Oakland votes no on coal

The Oakland City Council on June 27 voted to ban coal from the city.

The 7-0 vote prohibits the transportation and handling of coal within the city limits.

The vote puts on hold a plan by private developers to export coal mined in Utah through a new shipping terminal being built in Oakland.

At the council meeting where the vote was taken, dozens of local residents spoke in favor of the proposed ban. One of the speakers was Derrick Muhammed, secretary treasurer of International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) Local 10.

ILWU Local 10 and ILWU Local 34, both of whose members work at the Port of Oakland, last year voted to oppose the shipment of coal through Oakland.

In an open letter written before the city council meeting took place, Muhammed said that “the ILWU is pro-terminal and anti-coal.”

“Oakland residents already deal with highway emissions, asthma and other concerns,” wrote Muhammed. “The community doesn’t want or need nine million tons of coal added to their list of worries.”

Supporters of the coal project said that the health and environmental concerns were overblown and that the new coal export facility would create good paying jobs

Muhammed responded that workers and their families need both good health and good jobs.

“We urge you not buy into the false ‘health versus jobs’ dichotomy that the pro-coal side is perpetuating,” wrote Muhammed in his letter. “The simple fact is that we can – and must – have both.”

The plan to bring coal to Oakland originated with California Capital & Investment Group, a real estate investment company that is building the Oakland Bulk and Oversized Terminal (OBOT) on the site of the old Oakland Army Base, owned by the city.

When the construction of OBOT was first proposed, the developer promised that it would not be used to store and ship coal.

But last year California Capital and Terminal Logistics Systems, the company hired to manage OBOT, made a deal with the State of Utah to export Utah’s coal through OBOT.

The deal called for Utah to invest $53 million from its Community Investment Impact Fund in the construction of OBOT.

As soon as the deal became public, some local residents began to worry about its impact on the health and safety of the community.

One of the communities in Oakland that would be affected is West Oakland, a predominately African American neighborhood that already has a high rate of childhood asthma, cancer, and other pollution-related diseases.

“According to a national train company,” reports the Sierra Club, one of the first opponents of the deal,  “each open-top rail car of coal can lose up to one ton of dust between the mines and the port, resulting in the release of 60,000 pounds of toxic fine particulate matter in communities near the rails.”

These concerns led the No Coal in Oakland coalition to begin organizing opposition to the deal.

The coalition sent a letter to Oakland  Mayor Libby Schaaf and the city council urging them to take action to stop the shipment of coal.

“Coal is bad for the climate, community and worker health, and the environment,” said the letter. “Oakland and California have standing policies opposing the export of dirty energy, including explicit opposition to coal export by both the city and the Port of Oakland.”

The letter was signed by a number of community organizations, neighborhood associations, and businesses as well as 18 union locals.

The Alameda County Labor Council, ILWU  Local 6, and ILWU Local 10 sent their own letters urging the mayor and city council to reject the shipment of coal through the city.

In response to the letters and other actions taken by No Coal in Oakland, the city commissioned a study to determine the impact that shipping coal would have on the city.

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, the report, prepared by ESA, an environmental consulting company, said that “fugitive coal dust can damage vital organs, cause cancer and stunt children’s growth.”

Subsequently, Mayor Schaaf proposed a city ordinance banning coal from Oakland.

As the city council prepared to debate the proposed ordinance, supporters of the deal, mailed flyers to residents claiming that the proposed ordinance would eliminate 6500 good paying union jobs.

During public testimony on the ordinance, Josie Camacho, leader of the Alameda County Labor Council, denounced the flyer as a lie.

In his open letter, Muhammed pointed out that other oversized and bulk terminals on the West Coast are thriving without shipping coal and that OBOT could do the same.

“Bulk shipping without coal is a lucrative business, as our 25,000 longshore brothers and sisters can attest, as they work in all West Coast ports from Bellingham, Washington to San Diego, California handling grain, gravel, potash, salt, steel, and many other bulk commodities,” wrote Muhammed. “If the developers keep looking for better cargoes to export, they will find them.”

The city council’s June 27 vote was a vote on the first reading of the “No Coal” ordinance. A second vote on the ordinance will be held on July 19.

Supporters of the deal to ship coal through Oakland have threatened to sue the city if the ordinance passes on the second vote.

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