Council bans coal, committed to healthy communities and climate-smart economy

The fundamental principle of government is to protect the health and safety of its residents. By voting unanimously for the ordinance to ban the storage and handling of coal in Oakland, the City Council is fulfilling that responsibility.

This coal ban is consistent with Oakland’s existing climate action plan and environmental protections, which are the foundation for our future job growth and business growth. The coal ban demonstrates that Oakland is committed to being a great place for climate-smart investment and innovation. The City Council was joined in this view by the nearly dozen other cities in the East Bay who are opposed to coal trains coming through our region.

I was disappointed to hear some pro-coal supporters falsely pit local jobs against environmental protections. This is a false choice. The scientific evidence is clear that coal dust is harmful to everybody’s health, especially our children and most vulnerable neighbors. It is equally clear that the pursuit of job growth through a forward-looking, climate-smart economy is a healthier and more profitable approach than a short-sighted dependence on fossil-fuel businesses and employment.

Oakland can have both a healthy community and a healthy economy. We can fight against global warming, and we can fight for the health and prosperity of our citizens.

That is the choice that the City Council – and our community – stood up for last night.

This action comes after months of public meetings and extensive study. The comprehensive report delivered by City staff in advance of last night’s deliberations provided a solid foundation for the Council’s decision.

The potential health impacts posed by coal at the proposed terminal facility are a citywide threat. All of Oakland below I-580 – more than 400,000 residents – is considered an “impacted community,” according to the Bay Area air quality district’s designation of areas with high concentrations of air pollution and populations most vulnerable to air pollution’s health impacts.

There is no safe level of exposure to fine coal-dust particles (PM2.5), according to the World Health Organization, U.S. EPA and CalEPA. When coal is burned, it often results in the release of mercury and lead and other trace or heavy metals into the environment, where food sources (such as urban gardens) become contaminated.

The total greenhouse gas emissions produced each year, if all the coal exported through the proposed terminal is burned in power plants, would exceed the current emissions from all five oil refineries in the Bay Area.

City staff also concluded this ordinance to ban coal will not legally impede the developer’s use of the property. Everybody wants the old Oakland Army Base developed – and I believe that can and will happen in a way that is vibrant, resilient and equitable. 

There are profitable alternative products to coal that will enrich our community and protect our health. I urge the development team to pursue that vision.

Thanks to everybody who shared your views with me on this issue over the past several months.