The Battle to Stop Coal Pollution in the Bay

Feb 7, 2019

In 2011, Baykeeper staff members were conducting a regular patrol on the Bay and came across a highly toxic polluting activity. A shipping terminal on the Richmond shoreline had put large piles of coal at the edge of the water, and wind was blowing black dust from the piles directly into the Bay.

Facility operators were also making a mess in the water while loading coal into the waiting ship. And we could see that the next storm would wash toxic dust from those uncovered piles into the Bay.

Baykeeper investigated further. We gathered evidence, researched the facility, reviewed reports. And then we sued this big Bay polluter for violating the Clean Water Act. In 2014, we negotiated an agreement that required the Levin-Richmond Terminal Corporation to install extensive water pollution controls to protect the Bay from coal.

And Baykeeper’s approach worked. The Levin-Richmond facility implemented those controls and reduced its water pollution from the heavy metals found in coal and other toxic materials by 98%.

“We made sure Levin significantly improved their operations so that they don’t pollute the Bay every time they load a ship,” said Baykeeper Executive Director Sejal Choksi-Chugh.  “That’s a big win for stopping coal pollution in the Bay.”

But while our agreement reduced water pollution from the facility itself, the battle to stop coal pollution in the Bay is not over.

“We’re dismayed to see that coal exports from Richmond have spiked in recent years,” said Sejal.

The Levin-Richmond facility is currently the Bay Area’s only coal shipping terminal. Coal companies are increasingly sending more open train cars full of coal rumbling through Richmond. The cars then sit on railroad tracks in residential and commercial areas, waiting offsite to be unloaded at the Levin-Richmond facility.

Richmond residents find black, gritty dust on windowsills and cars. That coal dust is harmful to people’s health and can get washed and blown into the Bay.

So Baykeeper is supporting Richmond city leaders to craft an ordinance to protect their residents and the Bay from airborne coal dust.

We’re also standing up to prevent coal exports from Oakland and Vallejo. Baykeeper will continue fighting the coal industry on all fronts to keep this toxic pollution out of our local communities and the Bay.

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