OAKLAND (CBS SF) — Oakland city officials unanimously voted to ban the shipment of coal, sidelining a plan to transport Utah coal to Asia through a proposed marine terminal on an old army base.
The proposed terminal is in West Oakland, a historically black neighborhood that’s among the poorest and most polluted in the region.
Detractors highlight the environmental dangers of bringing millions of tons of coal through the area while supporters tout the economic benefits of good-paying union jobs.
The terminal is part of a larger makeover of an army base that closed in 1999, eliminating thousands of jobs. City leaders approved the project before the coal proposal was made.
Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf and Councilmember Dan Kalb introduced the proposal Monday to ban the shipping of coal, in advance of a hearing to determine whether coal presents a safety and health hazard.
The chamber for the Oakland City Council’s Monday meeting was packed with supporters and opponents of a plan to ship Utah coal to Asia through a proposed marine terminal.
Outside, more than 150 people on both sides held boisterous rallies full of song and chants.
Supporters of the proposed terminal say it will bring badly needed jobs to a historically African-American neighborhood that suffers from high unemployment. Opponents say the number of estimated jobs is paltry compared with the health and safety risks that come from transporting millions of tons of coal through the city.
City officials approved the project before learning about the coal proposal. The council approved a contract in 2012 with California Capital & Investment Group to develop the marine terminal site but many Oakland city officials say coal was not considered in the environmental review of the project when it was approved.
Environmental groups say that exposure to coal dust could make West Oakland’s existing air quality issues worse.
But developers have said safety measures would be taken to mitigate any hazards from coal dust coming from rail cars or at the shipping center itself.
Oakland Assistant City Administrator Claudia Cappio issued a report on Friday recommending that the council ban storage and handling of
coal in bulk facilities, including the shipping terminal at the former Oakland Army Base.
Cappio’s report includes a study from the city’s environmental consultant, Environmental Science Associates, which says that railcars being unloaded at the terminal could send coal dust wafting over two neighboring schools, a child care center, commuters at the Bay Bridge toll plaza and parks near Interstate Highway 880.
Some city officials believe the study provides the city with a scientific and legal basis for banning coal.
Schaaf said in a statement today, “I am firmly committed to adopting the strongest health and safety protections allowed by law.”
Schaaf said, “As passionate stewards of the environment who are committed to equity, Oaklanders know that it’s a false choice to say we have to pick between jobs and this community’s health and safety. We can, and we will, do both.”
Kalb said, “For most of my adult life, I have fought for environmental justice and smart climate policy. Oakland cannot afford to ignore the scientific evidence that clearly show the harmful effects and risk associated with coal.”
A second reading of the ordinance that the council approved Monday night is scheduled for July 19, according to the office of Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan.
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