City to appeal judge's decision blocking coal ban at port

City to appeal judge's decision blocking coal ban at port
Photo: Scott Morris/Hoodline
By Scott Morris - Published on May 30, 2018.

The city of Oakland will appeal a federal judge’s decision blocking enforcement of a 2016 ban on coal operations at a proposed new shipping terminal at the Port of Oakland, the city attorney’s office announced on Tuesday.

Oakland banned coal operations at bulk material facilities after learning of a plan by developer Phil Tagami to export coal through the port.

Tagami’s company, Oakland Bulk & Oversized Terminal LLC, had already been awarded a contract to develop the former army base near the port into a new terminal and logistics center.

After public outcry over the plan to export coal, the city held extensive public hearings on the matter. It eventually banned the company from exporting coal, finding that it would be a danger to the health and safety of Oakland residents.

In response, Tagami sued, and after a trial in January, U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria found that the city lacked sufficient evidence to alter its contract with Tagami. While the coal ban still stands, it doesn’t apply to Tagami’s project, according to the judge’s ruling.

On Tuesday, the Oakland City Council voted unanimously to appeal the decision to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

In a statement, City Attorney Barbara Parker argued that the city had a responsibility to ban coal shipments to protect the health and safety of residents.

“Those activities pose a clear and demonstrable danger to Oakland residents, especially children whose health will be directly impacted by coal dust and other health and safety hazards related to a massive and inherently unsafe coal export operation,” Parker said.

West Oakland, where the terminal would be located, already has particularly high levels of pollution and shipping coal would only further add to those issues, she said.

However, Chhabria found in his 37-page order that the city’s evidence was “riddled with inaccuracies, major evidentiary gaps, erroneous assumptions and faulty analyses” that didn't account for existing regulatory frameworks or potential steps to mitigate health hazards.

For example, Chhabria wrote that the city did not consider the Bay Area Air Quality Management District’s role in regulating the project, nor how covering train cars shipping coal could prevent coal dust from blowing into the neighborhood.

The city had spent months collecting evidence in 2015 and 2016 and held two long public hearings to hear testimony. The evidence was eventually summarized into a report by a consultant, Environmental Science Associates.

Mayor Libby Schaaf praised the decision to appeal in a statement Tuesday.

“The storage and handling of unsafe coal in West Oakland threatens the well-being of all residents, but it will unfairly and unjustly impact those who live closest to the terminal and already suffer health disparities from pollutants and foul air,” Schaaf said.

“I am fighting for the health of our community, environmental justice, and equity.”