After thorough research and much discussion, members of ILWU Local 10, whose members load and unload ships at the Port of Oakland, and ILWU Local 34, the Oakland marine clerks union, voted on September 18 not to handle coal at the Oakland Global Trade and Logistics Center, which is currently under construction.
“Coal is not the right way to bring jobs to Oakland,” said Derrick Muhammad, business agent for Local 10. “Oakland families are worried about asthma and other sicknesses because of highway and port activity. It’s not right to ask them to take on the worry of nine million tons of coal passing through their neighborhoods on trains each year.”
The Trade and Logistics Center is being constructed on land where the former Oakland Army Base was located.
The redevelopment of the former Army base is a collaboration between California Capital & Investment Group (CCGI), a private real estate company, and the governments of the city of Oakland and the state of California.
According to Sean Farley, president of Local 34, when the construction of the new port facility was being considered, the project’s developer promised not to ship coal from any terminal at the new port.
“They need to make good on that promise,” said Farley. “Waterfront space is in short supply on the West Coast, and it would be a mistake to lock Oakland into a decades long lease with a coal industry that many are saying is dying.”
Farley added that other West Coast ports have rejected similar proposals to export coal and “Oakland shouldn’t become the dumping ground for dirty, low-value cargoes that no one else wants.”
The prospect that coal may be shipped and exported through Oakland is the result of an unusual public-private partnership deal between CCGI, Terminal Logistics Solutions, and the state of Utah.
Terminal Logistics Solutions (TLS) is building and will operate the Bulk and Oversized Terminal at Oakland’s Global Trade and Logistics Center.
It recently signed a deal with the state of Utah in which Utah agreed to a loan of $53 million in public funds to help finance TLS’ new terminal.
In return, Utah is guaranteed that exports from four of the state’s counties will be handled by TLS’ new terminal.
Three of the four counties named in the agreement produce all of the coal mined in Utah.
The agreement will allow Bowie Resources, which owns the Utah mines, to export 9 million tons of coal a year through Oakland.
When the deal between Utah and TLS came to light, environmental protection groups like the Sierra Club, protested.
According to the Sierra Club, coal mining and the use of coal is a primary contributor to climate change.
Coal also threatens the health and well-being of people exposed to it and workers who handle it.
As a result, the use of coal is fading in the US as energy consumers such as utilities are using more alternative energy sources.
The squeeze on coal has meant that coal companies are looking to markets outside of the US.
To take advantage of these markets abroad, coal companies need specialized export facilities that can load foreign-bound ships with coal.
As Farley said, coal companies have been unable to persuade other West Coast ports to handle their coal.
Their best hope for doing so seems to be the new facility being developed in Oakland, but the fate of the coal-exporting project remains up in the air.
After the ILWU passed its resolution, The Oakland City Council held a hearing on the coal deal.
Both opponents and supporters testified.
But the city took no action. In fact, it’s unclear whether the city of Oakland has any authority to stop the shipment of coal.
Nevertheless, the ILWU made its “no coal” position clear to all.
“We are adamantly opposed to coal coming through Oakland, California,” said Muhammad as he testified at the hearing.