By Christin Ayers

OAKLAND (CBS SF) — State Senator Loni Hancock says the clock is ticking on a proposed coal depot that would bring in coal by rail from Utah to Oakland.

“A bulk coal depot goes against everything the State of California has worked for, everything we stand for,” Hancock said.

A plan to ship 9 million tons of coal a year through Oakland is closer than ever after it got a big financial boost two weeks ago when lawmakers in Utah voted to pay Oakland $53 million in taxpayer dollars to build the terminal.

All the bill needs now is the Utah governor’s signature. Some Utah lawmakers think the governor will sign it.

Utah Senator Stuart Adams said, “The ability for Utah to have what California has had forever, access to the world through ports, is not a bad thing.”

California has already pledged $176 million in public funds for a bulk export terminal that would let mile-long trains loaded with coal from Utah wind through the East Bay to a deep water terminal. The coal would then be shipped off to places including China and Mexico.

Hancock says that if Utah’s governor signs the bill, and a check is cut, there may be no turning back.

“If that money does get transferred, it could be that a coal depot will go forward. And it’s much harder to end something once it’s built,” Hancock said.

The Oakland City Council remains divided on the project, with some saying the coal terminal will bring jobs and opponents hoping to block the deal citing public health concerns.

The developer believes the city has no legal standing.

Phil Tagami, the managing general partner of California Capital & Investment Group wrote in a letter, “The law is clear…the full entitlement and initial construction…has fully and completely complied with all applicable laws and regulations.”

Tagami has also threatened to sue.

But Hancock says the Oakland City Council must not back down.

“This is a time when we have to move forward with all deliberate speed because so much is at stake for the people of West Oakland, for the state of California,” Hancock said.

The state senator says she is hopeful, that if all else fails, environmental groups could resurrect a lawsuit arguing that the developer for the project did not factor in coal when the project initially underwent environmental reviews.

Hancock has introduced four bills to restrict coal export, however, it is unclear whether those bills can will be applied retroactively to Oakland.

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