Legal Battle Expected After Oakland Coal Decision
The council of the U.S. city of Oakland voted unanimously to bar shipments of coal through a proposed marine terminal on Monday, setting the stage for a legal battle.
The prospect of train cars carrying millions of tons of coal mined in Utah through Oakland before heading to Asian markets has inflamed passions in the city.
Opponents argue the potential emission of coal dust will harm health and exacerbate climate change. Hundreds of people protested at Oakland City Hall (Oscar Grant Plaza) to call for “No Coal – No Compromise” on the Saturday afternoon before the vote.
Dr Heather Kuiper, a member of the Public Health Advisory Panel that has released a report warning of health and safety dangers of the coal plan, says, “As public health professionals, our evidence-based determination is that the most effective way to protect Oakland’s residents, in particular in West Oakland, from the hazards introduced by the transport, storage and handling of coal is to prohibit these activities. We could not find evidence that the proposed mitigation measures would effectively protect Oakland’s residents. To the contrary our investigation suggests the possibility that these very measures may introduce new hazards into the city.”
The investigation states that coal trains would significantly increase concentrations of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) in the local community due to emissions of both coal dust and diesel exhaust. It also states that coal dust typically contains toxics such as mercury, lead, arsenic, cadmium and crystalline silica. These substances are a health risk if inhaled or ingested, and are known to cause cancer, fetal defects and neurological damage, even at very low doses.
Proponents say the proposed coal plans would provide good jobs in an impoverished area. Jerry Bridges, president of Terminal Logistics Solutions, said banning a legal commodity like coal sends the wrong signal about Oakland.
"This type of regulation is not necessary, it kills jobs, and it does not protect the image of our city as being open for business and growth," he told the council.
"Oaklanders know it's a false choice to say we have to pick between jobs and this community's health and safety," Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf, a leading opponent to the shipments, said before the vote.
A lawsuit is expected from businesses associated with shipping the coal and petroleum coke through the terminal.
Environmental groups in 2015 sued to stop construction of the terminal, which is proposed for a former U.S. Army base.