, which leads with A private developer wants to use public land and taxpayer dollars to export dirty coal through Oakland. Not only would this hurt our global climate, it would damage the health of local communities that already face dangerous levels of air pollution.”
Oakland, a city with a long and colorful history of political progressivism, is undergoing a rebirth of sorts with accelerating downtown development projects, new restaurants abounding, and a booming new tech economy. The downside of development and the influx of new, young and more financially secure settlers is that many of the city’s longtime residents – read that black, Latino and poor white – are being forced out of the city by outrageous increases in rents and the lack of adequate low-income housing.
According to the San Francisco Chronicle’s Swan, the governor might have to take a stand if a “suite of bills by state Sen. Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley” banning “the export of coal from Oakland and cut[ting] off public funding for any port in the state that handles coal,” comes to his desk.
In addition, the Oakland City Council “will vote on whether to hire a consultant to study the hazards of transporting coal through the city and into the former army base by rail.”
If he refuses to oppose the plan, the legacy of a climate change battling Governor Brown is clearly at stake. Will it be Governor Crony or Governor Courage? Stay tuned.