Baykeeper Update

Baykeeper Urges Oakland Leaders to Nix Coal Terminal

Baykeeper is standing up against coal contamination in San Francisco Bay. On September 21, Baykeeper will urge the Oakland City Council to cancel plans for exporting coal from a new shipping terminal. The terminal would receive coal in long trains running along railroad tracks near the Bay’s shore and Bay Area communities.

If plans for coal export go through, up to nine million tons of coal would arrive each year in freight trains from Utah, shedding dust along tracks that run near the San Francisco Bay shoreline and residential communities.

Coal contains arsenic, lead, and other toxics. According to the rail industry’s own calculations, each open coal car loses between 500 and 2,000 pounds of dust and coal during its journey. Additional coal could be blown into the Bay if the export facility on the Oakland shoreline is not completely enclosed. Coal could also be spilled into the Bay if flawed (but still common) procedures are used to load coal onto outbound ships. 

In addition to polluting San Francisco Bay, coal dust carried in open train cars would blow into neighborhoods near railroad tracks in cities that include Berkeley, Emeryville, Richmond, and West Oakland. Research links coal dust to asthma—which is already a problem in West Oakland—as well as bronchitis, pneumonia, emphysema, and heart disease.

The export terminal is slated to be built on land owned by the city of Oakland, so Oakland leaders have the authority to prohibit using it for shipping coal. However, the terminal’s developer has been moving ahead on coal export, and a company has already been chosen to operate the terminal.

Along with 80 other local organizations, small business owners, and elected officials, Baykeeper has joined with the Sierra Club and the Coal-Free Oakland coalition to urge Oakland leaders to prohibit coal export from Oakland. Twelve thousand people have signed a Sierra Club petition against coal export. Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf and other Bay Area leaders have taken a public stand against it.

Baykeeper will testify at the hearing of the Oakland City Council taking place on Monday, September 21 at 3:30 pm. Residents are encouraged to attend to show support for banning the coal terminal.

Baykeeper has also joined opposition at the source of the coal, to create additional pressure for stopping coal export from Oakland. Four coal-producing Utah counties have coordinated to put up $53 million for the Oakland terminal construction. Baykeeper is working with Green Action for Health and Environmental Justice and with Utah Waterkeeper organizations—members of our Waterkeeper Alliance, an international network of grassroots groups working for clean water—to get that $53 million in coal terminal funding cut off.  

Not enough scientific research has been done on coal dust’s effects on wildlife in a body of water like San Francisco Bay. But the conclusions of existing research are enough to cause concern. Shellfish ingest dust and tiny coal particles as they eat, and small bottom-dwelling Bay creatures also take in coal dust. Small bottom-dwellers and shellfish are the main food source for many fish. One toxic found in coal dust, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAHs, interferes with reproduction in fish and has been found to convert into a cancer-causing substance in the tissues of young salmon. Coal contaminants may also move up the food chain through fish tissue to impact harbor seals and shoreline birds.

And Bay Area residents eat fish caught from San Francisco Bay piers and shorelines. With some species of Bay fish already unsafe to eat because of mercury pollution, yet another source of food contamination should not be added to the Bay’s waters.

Coal trains don’t belong on San Francisco Bay’s shoreline, or in Bay Area neighborhoods.  Baykeeper will continue to say no to the export of coal from Oakland and to coal trains anywhere in the Bay Area.