OAKLAND (CBS SF & AP) – Hours before a key city council vote, Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf unveiled an amendment to the city code Monday that would ban the rail transportation of coal within the city limits.
It wasn’t just the transportation of coal that would banned by the proposed legislation, but also the transloading, handling and storage of coal and petroleum coke at bulk material facilities or terminals throughout Oakland.
“I am firmly committed to adopting the strongest health and safety protections allowed by law,” Schaaf said in a news release. “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.”
The proposal is co-sponsored by Mayor Schaaf and Oakland Councilmember Dan Kalb and will be read at a special Monday night meeting of the council.
“For most of my adult life, I have fought for environmental justice and smart climate policy,” Kalb said. “Oakland cannot afford to ignore the scientific evidence that clearly show the harmful effects and risk associated with coal.”
The council is expected to vote on a plan to build a marine terminal that would serve as a gateway for Utah-mined coal heading to Asia.
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.
Jerry Bridges, chief executive of the potential marine terminal operator, says jobs are the most significant issue and any environmental impact will be mitigated by transporting coal in covered rail cars that are unloaded underground.
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.
The International Longshore and Warehouse Union also opposes the shipment of coal.
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