Total Ban on Coal in Oakland Set for Vote June 27

The City announced on Friday that a ban on coal storage and handling at Oakland’s proposed bulk terminal will be on the City Council’s agenda on Monday, June 27, at 5 pm.  This is the City’s first official confirmation that an outright ban will be put to a vote.

Activists from No Coal in Oakland are optimistic that the full City staff report, due to be published late in the week, will recommend City Council action to ban coal and not a compromise with the developer that would endanger public health and safety in Oakland and increase greenhouse gas concentrations worldwide.

“Phil Tagami can threaten to sue all he wants, but the City now has a mass of evidence to show that coal would imperil the health and safety of port workers and West Oakland residents,” says Lora Jo Foo, an NCIO activist who has met with the mayor and numerous councilpersons in recent months.  “We expect the City Council to do the right thing provided enough people let them know that we will have their backs if the developer fights back.” She encouraged people to come to the No Coal rally on June 25 and the rally and Council meeting on June 27.

The vote on June 27 will take place on two different propositions.

The City of Oakland has noticed a public hearing on Monday, June 27, to consider, first, an ordinance that would ban “the storage and handling of coal and coke at bulk material facilities or terminals throughout the City of Oakland” and, second, a separate resolution that would apply the ordinance to the proposed Oakland Bulk and Oversized Terminal (OBOT) to be built on City-owned waterfront land near the foot of the Bay Bridge.

Unless both propositions receive five votes from City Council members, the developer will move forward with plans to build a coal-processing shipping terminal in Oakland.

The reason for the two-step process appears to be that Oakland can enact a citywide ban on coal storage and handling under its general legislative powers, but may not be able to apply the ban to the OBOT without meeting specific requirements agreed to by the City and the developer of the former Oakland Army Base in a 2013 agreement.

Under the development agreement, the City agreed not to impose regulations adopted after July 16, 2013, that would modify or reduce the permitted uses of the project site unless the City first determined, based on substantial evidence and after a public hearing, that a failure to do so would place existing or future occupants, users, or adjacent neighbors of the project “in a condition substantially dangerous to their health or safety.”

Without the resolution based specifically on the danger to health and safety, the ordinance would apply to future projects anywhere in the City, but not cover OBOT because of the 2013 agreement.

The campaign to block coal at OBOT began in April 2015 when news of secret plans to ship Utah coal through OBOT leaked to the press.  In response to demands from No Coal in Oakland and allies, the City held a public hearing on September 21, 2015 attended by hundreds of Oakland residents concerned about health and safety as well as other problems with the plan to make Oakland the largest coal-exporting city on the West Coast.

No Coal in Oakland, Earthjustice, Sierra Club, and other groups submitted extensive evidence and argument in favor of a complete ban on coal.  Submissions pro and con received by the City last fall are posted on the City’s website.  More recently, an independent public health advisory panel submitted an extensive report detailing the health and safety risks of coal.

In early May, the City Council conducted another public hearing on the health and safety impacts of fuel oils, gasoline, and crude oil products.  Although No Coal in Oakland strongly supports the goal of banning all these substances from transport through Oakland, NCIO argued in favor of getting a ban on coal passed before tackling other products that might bring the oil industry’s lawyers into the fight.  Plan to ship liquid fuels through the OBOT are not on the immediate horizon.

The City has apparently decided to defer consideration of regulations on fuel oils, gasoline, and crude oil products, thus keeping the focus on coal (and coke, which is a similar solid fuel).

The City’s notice of the hearing on June 27 also refers to CEQA exemption.  This suggests that the City has determined that neither a decision to adopt an ordinance to prohibit storage and handling of coal and coke in Oakland nor a decision to apply that ordinance to the proposed bulk commodities at the former Oakland Army Base will require a formal environmental review.

Many land use decisions require CEQA review, but, to spare pointless expenditure of resources, the State has declared a number of categories of decisions that are unlikely to cause significant (adverse) environmental impacts exempt from CEQA review.  The City’s notice does not identify the particular category of CEQA exemption that would apply, but regulations prohibiting storage and handling of coal and coke would not be expected to have any negative impacts on the environment.

The City Council agenda report, proposed legislation, and other agenda-related materials will be available no later than noon on Friday, June 24, 2016 and will be viewable on the City’s online calendar.  NCIO will digest these documents as soon as they are posted and provide an additional update on the NCIO website as soon as possible.