By Thomas Fuller, The New York Times, June 28, 2016
|A year-long effort that included community and labor groups as well as the climate justice groups proved susceesful.|
SAN FRANCISCO — The city of Oakland, Calif., on Monday banned the transport and storage of large coal shipments, a blow to a developer’s plans to use a former Army base as an export terminal to ship coal to China and other overseas markets.
The terminal would have been the largest coal shipment facility on the West Coast, with a planned capacity to increase coal exports in the United States by 19 percent, according to the Sierra Club, the environmental group.
Weeks of feisty debate over the ban, which the Oakland City Council unanimously passed late Monday night and which will become law after a second reading next month, covered familiar ground: the trade-offs between jobs and environmental concerns.
But the debate also raised the larger and more unusual question of how much a city should weigh the global environmental impacts of the commodities that flow through its ports. A report prepared by the city argued for a coal ban partly because the coal, once it was burned overseas, would contribute to climate change and rising sea levels.
“Oakland cannot afford to ignore the scientific evidence that clearly show the harmful effects and risk associated with coal,” said Dan Kalb, a City Council member who proposed the ban along with the mayor, Libby Schaaf. “With this new law, we’re taking the steps needed to protect our community, our workers and our planet.”
The city’s report calculated that the millions of tons of coal exported annually through the port of Oakland would release significantly more greenhouse gases than produced each year by all five oil refineries in the San Francisco Bay Area. And the report noted that Oakland was especially vulnerable to rising sea levels.
The ban is the second blow for the coal industry on the West Coast in recent weeks. In May, the United States Army Corps of Engineers denied a permit for a coal terminal planned 90 miles north of Seattle on the grounds that it would endanger wildlife.
The report, which was prepared by Claudia Cappio, an assistant city administrator, warned of the risks of cancer, heart and lung ailments and childhood developmental problems resulting from exposure to what it called “fugitive dust emissions” — the airborne particles generated from handling, transporting and loading coal onto ships.
The coal would have been shipped from Utah and other western states to the Oakland Bulk and Oversized Terminal, which is on an abandoned Army base across the Bay from San Francisco.
The lead investor in the project, Phil Tagami, the chief executive and president of the California Capital and Investment Group, warned in an email of “legal consequences” from the decision.
“Exactly how much of the city’s limited resources and how many jobs for West Oaklanders are this Council willing to sacrifice on this crusade?” he asked.
Mr. Tagami is one of the most prominent developers in Oakland and is a friend and political supporter of California’s governor, Jerry Brown, a former mayor of the city.
A lawyer for Mr. Tagami, David Smith of the firm Stice & Block, wrote in a letter to the Council before the vote that a ban would be a “pronouncement to the world that Oakland is not a trustworthy or reliable place to invest or do business.”
Mr. Smith called the argument that the coal exported from Oakland increased the emissions of greenhouse gases “nonsensical and absurd” because power plants overseas would burn coal from somewhere else if they did not get coal from the Oakland port.
Mr. Smith also asked whether the concern over the global consequences of the coal would apply to other goods that move through the city and its ports. “Under this approach, the city would have to hold gas station owners responsible for greenhouse gas emissions from cars that refuel at their facility,” he said.
The vote comes at a time when Oakland is increasingly shifting toward technology jobs — and away from the city’s blue-collar heritage. Pandora, the streaming music service, is based in Oakland, and Uber is moving its headquarters there next year.