Emeryville has jumped into a political battle involving the transport of Coal to an export terminal being built at the former West Oakland Army Base. A project being spearheaded by prominent Oakland developer Phil Tagami who’s resume includes the rehabilitation of the Fox theatre among many other projects. At the crux of the fight is the hope of thousands of local, union jobs the project has promised to bring versus the global environment and health concerns associated with the mining, transport and burning of the abundant fossil fuel.
Emeryville has stated its opposition by co-signing a letter to Oakland City Council noting the impact on our local communities. “A main rail line likely to be used by coal shipments passes through our cities. Our communities would be exposed not only to coal dust and increased diesel emissions but also to increased risk of collisions and derailments from coal trains.”
An estimated 9 million tons of coal would travel through Emeryville annually to West Oakland and be exported to developing nations. Nations like Mexico and China who are still reliant on Coal for industry and have less-strict environmental regulations. Environmental concerns range from the dust spewed through transport of coal which has been linked to Asthma, to global climate change by emitting carbon dioxide. Burning coal also releases Mercury into the air and it inevitably is brought down into our rivers, streams and oceans. Opponents like the Sierra Club have persistently expressed the criticality of moving away from fossil fuels to clean and renewable energy sources or the promised Clean Energy Economy.
The Oakland City Council approved a contract in 2012 with Tagami’s California Capital & Investment Group to develop the site but Councilmembers insist transporting coal was not considered in the Environmental Review. The project broke ground with much fanfare in 2013 promising to replace the 7,000 jobs lost when the Oakland Army base shuttered in 1999. The construction of the site will reportedly employ as many as 1,500 workers and when complete, employee an estimated 12,000 people.
The state of Utah, where much of the coal will be transported from, has committed $53 million to help fund the Oakland project. Public money intended for projects in rural Utah communities according to this Chronicle piece. Utah mines shipped an estimated $169 Million in coal in 2015 with a vast majority going to Mexico. Domestic consumption of coal is winding down but developing countries continue to rely on the cheap form of Energy. If the demand for coal is not met by U.S. exports, it’s likely to be provided by other sources namely China who is the world’s number one producer and consumer by far. China itself has made commitments to reduce its dependence on coal and is the current global leader in Renewable Energy investments. While California’s stance would send a strong political message, it’s unlikely to have a substantial global impact without international cooperation.
Emeryville Council already sent a resolution opposing coal’s shipment to the port back in March and a coalition of eleven Bay Area Mayors including acting Mayor Martinez recently sent a joint letter to Oakland urging them to reject the plan.”We sincerely urge you – for the sake of all of us and the planet – to take action to reject the coal plan and protect the health and safety of our communities.” The letter basically amounts to political posturing as none of the cities have any actual authority to stop this. In fact Oakland may not have any legal standing as coal is a legal commodity. Oakland’s current plan, led by Mayor Libby Schaff, is to slow down the project and gain some leverage by forcing a study of the hazardous impacts of transporting coal in the area.
Oakland City officials and activists also attest that Tagami broke a pledge after verbally stating in 2013 that he had “no interest or involvement in the pursuit of coal-related operations at the former Oakland Army Base.” In addition, a public records request revealed an email communication by Utah Transportation Commission Chairman Jeffrey Holt “to downplay coal” as part of their political strategy. Holt resigned late last year. California Capital & Investment Group insists that coal exporting are vital to the viability of the project and omitting coal would set a precedent that would undermine their operation and invite initiatives blocking other exports.
Many activists have turned to Governor Brown who has a long relationship with Tagami and also spoke in favor of Clean Power at a recent U.N. conference in Paris. The state legislature, led by Senator Loni Hancock, has also sponsored bills that would ban the export of coal from Oakland. These bills would arrive at Governor Browns desk as early as June forcing him to take action.
In a city and state that is demanding union and living wage jobs, does opposing a big source of them without providing an alternative comes across as hypocritical? Something detailed in a Sierra Club piece titled “How to support clean energy and not be a jerk“. The piece details a plan being jointly orchestrated by unions and environmentalists to help ease the transition of these coal industry jobs through investment and job training and ensure that the cost burden of doing so is spread around.
The Union of Concerned Scientists Fact Sheet notes the benefits of moving to renewable energy include nearly 300K jobs, $64B in savings and a 2% reduction in pollution that contributes to global warming by 2025. As the Sierra Club piece notes: “The value of avoiding catastrophic climate change is incalculable.”
More information about the efforts to prevent Coal from traveling through our Communities can be found at NoCoalinOakland.info
Further Reading & Resources
Oakland coal-shipment dustup grows: What will Brown do? | SF Chronicle
Coal-shipping plan divides Oakland over health, jobs issues | SF Chronicle
Utah Governor Signs Bill to Advance Oakland Coal Plan | KQED News
Oakland Coal Terminal Becomes a Political Flash Point | Wall Street Journal
Oakland coal depot proposal takes a step forward | SF Business Times
How Utah quietly made plans to ship coal through California | LA Times
How to support clean energy and not be a jerk | SierraClub.org
Coal: The fuel of the future, unfortunately | The Economist
The Clean Energy Economy in Three Charts | Energy.gov
China Leads In Renewable Investment — Again! | Forbes.com