In June 2016, the Oakland City Council took an historic step and unanimously approved an ordinance banning coal from being handled and stored in the City of Oakland. Despite broad local support for the City’s bold decision to strongly protect public health, the developer of a proposed new shipping terminal is now challenging the ban, calling the city’s ordinance an abuse of power and violation of federal laws that regulate commerce and shipping.
Baykeeper and our partner environmental groups are not surprised by the developer’s challenge. Prior to the ban, the developer had been scheming to send more than nine million tons of coal annually from Utah coal mines in open-car coal trains through our local Bay Area communities for export overseas.
“Oakland has the right and duty to protect its residents and the Bay from pollution, which is what the City has done with this ban,” said Erica Maharg, Baykeeper Managing Attorney. “Toxic coal doesn’t belong along the Bay shoreline or passing through our communities.”
Baykeeper advocated in support of the coal ban, along with hundreds of residents and other advocacy groups, including our partners at the Sierra Club, Communities for a Better Environment, West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project, and the Asian Pacific Environmental Network. And now we are all working together again to oppose the coal industry’s newest tactics to expand coal shipments through the Bay Area.
The harmful effects of coal are well documented. Coal contains arsenic, lead, and other toxics. Shipping coal through the Bay Area by rail could contaminate San Francisco Bay with coal dust blowing off open train cars. 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. In addition, coal could also be spilled directly into the Bay during ship loading.
Once it has entered the Bay, coal dust can smother plants and animals that live on the Bay floor. It can keep fish from finding food, slow their development, and interfere with their reproduction. And unhealthy fish means an unhealthy food source for birds and marine mammals.
In addition to polluting the Bay, coal dust carried in open train cars would blow into residential neighborhoods near railroad tracks in cities that include Berkeley, Emeryville, Richmond, and West Oakland. Research links coal dust to asthma—which is already a widespread public health problem in West Oakland—as well as bronchitis, pneumonia, emphysema, and heart disease.
Baykeeper and our community partners will continue to press forward to protect San Francisco Bay, its wildlife, and residents from toxic coal dust.
Photo by Paul K. Anderson.