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Jobs & Justice: The Vote on Coal
On Monday, I presided over a historic special hearing of the Oakland City Council where my colleagues and I made the unanimous decision (7-0 with Brooks absent) to protect resident and worker health by imposing a ban on the transloading, handling and storage of coal and petroleum in a proposed new terminal at the former Oakland Army Base (OAB).
Making this decision was no easy matter. The Council weighed the information provided seriously. We hired an independent firm, Environmental Services Associates (ESA) to complete a thorough analysis of the of the testimonies provided by the project sponsor, Terminal Logistic Solutions (TLS), hundreds of residents and health experts, including the Alameda County Public Health Department. The ESA analysis concluded that the proposed coal terminal will further exacerbate air quality concerns in West Oakland. The Administration’s analysis further concluded that the proponent’s proposed mitigations (e.g. the use of covered rail cars to contain fugitive coal dust) were insufficient and that “there are currently no enforceable provisions from the U.S. Department of Transportation Surface Transportation Board, the Federal Railroad Administration, or from railroads themselves to require a coal supplier, a terminal developer or operator in Oakland to utilize any dust controls for coal shipped from Utah. Similarly, there are currently no enforceable provisions for a coke supplier or a terminal developer or operator in Oakland to utilize any dust controls for coke shipped via rail from suppliers in northern California.” In the end, we concluded that there is no viable means for the sponsor to protect residents or workers from the associated risks.
Our fight is for both jobs and environmental justice. The neighborhoods where I live and represent suffer pervasive economic and health disparities. According to a 2015 Alameda County Health department report http://www.acphd.org/media/401560/cumulative-health-impacts-east-west-oakland.pdf, West Oakland’s overall rate of asthma emergency department (ED) visits is almost two times the rate for Alameda County as a whole. Numerous scientific reports reveal that asthma and cancer rates here are among the highest in the state. I reject the notion that our communities need to suffer additional harm in order to create jobs.
I believe in good jobs that produce living wages and healthy working conditions. My concerns about the transport of volatile cargo are not new. In 2014, I co-authored a resolution that received unanimous support opposing the transport of coal, oil, petcoke (a byproduct of the oil refining process) and other hazardous materials by railways and waterways within the City. We have been joined in this effort to improve public health and safety by an impressive cadre of scientists and elected leaders including Senator Loni Hancock, and Assemblymembers Tony Thurmond and Rob Bonta. We remain committed to the successful completion of the OAB development and to the promised opportunity for good jobs as Prologis, CWS, CASS, and OMSS move forward with plans that will yield thousands of logistic, transportation, recycling and support jobs without coal.
My office has received hundreds of emails, phone calls and letters from Oaklanders (and beyond) expressing strong feelings about the proposed coal terminal at the former Oakland Army Base. Your voices, your concerns and your wisdom were at the forefront of this process. We heard you. Thank you.
With Deep Oakland Love and Pride
Council President Lynette Gibson McElhaney