Making Waves at 35: The Bay Area Isn’t Coal Country

Coal terminal

In celebration of our 35th year of defending San Francisco Bay, each month we’re sharing significant victories that we’ve won together. And we’re highlighting how these wins are still making waves today! 

Protecting the Bay Against Coal Pollution

The Baykeeper boat was on patrol back in 2011, zipping along the Richmond shoreline. It was a beautiful day on the Bay, but when our skipper slowed near the Levin export terminal the day took an ugly turn. Mountains of dark black coal towered above the dock—and while we watched, a breeze blew coal dust from the pile into the Bay.

We had long heard reports from Levin’s neighbors that coal dust was drifting into nearby neighborhoods, covering windows and school playgrounds, and poisoning people. Now, we had caught Levin in the act.

Levin stores about one million tons of coal each year and loads it onto ships for export. But thanks to Baykeeper and our allies, coal’s days in Richmond are numbered.

In 2014, we won a million-dollar lawsuit that compelled Levin to comply with the Clean Water Act and install a broad set of pollution controls to clean up their site. This was a big victory for the Bay and Richmond communities, but since we believe the Bay Area is no place for toxic coal, we kept going.

A few years later, we helped draft a ban on coal storage in Richmond and worked with local residents to build grassroots support. The city council adopted the ban in 2020, citing the harmful health impacts of coal.

This led to several years of a legal face off against the fossil fuel industry. But in the end, the Bay and public health prevailed: The last ton of coal will leave the Port of Richmond in December 2026.

Big Coal is always looking for a foothold in the Bay Area, so Baykeeper is always on the alert. Our commitment to keep coal out of our communities is ongoing – notable wins include:

  • 2019 Vallejo Marine Terminal: The coal industry attempted to build a coal export terminal on the Vallejo shoreline. The project would have exposed local residents to tons of toxic coal, destroyed several acres of wetlands, reduced public access to the shoreline, and disrupted the popular Bay Trail. A local community group alerted us about their concerns and over a six-year period, Baykeeper and our allies vigorously opposed the project, forcing the developers to drop the plan in 2019.
  • 2021 Bay Area coal lines: When a coal company quietly schemed to restore a defunct Bay Area rail line to transport mid-west coal to Humboldt Bay, we got concerned. Baykeeper and our allies put pressure on decision makers and made clear that there was no political will to push the project forward. The project died before backers could apply for a permit.
  • Ongoing wins in Oakland: Since 2014, developers have sought to turn an old military base along the West Oakland waterfront into a massive coal export terminal. Baykeeper and our allies have been fighting it every step of the way. Over the years, court rulings have gone back and forth, and coal bans have been enacted and overturned. But the local residents’ opposition to the coal terminal remains strong. We’re at a critical moment now. The long-time developer gave up on the project, and a new operator acquired the rights. You can join Baykeeper—along with unions, local businesses, and community organizations—and let the new developer know where we stand: No coal in Oakland!  

Together, we’ve been successfully keeping toxic coal out of the Bay and Bay Area communities for over a decade.  And we’ll keep fighting to prevent the Bay Area from becoming coal country.

Baykeeper’s work has made waves across the Bay—and your support over the years has made it all possible. You can learn about our victories against the fossil fuel industry, and more, by clicking on the image of Baykeeper’s new timeline of historic wins below. 

Pictured, above: Baykeeper drone footage of the Levin export terminal in Richmond