Planning Commission considering steps to stop Port of Richmond coal

  • Coal Train photographed from Carlson Blvd in Richmond, California. Photo credit: Sierra Club.

The City of Richmond may soon take steps to stop the handling of coal and petroleum coke (known as pet coke) at the Port of Richmond. Richmond’s Planning Commission will consider the Richmond Coal Ordinance at a hearing originally scheduled for June 20 and hopefully to be held in July—watch this space for updates.

Coal in Richmond

The Levin-Richmond Terminal has shipped many different commodities over the years.  However, as the domestic market shrinks, coal companies have responded by upping their exports dramatically. One of only three West Coast ports in the US that ship coal, Richmond has seen coal exports rise 436% between 2013 and 2018; in 2018 the terminal shipped 944,144 metric tons of coal.

Coal from mines in Utah is primarily loaded at the Port of Stockton, but because the Carquinez Strait is too shallow to fully load the ships, additional coal comes to the Richmond terminal by rail in mile-long trains with open cars, the same hazard NCIO is seeking to keep out of Oakland. The ships are topped off at the terminal and sent overseas. The terminal also handles and stores pet coke, a byproduct of oil refining so highly toxic that it cannot be burned in this country (except by refineries, but that’s another story).

For several years, West Contra Costa County residents along the rail line and near the terminal have been noticing coal dust on their cars and window ledges, and they recognize that this dust is also in their bodies, with the toxic impacts associated with small particulate matter (PM 2.5) and dangerous chemicals. Not surprisingly, parts of Richmond have an extremely high rate of asthma. In response, the No Coal in Richmond (NCIR) grassroots campaign began in 2017. Participating organizations now include the Sierra Club SF Bay Chapter, Sunflower Alliance, No Coal in Oakland, Communities for a Better Environment, Richmond Progressive Alliance, and the Interfaith Climate Action Network of Contra Costa County. Their canvassers have collected more than 1,000 signatures on a letter to the City Council calling for immediate action.

Ordinance to phase out coal

Through the efforts of this coalition, in December 2018 Richmond City Council member Eduardo Martinez presented the Richmond Coal Ordinance to the City Council, which unanimously voted to have it reviewed by the City Attorney. It is now heading to the Planning Commission. NCIR is advocating that the ordinance be as strong as possible, with coal phased out in as little as three years.

Mayor Tom Butt has expressed concern about the terminal; however, on April 23 he proposed a competing measure that would have limited but not phased out the shipment of coal and pet coke. Fortunately, the City Council modified his resolution to include moving forward with the original ordinance, in large part because of a strong statement from Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors President John Gioia, who sits on the Bay Area Air Quality Management District Board as well as the California Air Resources Board.

Despite numerous efforts, NCIR has been unable to obtain a copy of Levin-Richmond’s conditional use permit that, if a permit had been granted, would spell out legal restrictions on the terminal property. There is reason to believe that such a permit does not exist and that this hazardous activity has been going on for years without approval. NCIR believes it is long past time for this to stop!

 

To read the ordinance, and learn how you can help, please visit the NCIR website: https://ncir.weebly.com/.