In a surprising move, the oil industry recently muscled its way into the battle over toxic coal exports around San Francisco Bay.
Richmond city leaders have been considering an ordinance that would prohibit companies from storing coal along train tracks in neighborhoods and commercial areas.
Currently the coal is allowed to sit in open train cars, awaiting shipment from the Bay Area's only coal export terminal. Richmond residents find black, gritty coal dust on their windowsills and cars, and throughout their community.
Coal dust is harmful to people’s health, causing asthma and other diseases. It can also get washed and blown into the Bay, where it is toxic to wildlife.
In addition to coal, the proposed ordinance prohibits the open storage of petroleum coke, a toxic byproduct of oil refining. And that addition spurred the oil industry to turn out in force at a recent Richmond Planning Commission meeting to oppose the ordinance. Rather than send their petroleum coke to a cleaner, enclosed export facility in Pittsburg, the oil industry wants to maintain its cheaper, dirtier export option in Richmond.
The pressure worked. Richmond's Planning Commission voted against the proposed ordinance that would have reduced toxic pollution and protected the people of Richmond.
"The Richmond Planning Commission should be ashamed of this vote," said Ben Eichenberg, Baykeeper Staff Attorney. "They caved to bullying by Big Oil, and they chose not to stand up for Richmond residents who deserve clean air and a healthy Bay."
Fortunately, the Richmond City Council can still make the right decision. The ordinance will come before the City Council for a final vote later this year. Baykeeper will continue to advocate to keep toxic coal away from Richmond residents and out of San Francisco Bay.
Photo of open coal cars by Paul K. Anderson, Flickr/CC