City Council Defers Hiring of Private Consulting Firm to Weigh in on Coal

On February 16, 2016, the Oakland City Council removed an agenda item about coal that was scheduled for discussion and possible vote that evening. This was a proposal to have an environmental consulting firm review all the documents submitted regarding the use of the Oakland Bulk and Oversized Terminal (OBOT) for the storage of coal.

Coal campaign activists were concerned about this proposal for many reasons:

  • We do not believe such a review is necessary in order to establish that “substantial evidence” has been submitted that the storage and associated transport of coal pose a danger to the health and safety of the community and workers.
  • Environmental consulting firms are frequently paid to help developers get permits for their projects and may minimize environmental risks. In fact, the firm proposed to the council, Environmental Science Associates (ESA), had submitted the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for a refinery expansion in Benicia that greenlighted the project.  The Benicia Planning Commission refused to certify the EIR, largely as a result of years of community activism, but Valero decision [delete decision] has appealed the Commission’s decision, keeping the possibility that the community’s overwhelming opposition to the project will be overridden.
  • The review of the Oakland coal proposal was projected to take six to eight months, with a preliminary report in June, an unacceptable delay.
  • The review was to be funded by $208,000 with a pre-approved cost overrun of $45,000, an unnecessary outlay of up to a quarter of a million dollars of taxpayer money.

No Coal in Oakland addressed these issues in detail in a February 15 letter to the mayor, which can be read here.

The next day, Mayor Libby Schaaf issued a press release in which she stated, “I remain strongly opposed to the transport of coal and crude oil through our city,” and announced, “I am requesting that the City Council postpone contracting with ESA so that we may further evaluate other, potentially more effective options.”

After a closed session with the mayor, the council removed the agenda item regarding a contract with ESA. Early in the meeting, in recognition of Black History and Heritage Month, each council member honored an African American community leader. Spontaneously, two of the honorees exclaimed “No coal in Oakland!” during the ceremony. Later in the agenda, speakers on both sides of the issue were able to present our positions about the ESA contract and the use of OBOT for coal to the City Council.

The City Council meeting video can be viewed here.

Stay tuned for further developments!