Would-be Oakland Coal Baron’s Bankruptcy Exposes Filthy Scheming

  • Chaplin Hill Mine Tipple, Scott's Run, West Virginia (Federal Works Agency, WPA, National Archives at College Park)

Insight Terminal Solutions (ITS) is the new corporate incarnation of the same five year old plot to ship millions of tons of toxic coal through Oakland’s waterfront. But  they’ve filed for bankruptcy. And in bankruptcy court, ITS is fighting off a hostile takeover by a hedge fund manager who wants to operate the coal terminal. 

It’s not the sort of bankruptcy that shutters a business … alas. Instead, it’s the kind that gives a bankrupt business a second chance by supervising the reorganization of its finances. But to get that second chance, the business is required to disclose piles of memos, plans, budgets, and correspondence to the court, which puts those documents in the public record.

That’s where NCIO’s Ted Franklin comes in. Following on the heels of news articles published in The Guardian and the East Bay Express, Ted took his own tour through the documentary tar pits of Big Coal’s crooked and relentless scheme to sicken and foul the Oakland waterfront and the communities living beside it.

Five Years Out Oakland Coal Battle Rages On is Ted’s brief overview of the history of our struggle, and a thorough summary of what the ITS bankruptcy papers reveal. It’s a long and sordid story, but rewards readers with a newly complete understanding of how a dying business is attempting to eke out a few million dollars more in profit at the expense of Oaklanders’ health and safety, and of our planet’s future habitability.

Here are some highlights:

  • John Siegel, manager of Insight Terminal Solutions (ITS), has been campaigning vigorously for over a year to line up support among Oakland’s staff and councilmembers for a settlement of lawsuits Phil Tagami brought against the City. His goal? To allow ITS to build and operate a coal terminal on our waterfront for 20 years.
  • Siegel has taken at least 23 trips to Oakland and around the world to meet with consultants, government officials, and potential investors/lenders in an effort to keep the project alive. He met with Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and his wife, Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao; as well as Koch brother Bill Koch, who runs Oxbow Carbon of West Palm Beach, Florida, a multi-billion energy firm.
  • Siegel traveled to Tokyo to meet with Japan’s largest energy company (JERA) about a commitment to buy 4 million tons per year of coal to be shipped through Oakland. JERA brought its banker, Sumitomo Mitsui Bank Corporation (SMBC), to the meeting. According to Siegel, SMBC discussed providing full construction financing (approximately $240 million) to build the terminal. JERA is one of the largest coal trading companies in the world. SMBC is one of the largest financiers of new coal infrastructure in the world. Japan is building new coal-fired plants because of its shift from nuclear power after the Fukushima disaster.
  • ITS has hired local business consultant Greg McConnell to handle public relations along with a blogger/publicist named Zennie Abraham. McConnell’s contract called for $7500 per month plus a $150,000 bonus if the terminal comes to Oakland.
  • But ITS’ Siegel may be an endangered species himself. In bankruptcy court, he is fending off an attempted hostile takeover of ITS by a Los Angeles hedge fund manager, Vikas Tandon of JMB Capital who wants to take over the right to build and operate OBOT.
  • An article published by The Guardian has detailed a wide-ranging campaign to lobby Black leaders to support overturning Oakland’s coal ban.
  • The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals may decide at any time whether to uphold Oakland’s ban on coal storage and handling at the terminal site. A ruling in favor of the City would deal a crushing blow to the coal terminal project. A ruling against the City would breathe new life into the project.

 Check out the full story here: Five Years Out Oakland Coal Battle Rages On.

 And beware of Big Coal executives bearing gifts…