Momentum Builds to Ban Coal Export from Oakland

oakland-clergy_city-hall.jpgCommunity, church and political leaders came together at the February 16 Oakland city council meeting to strengthen the call for an outright ban of coal exports from the city. Clergy of many faiths, Mayor Libby Schaff, State Senator Loni Hancock, and hundreds of community residents mobilized by the No Coal in Oakland campaign activists all deserve credit for these exciting developments.

Weeks prior to the meeting the City Council had scheduled a vote to spend up to $253,000 for an environmental consultancy firm to review the evidence submitted for and against a ban on coal. No Coal in Oakland opposed this on several grounds, as expensive, unnecessary and risky. Private consultants frequently help developers obtain permits, and in fact this firm, Environmental Science Associates, wrote the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) supporting Valero’s expansion of crude by rail in Benicia. (Fortunately, thanks to three years of intense community activism, the Planning Commission unanimously voted against this development and rejected the EIR—an extremely rare occurrence. Read about it here.)

Mayor Libby Schaaf, who has spoken up against coal in the past, finally intervened with the City Council, thanks in part to meetings with our allies and documents provided by the No Coal in Oakland campaign. A doctor of public health analyzed materials the council received and concluded that there is substantial evidence against exporting coal. An attorney provided the legal arguments that this analysis is the only review needed. Both of these professionals did extraordinary work on a volunteer basis. After a closed meeting between the mayor and the council, the item was pulled from the agenda right before the meeting. The council did allow speakers on both sides, which made for another lively evening. Minutes and video of meeting.

Before the council meeting, more than a dozen faith leaders spoke out at a press conference. (Photo above. Credit Tulio Ospina.) Denominations represented included Episcopal, Baptist, Catholic, United Church of Christ, Jewish, Presbyterian, Unitarian and a message from the Nation of Islam—an extraordinary demonstration of interfaith opposition to coal. At the press conference, the Sierra Club released results of a recent poll of likely Oakland voters.  76% were opposed to coal exports and, by a nearly three-to-margin, they are more likely to vote for a City Council member who also opposes coal. Full details.

Adding to the momentum against coal, Senator Loni Hancock is introducing four bills in the California legislature aimed at supporting a ban on coal. These prohibit shipping coal through an Oakland facility paid for in part with state funds, require an EIR by any public agency involved in permits for a coal project in Oakland, prohibit the use of public funds on ports exporting coal near disadvantaged communities anywhere in the state and tie state funding to either a ban on coal or full mitigation of greenhouse gases associated with the coal consumption.

We don’t know whether these bills will pass the legislature, but they send a clear signal to the City of Oakland, which has the only authority to prohibit coal at the new terminal. Senator Hancock made it clear that this is her intention. And if the bills do pass, they should prevent the need for another showdown about coal anywhere in California in the future. The City Council plans to take their next steps on April 5. Meanwhile they put a moratorium on any permits for the terminal.