Study Backs Oakland’s Case for Blocking Coal Terminal
June 24, 2016 | Dan Brekke | KQED
A new analysis of proposed coal shipments through a new West Oakland port complex largely supports the environmental and public health arguments of city officials and community groups fighting to stop the facility.
The City Council-commissioned report was released Friday, just days before members are scheduled to hold a public hearing and vote on an ordinance that would block shipments of coal through Oakland port facilities.
The report from Environmental Science Associates — embedded below— weighs public and expert comment on coal shipments and concludes that coal dust from the millions of tons of the fossil fuel that could be shipped each year through a new bulk cargo terminal would worsen the already poor air quality in West Oakland and other nearby communities.
The report says the degraded air quality would impact largely low-income and minority neighborhoods that have already shown to be suffering harm, including disproportionate rates of respiratory and heart disease, from particulates and other pollutants.
Backers of coal shipments, including Oakland developer Phil Tagami, have argued that the facility slated for the old Oakland Army Base will be designed and built to minimize outside impacts. Among the measures outlined in a September 2015 report commissioned by Tagami’s firm are covered rail cars, underground transfer compartments and enclosed conveyor systems for moving coal from trains to ships.
The developer’s assessment, performed by consultant HDR Engineering, concluded that with such measures in place, the amount of coal dust emitted as part of the port’s operation would be “negligible” and would not pose any risk to public health or the environment.
But the ESA analysis flatly disagrees with HDR’s conclusion because the proposed steps to limit coal dust either haven’t been tried before or haven’t been shown to be effective.
ESA’s report also notes that coal dust could pose a threat to coal port workers and people working at or traveling through the Bay Bridge toll plaza, which is adjacent to the facility.
The planned $260 million complex, known formally as the Oakland Bulk and Oversized Terminal, would be equipped to ship a total of 9 million metric tons of loose, non-containerized cargo every year. The company developing the facility, Oakland-based Terminal Logistics Solutions, says about half of that cargo total could be coal.
The project became the subject of a dispute last year between Mayor Libby Schaaf and Tagami, whose California Capital and Investment Group is the principal backer. Schaaf accused Tagami, who in 2013 had vowed no coal would be shipped through the new facility, of going back on his word and defying the “public’s decree that we will not have coal shipped through our city.”
Tagami and Terminal Logistics chief Jerry Bridges now say the only way the project pencils out financially is through the facility’s ability to handle any legal cargo, including coal. The state of Utah, acting on behalf of four coal-producing counties that want to get their product to overseas markets, is set to invest $53 million in the project.
Tagami has also suggested that Oakland officials are powerless to stop coal shipments through the terminal because its contract with developers does not specifically forbid handling fossil fuels.
The ESA report released Friday is just the latest analysis to find that coal shipments through the bulk cargo facility would degrade air quality in the area and pose a significant health threat.
On Thursday, City Councilman Dan Kalb released a study that concluded the movement of coal through the West Oakland terminal “is likely to have serious and ongoing health effects and safety risks for residents, workers and others who live, work, and/or visit portions of Oakland and adjacent communities.”
Kalb, one of the sponsors of the ordinance to block coal shipments, commissioned the study by Zoë Chafe, a researcher at UC Berkeley’s Energy and Resources Group.
Earlier this month, a panel of researchers working in collaboration with community health advocacy group Human Impact Partners came to a similar conclusion.