The Port of Oakland Board of Commissioners last night voted to reject proposals to build a new dirty, dangerous coal and petroleum coke export facility at the Charles P. Howard Terminal in Oakland. Citing environmental problems, public health hazards, economic pitfalls, and public opposition to the project, the Port Commissioners voted unanimously to reject two proposals that would have opened the Bay Area up to additional fossil fuel export facilities.
“As an ex-Commissioner for the Port of Oakland, the prospect of approving a new coal export terminal in Oakland would threaten to roll back all of the progress we have made on being good environmental stewards for our community,” said Margaret Gordon, Co-Director of the West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project. “The proposed coal export facilities would threaten Bay Area families by further polluting the West, East and Fruitvale communities of Oakland, which are already some of the most vulnerable communities of color in the Bay Area. This decision is a victory for our community and will protect local families from the threat of another dirty, dangerous project.”
“From California to Oregon to Washington, local communities are holding the line in the fight against dirty coal exports. Though we still have more work to do here in the Bay Area, the Port's decision represents a huge victory for safeguarding clean air, clean water, and public health for our communities,” said Jess Dervin-Ackerman, Conservation Organizer for the Sierra Club’s San Francisco Bay Chapter.
The Port of Oakland received bids in December 2013 from two developers to construct a coal and fossil fuel export facility at the 50-acre Howard Terminal site. One of the potential developers, Bowie Resource Partners, had projected to construct an 8.3 million ton per year bulk export facility, including over 4 million tons of coal and 1 million tons of petroleum coke. Kinder Morgan, Metro Ports, and California Capital Investment Group (CCIG) also placed a bid for a facility with a likely fossil fuel export component. A third proposal involved metal recycling.
“East Oakland already faces a disproportionate burden from illnesses associated with air pollution. The rate of asthma hospitalization visits in East Oakland is over two times higher than the Alameda County rate and one of the highest in the county," said Nile Malloy, Northern California Program Director for Communities for a Better Environment. "East Oakland residents are striving to realize their vision of a healthier, vibrant community; letting in new dirty coal export and fossil fuel facilities not only runs entirely contrary, but further endangers the health and safety of communities in East Oakland, possibly even pushing the cumulative impact of pollution past the tipping point.”
Coal dust and diesel particulate matter from the numerous open top mile-long trains to transport these commodities would have posed significant air and water quality threats to Bay Area families. Coal breaks apart easily to create dust and contains mercury, arsenic, uranium, and hundreds of other heavy metal toxins harmful to fish and human health. Earlier this month, the Port of Oakland staff recommended that the Port Commissioners reject the proposals due to air quality and environmental concerns, as well as the climate impacts of burning coal abroad.
“California, and especially the Bay Area, stand at the forefront of clean energy development and are leaders in the broader battle against climate change,” said Suma Peesapati, an Earthjustice staff attorney. “Exporting dirty, out-of-state coal for overseas combustion flies in the face of our local policies, interests and values.”
The decision dealt an added blow to two of the potential developers, Kinder Morgan and Metro Ports, as both companies had previously proposed to construct coal export terminals elsewhere on the West Coast. In 2013, Kinder Morgan abandoned its plans to build a coal export terminal at the Port of St. Helens, Oregon along the Columbia River. Similarly, Metro Ports walked away from plans to construct a coal export terminal in Coos Bay, Oregon.
In addition to the Howard Terminal proposal in Oakland, there are potential proposals to develop additional coal and petcoke export facilities at the Oakland Army Base, other berths at the Port of Oakland, and the Port of Richmond. There are currently two existing coal export facilities in the Bay Area at the privately owned Levin-Richmond Terminal and at the Port of Stockton.
Background: Coal companies have increasingly sought a massive expansion in their exports of coal—particularly from the West Coast—as declining U.S. markets for fossil fuels have sent companies searching abroad for new markets. Coal companies have proposed the construction of six coal export terminals in Washington and Oregon. Since their proposal, three of the projects are either dead or tabled as thousands have mobilized across the region to oppose the projects.
There is also increasing pressure to expand oil processing and storage capacity at the five Bay Area refineries and supporting infrastructure. All of these projects contain crude-by-rail components, which are becoming increasingly under scrutiny because of local health and safety concerns.