A report on the NCIO campaign, August 2016
In August 2016, No Coal in Oakland member Margaret Rossoff, following consultation with several others in the group, completed a report summarizing the NCIO campaign’s origins, strategy, tactics, organization, and key documents. This 29-page report is available here: No Coal in Oakland: A report on the campaign (PDF, ~1MB).
April 2015-July 2016
No Coal in Oakland is grassroot organization campaigning to stop the threat of coal being transported by rail into Oakland for export overseas. Despite the City Council, the Mayor, and numerous other politicians saying they don’t want coal passing through Oakland, the proposal to build a massive coal terminal south of the Bay Bridge on the Oakland waterfront remains on the table.
The project, known as the Oakland Bulk and Oversized Terminal, is being built by a group of developers led by Prologis CCIG Oakland Global LLC. After years of assurances that coal would not be transported through the bulk terminal, in April 2015, community members learned that the developers had secretly cut a funding deal with four Utah counties to export coal through Oakland. In exchange for $53 million in project funding, the developers promised the Utah counties shipping rights to at least 49% of the bulk terminal’s 9-10 million ton annual shipping capacity.
Utah officials have stated that they intend to use this capacity to export coal to overseas markets. This development followed a number of public statements by CCIG’s President and CEO, Phil Tagami, that the company had “no interest or involvement in the pursuit of coal-related operations at the former Oakland Army Base.”
The City Council has the power to ban coal from the export terminal on the basis of its health and safety impacts, but they have instead referred the matter to City staff for review where it has been stuck for many months. Mayor Schaaf can break the logjam by sending the City Council a draft ordinance to ban coal so that our City Council representatives will be required to take a stand.
Oakland has long been a center for highly polluting transportation activities. This has resulted in disproportionately high health impacts for the residents of West Oakland. Our goal is to systematically reduce the level of pollution caused by all these polluting activities, and we have made some progress. But we can’t afford to allow brand new pollution, in the form of coal dust, to further threaten our health. Coal is the dirtiest fossil fuel on Earth, imperiling the health of workers, endangering communities along the tracks, and contributing greatly to global warming and climate change.
Although we support the construction of the Oakland Global Trade and Logistics Center and all the jobs it will bring, we reject the developer’s claim that we need coal to be part of it or that there will be any fewer jobs if coal is banned. Environmental justice and protection of the climate can go hand-in-hand with redevelopment of Oakland’s waterfront.
In our campaign to prevent the shipment of coal through our city, No Coal in Oakland has had a dual focus: building community awareness of the threat of coal and convincing the City Council to pass an ordinance banning the use of the Oakland Bulk and Oversized Terminal (OBOT) on city property to store coal.
Community awareness is essential to put political pressure on the elected council members.
- A recent Sierra Club poll showed that 76% of Oakland voters informed about both sides of the issue are opposed to the use of the bulk terminal for coal.
- Petitions opposing coal have been submitted to the council with many thousands of signatures.
- City officials have received a letter opposing coal signed by hundreds of community organizations, labor unions, faith leaders and institutions, businesses, elected officials and other prominent figures in Oakland.
- Hundreds of residents testified or supported other speakers at the September 21, 2015 public hearing on the subject.
- Many constituents have emailed or called their council members and others have met with officials on their own or in delegations organized by opponents of the use of the terminal for coal.
As a result of this public response, City Council members are now well aware of the massive opposition to using the OBOT for coal storage, but it is important to keep reminding them, especially as several face re-election in the fall.
The basis on which the City Council can ban coal is a clause in the July 16, 2013 Development Agreement between the city and the developers. This contract generally cannot be modified by regulations the city may enact after the agreement was signed, with one crucial exception spelled out in Paragraph 3.4.2 on page 19. This states that the city can apply regulations retroactively if the city “determines based on substantial evidence and after a public hearing that a failure to do so would place existing or future occupants or users of the Project, adjacent neighbors, or any portion thereof, or all of them, in a condition substantially dangerous to their health and safety.”
At the time, developer Phil Tagami assured Oakland, in his newsletter and in conversation with Councilmember Dan Kalb, that he had no interest in using OBOT for coal. But in April, 2015, we learned that, in fact, the developers were negotiating with four counties in Utah to use OBOT for coal.
For months, activists pushed the City Council to schedule the public hearing required by the Development Agreement clause. We held a rally outside City Hall on July 21, which was attended by hundreds opposing the use of OBOT for coal. On the day before this rally, the Council finally agreed to hold the public hearing on September 21, 2015.
Over the next two months, members of the Bay Area Coal Exports Group and activists in No Coal in Oakland identified experts to testify at Council and submit written evidence about the health and safety dangers of coal. This included both the effect of “fugitive coal dust” escaping from rail cars and the impact of coal combustion on the global environment, particularly the rising sea levels that threaten our city. We also mobilized community members, along with health care professionals, to speak about the potential impact on West Oakland, with its already elevated rates of asthma and other respiratory ailments. Although the council cannot base its decision on economic factors, only on health and safety, our witnesses also challenged the viability of coal, a commodity whose supply and market are both diminishing.
The September 21 hearing was the longest in the history of the City Council. The entire September 21 council hearing can be viewed online. While the overwhelming majority of speakers opposed coal, there were also speakers supporting coal. They implied that we want to block the construction of OBOT, although we only want to prevent its use to ship coal. Coal proponents spoke about the need for the jobs promised at the facility, although the figures the developers claim are misleading. OBOT itself would only lead to 117 full time jobs and these jobs are not linked specifically to coal. The pro-coal speakers also cited the developers’ assurances of mitigation including covered coal cars, although no such cars exist anywhere in the world.
By far, the majority of speakers on September 21 opposed the use of OBOT for coal, and the written evidence is predominantly in opposition to coal. The written submissions to the public hearing can be read on the City’s website. Our written contributions to the hearing include a comprehensive comment letter providing the most comprehensive statement of No Coal in Oakland’s evidence and arguments in support of a ban on coal exports, another comment specifically directed at the myth that banning coal jeopardizes jobs, and an email debunking the claim that coal trains were already making regular trips through Oakland.
At the conclusion of the lengthy council meeting on September 21, the council unanimously passed a resolution directing the City Administrator to request additional information, evaluate evidence submitted and provide options (including an ordinance, a temporary emergency ordinance, a temporary moratorium, or other measures to protect health and/or safety) no later than December 8, 2015.
Before December 8 we learned that there would be an administrative status report at that meeting, but no options would be presented or discussed, let alone voted on. The No Coal in Oakland campaign decided to take this opportunity for a teach-in on the coal issue and related social justice concerns in Oakland. Panelists spoke from No Coal in Oakland, the Oakland Citywide Network (fighting displacement), Black Lives Matter and the Fight for Fifteen (campaigning for a livable minimum wage). Several hundred people attended this teach-in. At the same time, several activists spoke at the City Council Open Forum, where the supporters of coal made a dramatic showing, reiterating the points they had made in September.