State Senate Approves Bills to Slow Coal But Will Jerry Sign?

This week the state Senate passed two bills sponsored by Sen. Loni Hancock that could present significant roadblocks for developer Phil Tagami’s plan to build a $250 million bulk commodities terminal and turn Oakland into a major coal export hub.

SB 1277 – which the Senate approved Wednesday on a 25-13 vote – would require additional environmental review for the plan to ship up to 10 million tons of coal per year through Oakland.

A companion bill, SB 1279 – which the Senate approved Thursday on a 25-9 vote – would prohibit the California Transportation Commission from allocating any state funds for projects proposed after Jan. 1, 2017, for the handling, storage, or transportation of coal at a port facility located in or adjacent to a disadvantaged community.

The bill will not affect projects or infrastructure at port facilities that were already permitted as of Jan. 1, 2016, or modifications of existing ports to improve safety, rehabilitation, congestion reduction, modernization or maintenance.

Both bills are part of a package Hancock introduced in February in response to public exposure of the plan to use the Oakland Bulk and Oversized Terminal for coal exports.  At present, California exports less than 3 million tons annually.

Hancock said she felt compelled to introduce legislation to close loopholes in the law and ensure that other cities will not face similar problems in the future. She added that SB 1277 and SB 1279 would put California on a path to better control polluting fossil fuels.

The Assembly will soon set an initial hearing date on the pair of bills.  Neither bill will become law unless approved by the Assembly and signed by Gov. Jerry Brown, a longtime friend and business associate of the developer.  Gov. Brown has been a target of No Coal in Oakland activists who have called on him to take a public stand against the coal export plan.  On Thursday, a group of demonstrators appeared outside the San Francisco hotel where Gov. Brown addressed an international conference of energy ministers on green energy themes.   The demonstrators pointed to the difference between Brown’s strong public statements about the need to reduce fossil fuel consumption and his complete failure to address the situation in Oakland.

Despite Gov. Brown’s continuing silence, Sen. Hancock is encouraged that her colleagues in the Senate have overwhelmingly supported her effort to rein in the development of Oakland as a coal port.

“This will require that they (the developers) face up to the fact that they’re proposing to bring a highly polluting substance through many communities in California,” told the San Francisco Chronicle. Hancock noted that 11 East Bay mayors — from Berkeley, Dublin, Fremont, Livermore, Hayward, Richmond, San Leandro, Union City, Emeryville, Albany and El Cerrito — signed a joint letter denouncing the coal-shipping plan, because rail lines that serve Oakland also run through some of those cities.