Developer Files Federal Suit Seeking to Overturn Coal Ban; Community Vows to Fight Back

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On Wednesday, December 7, developer Phil Tagami filed a federal lawsuit seeking to overturn Oakland’s ordinance banning storage, handling, and transhipment of coal through a new terminal to be built on the Oakland waterfront near the Bay Bridge toll plaza.

The lawsuit against the City of Oakland was filed on behalf of Tagami’s shell company Oakland Bulk and Oversized Terminal LLC (OBOT LLC).  Tagami’s complaint is online here.  A letter sent to the City is here.  And a press release issued by Tagami’s local lawyer is here.

No Coal in Oakland will be updating this post with further information and analysis as well as our plans to fight back against the developer’s baseless and ill-considered lawsuit.

NCIO and other organizations quickly responded to Tagami’s suit.   Friday, April Thomas, deputy press secretary of the Sierra Club, Beyond Coal Campaign, released the following statement to the press:

Terminal Developer Sues City of Oakland to Overturn Coal Ban Ordinance

Community Groups Vow to Fight Back

Oakland, Calif. – Yesterday, the Oakland Bulk & Oversized Terminal, LLC, owned by private developer Phil Tagami, sued the City of Oakland to overturn the ordinance banning coal from being handled and stored in the City of Oakland.

Community members and advocacy groups spoke out today against the move to overturn the will of the 76 percent of Oaklanders who oppose the handling and storage of coal in Oakland.

“We are disgusted to see private developer Phil Tagami trying to force a coal terminal on West Oakland, a neighborhood already overburdened with bad air quality and the health issues that result,” said Brittany King, Conservation Manager for the Sierra Club San Francisco Bay Chapter. “The people of Oakland, including a broad coalition of faith leaders, labor groups, housing activists and others have made it very clear that they do not want a dangerous, climate-killing coal terminal in their city. It’s time for Phil Tagami to stop stalling and start looking for a commodity for the terminal that doesn’t put the health and safety of Oakland residents at risk.”

“The coal ban was won by a major coalition of labor, environmental justice, green groups, and many others,” said Kenneth Tang, Oakland Organizer at Asian Pacific Environmental Network. “Profit-driven industry and development now seek to intimidate our city and overturn our democracy. We and our members, low-income immigrants in Chinatown, will continue to protect our neighborhoods from pollution and its impacts on people and our planet.”

“The vast majority of Oaklanders oppose shipping coal out of their backyard,” said Jessica Yarnall Loarie, staff attorney for the Sierra Club Environmental Law Program. “Oakland communities worked hard to make sure their voices were heard at the City Council to stop this project, which would damage their health, safety and quality of life. And now private developer Phil Tagami wants to undermine the will of Oakland communities so he can make a profit. California cut its ties with coal this year, the state pulled its pension funds out of coal, and the Governor and legislature have made clear that coal has no place in the state’s future. We plan to stand shoulder to shoulder with the City to make sure that this terminal never ships coal.”

“In 2013, when Tagami and the City entered into a contract for him to build an export terminal on city property, he promised the city that he would not handle or ship coal,” said Lora Jo Foo, community leader with No Coal in Oakland. “He signed that contract believing that OBOT would be profitable without coal.  He has repeatedly said that there are 15,000 commodities that can be shipped through OBOT. Tagami, why aren’t you doing your job?  Why aren’t you looking for those other commodities instead of wasting taxpayer money by suing the city to try to force coal down our unwilling throats?”

“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, Managing Attorney at San Francisco Baykeeper. “Toxic coal just doesn’t belong along the Bay shoreline or passing through our communities.”

“Phil Tagami broke his promise to the people of Oakland that he would not try to ship coal through this terminal,” said Colin O’Brien, Earthjustice attorney. “The City of Oakland stood up to his pressure and used their legal authority to ban coal from being handled or stored in Oakland on the basis that it poses a substantial risk to the health and safety of Oaklanders. We will support the City every step of the way in upholding their sensible and necessary ban on the handling of this dangerous substance in the middle of a densely populated urban neighborhood with already existing air quality issues.”

Background: A portion of the former Oakland Army Base is being developed as a bulk export facility, known as the Oakland Bulk and Oversized Terminal (OBOT). CCIG, the developer, promised not to include coal as a commodity handled by the terminal, but later solicited a partnership with four Utah counties that would have allowed the state to export up to 10 million tons of coal from their mines each year. A Utah funding body approved $53 million to buy space at Oakland Bulk Terminal for these exports. This deal was conducted behind the backs of the Oakland City Council and the Port, both of which oppose coal as a commodity for shipping in Oakland. Additionally, the developer promised residents that the city-owned port would be coal free.

Those who oppose the plan to export coal through Oakland have voiced concerns over how this decision will affect the community’s safety, the environment, and public health. According to a national train company, each open-top rail car of coal can lose up to one ton of dust between the mines and the port, resulting in the release of 60,000 pounds of toxic fine particulate matter in communities near the rails. Additionally, this deal would have stifled California’s strong commitment to cutting carbon pollution, especially as the state continues to suffer from extreme drought, forest fires, and other signs of climate disruption. The Oakland City Council voted in August of 2016 to ban the storage and handling of coal in Oakland.