By Christin Ayers

OAKLAND (CBS SF) — A plan to export coal through a proposed new shipping terminal in Oakland got a financial boost Tuesday: Lawmakers in Utah are fast tracking a bill that would close a funding gap for the project.

The plan is to build the export terminal on city land in Oakland. But the state of Utah wants a stake in the game. They want to ship coal through the terminal and now a Utah senator has made a play for a piece of the pie.

“The ability for Utah to have what California has had forever, access to the world through ports … It’s not a bad thing,” said Utah Senator Stuart Adams. His bill to invest $51 million taxpayer dollars in a marine export hub in the Bay Area just sailed through the Utah senate.

Adams wants to help Utah’s struggling coal mines. He says a deep water terminal in Oakland could be their lifeline, allowing export to China and Mexico. “Utah’s coal is the cleanest on the planet. If people want our clean coal versus the dirtier coal with higher sulphur content, they ought to be able to make that decision,” he said.

But in California, opposition is growing. “This whole coal export depot from day one has been leveraging public money for private developers to make a profit by exporting a toxic product to Asia, which already has huge air pollution problems, and actually, we all do breathe the air,” said California Senator Loni Hancock.

Senator Hancock recently introduced four bills of her own to restrict exports of coal from California. She’s also asked the state Transportation Commission to stop state funding of the terminal, saying that at the time it was approved coal, the dirtiest fossil fuel on the planet, was never mentioned.

“We need to spend our public money on sustainable clean energy jobs for our people, both in California and in Utah,” she said.

Even if the funding from Utah goes through, Oakland’s city council could block the coal deal if they decide it would impact the health and safety of citizens.

Then there’s this: A letter we just obtained from Oakland’s city administrator, addressed to the developer of the project. It says the city is also considering the possibility of a number of new options, including additional permit requirements and possibly an environmental review.

But project director Jerry Bridges promises, there will be no coal dust. “Our project is one that will raise the bar,” he said.  He provided KPIX with sketches of the proposed facility, which will be built in an enclosed dome. He says even the train cars bringing coal from Utah will be covered. “We are currently working with a company called Ecofab they have been designing rail car covers for years. They have come up with a design that has Federal Railroad approval for covering coal,” he said.

As for concerns about pollution overseas: “I am not in a debate over the science of global warming. I am in the transportation business, my job is to get things from point a to point b,” he said.

The Utah bill is expected to pass in the house. A vote could come as early as Wednesday. And it looks likely Utah’s governor will sign it.

Christin Ayers

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