By Erin Baldassari, firstname.lastname@example.org
POSTED: 06/25/2016 04:05:14 PM PDT
OAKLAND -- The Oakland City Council has both the legal authority and sufficient scientific evidence to prohibit coal exports at a planned bulk terminal in West Oakland, a city-funded report and staff recommendations released Friday found.
The report, along with two pieces of legislation, confirms what environmental activists in Oakland had been decrying for more than a year: that shipping coal through Oakland would pose a serious health risk to both West Oakland residents and workers at the planned terminal.
The findings come just three days before the council is expected to vote on a resolution specifically prohibiting the storage and handling of coal at the Oakland Bulk and Oversized Terminal, a $250 million global logistics center taking shape on the Outer Harbor.
The council is also expected to consider a law banning the "storing, loading, unloading, stockpiling, transloading or otherwise handling and/or managing" of coal or petroleum coke at any future bulk facility in Oakland, except for personal, scientific, or recreational use, and in other limited situations. The law does not regulate whether shipments of coal can move through the city on railroads or through marine terminals.
Lora Jo Foo, an environmental activist with the No Coal in Oakland coalition, lauded both the staff's recommendations to the council and the city-funded report by Environmental Science Associates, an environmental consulting firm. Councilmember Dan Kalb funded a separate study by energy and public health expert Zoe Chafe, which was also released Friday and came to similar conclusions as the ESA report.
"We're really relieved that the city staff, after looking at this evidence for nine months, did the right thing," Foo said. "The city now has more than substantial evidence to pass a complete ban on coal."
Environmentalists have been fighting for more than a year with the city to block coal from moving through the terminal after it was revealed that the terminal developer, Phil Tagami, and representatives of Terminal Logistics Solutions, which has an exclusive right to operate the terminal, planned to export coal.
The council in 2013 signed an agreement with Tagami that did not restrict coal or other commodities from being exported at the former base, and at the time, there was no mention of coal being shipped there.
But since then, Tagami has said it was a possibility. And, in March, the state of Utah passed a bill investing $53 million of taxpayer money for a coal-shipping facility in Oakland.
City staff relied on a provision in the agreement that allows the city to apply new laws to the agreement if failing to do so would "place existing or future occupants or users of the Project, (or) adjacent neighbors ... in a condition substantially dangerous to their health."
Kalb, who, along with Mayor Libby Schaaf, is sponsoring the proposed legislation, said there is ample evidence showing that storing and handling coal at facilities in the city would impact the health of residents. He commissioned the Chafe report, he said, because he "thought it was very important that if we're going to take action, we do so based on all of the scientific information available to us."
"The evidence shows there's good, strong reasons to not allow coal," Kalb said.
But David Smith, who represents the bulk terminal project, said his client vows to fight any vote that would limit the terminal's ability to move coal through the site.
"We absolutely view any action consistent with the staff recommendations as a breach of the development agreement for the project and will certainly pursue all legal remedies from that," Smith said.
Foo said threats of litigation are nothing new from the project's developer, but she was hopeful the council would stand firm and support the staff's recommendations.
"Now the question is," Foo said, "does the council have the courage to ban coal?"
The City Council will hold a special meeting at 5 p.m. on Monday at Oakland City Hall. The No Coal in Oakland coalition will be hosting a rally in support of the coal ban at 1 p.m. on Saturday at Frank Ogawa Plaza in Oakland.
Contact staff reporter Erin Baldassari at 510-208-6428. Follow her on Twitter attwitter.com/e_baldi.