Oakland bans coal storage, handling

The Oakland City Council voted unanimously Monday night to ban the handling and storage of coal during a special meeting on plans for a marine terminal under development at the former Oakland Army Base.

The council approved a contract in 2012 with California Capital & Investment Group to develop the marine terminal site but many Oakland city officials say coal was not considered in the environmental review of the project when it was approved.

Environmental groups say that exposure to coal dust could make West Oakland’s existing air quality issues worse.

But developers have said safety measures would be taken to mitigate any hazards from coal dust coming from rail cars or at the shipping center itself.

Oakland Assistant City Administrator Claudia Cappio issued a report on Friday recommending that the council ban storage and handling of coal in bulk facilities, including the shipping terminal at the former Oakland Army Base.

Cappio’s report includes a study from the city’s environmental consultant, Environmental Science Associates, which says that railcars being unloaded at the terminal could send coal dust wafting over two neighboring schools, a child care center, commuters at the Bay Bridge toll plaza and parks near Interstate Highway 880.

Some city officials believe the study provides the city with a scientific and legal basis for banning coal.

Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf, who joined with Councilman Dan Kalb to introduce the measure to ban the transporting of coal in the city, said in a statement Monday:

“I am firmly committed to adopting the strongest health and safety protections allowed by law.”

Schaaf added:

 “As passionate stewards of the environment who are committed to equity, Oaklanders know that it’s a false choice to say we have to pick between jobs and this community’s health and safety. We can, and we will, do both.”

Kalb said:

“For most of my adult life, I have fought for environmental justice and smart climate policy. Oakland cannot afford to ignore the scientific evidence that clearly show the harmful effects and risk associated with coal.”

A second reading of the ordinance that the council approved tonight is scheduled for July 19, according to the office of Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan.