The City of Oakland, California took a bold step towards protecting the health of its citizens and the global environment on in July after city council members voted unanimously to ban the storage and handling of coal and petroleum coke in the city.
The ban, sought by local environmental groups for over a year, is expected to derail plans for a massive export terminal on the city-owned waterfront, known as the Oakland Bulk and Oversized Terminal (OBOT).
According to the San Francisco chapter of the Sierra Club, the port developers “have been quietly soliciting a partnership with four Utah counties to export up to ten million tons of coal out of Oakland each year. The partnership would make Oakland the largest coal-export facility on the West Coast, and would increase national coal exports by a whopping 19 percent.”
Community members opposed to the planned facility rallied both in and outside Monday’s overflow hearing. The San Jose Mercury News reports:
Hundreds of people filled the council chambers, spilling into overflow rooms, and offered several hours of commentary frequently punctuated by cheers, applause and outbursts from audience members on both sides of the issue. Following the vote, audience members burst into song, filling the chambers with a chorus singing, “No more coal in Oakland, I’m going to let it shine.”
“This is what grassroots organizing looks like,” Bruce Nilles, senior campaign director for Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign, declared on social media.
The vote came three days after city staff released a long-anticipated report that recommended the ban based on its findings that OBOT “would pose a serious health risk to both workers at the planned terminal and West Oakland residents, who already suffer from high levels of asthma and other respiratory illnesses,” the Mercury News reports.
The ordinance, which requires a second vote on July 19 to become finalized, was proposed by Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf and Councilman Dan Kalb, who argued that such projects pollute the air and pose serious risks to workers and community members. While the new rule specifically pertains to future projects, the council also voted unanimously on a resolution to apply the ordinance to OBOT.
The proposed terminal had sparked a fierce local debate, which developers and other supporters of the project framed as a choice between local jobs and the environment.
Following the vote, councilmember Rebecca Kaplan deemed it “a proud day for democracy.”
“I think what this vote proves is that we understand the importance of protecting the health and safety of our community,” Kaplan said. “It also shows that we were able to push back against the lies from the industry that were so deceptive.”
“When I heard about the possibility of coal coming through this port I just had a really bad feeling come over me,” said Derrick Muhammad, a representative of the International Longshore Workers Union. “Oakland families are already worried about asthma and other sickness because of highways and port activities. It’s not right to ask them to take on the worry and risk of nine million tons of coal passing through their neighborhoods on trains each year.”
“Allowing coal exports through Oakland not only harms the community and the environment, but is also inconsistent with the progressive climate goals set by the City of Oakland and State of California,” added Irene Gutierrez, an attorney with Earthjustice.