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Bill DiBenedetto headshot

Oakland City Council Moves on Coal Transport Ban


The Oakland City Council just approved resolutions opposing the transportation of coal and other fossil fuels in Oakland and the East Bay.

The council  unanimously approved the resolutions by consent Tuesday evening, citing the problems with using coal trains through the urban area. Such problems included environmental threats, public health hazards, economic pitfalls, and public opposition to exports, specifically coal. 

Another resolution declares a “city policy prohibiting the investment of city funds or holding any investment or ownership stake in any companies that extract, produce, refine, burn or distribute fossil fuels,” and urges other nearby local jurisdictions to “divest from all publicly-traded fossil fuel companies, all in an effort to support the goals of the Oakland energy and climate action plan and diminish the use of fossil fuels that significantly contribute to climate change.”

Passage of the measure, written by council members Dan Kalb, Lynette Gibson McElhaney and Rebecca Kaplan, means Oakland joins Berkeley and Richmond, California in opposing the shipment of crude oil and coal on railroad tracks through their communities.

Cities do not have the power to prohibit these shipments because only the federal government can regulate railroads, so it’s an easy stance to take — it’s a resolution not a law.

However, fierce local opposition to fossil fuel exports carried on trains through West Coast port areas is putting a severe crimp in those plans. “From California to Oregon to Washington, local communities are holding the line in the fight against dirty coal exports. We still have more work to do here in the Bay Area, but (the) decision shows that Oakland’s leadership is committed to safeguarding clean air, clean water, and public health for our communities,” said Michelle Myers, director of the Sierra Club’s San Francisco Bay Chapter.

Sierra Club noted that due to strong community organizing, coal, petcoke and oil export facilities “have been unable to move forward along much of the West Coast.” Other communities in California have passed similar resolutions regarding oil transport, including Berkeley and Richmond. The San Francisco Environment Commission also unanimously passed a resolution to work with the city and port on crafting a policy to ban the exports of coal, oil and petcoke.

Coal dust and diesel particulate matter from the numerous open-top, mile-long trains used to transport these commodities would pose significant air and water quality threats to Bay Area families, the organization continued. “On average, the BNSF estimates that each uncovered rail car can potentially lose up to 500 pounds of coal per trip, or more than 60,000 pounds lost per train. Coal breaks apart easily to create dust that contains lead, arsenic, uranium, and hundreds of other heavy metal toxins harmful to fish and human health. Coal dust also can contribute to train derailments."

"The number of mile-long coal, petcoke and oil trains passing through our community is expected to rise dramatically,” said Brian Beveridge of the West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project. “Those coal and oil trains will pass thousands of homes from San Leandro to Martinez to Berkeley to Oakland. An accident along this route could deliver incredible damage to lives and property. We applaud Oakland’s steps towards opposing the dangerous transport of these fossil fuels.”

Pretty soon the fossil-fuel industry will run out of convenient, agreeable and economically viable options to transport their hazardous products — and that will be an excellent thing.

Image credit: Flickr/redarrow101

Bill DiBenedetto headshotBill DiBenedetto

Writer, editor, reader and generally good (okay mostly good, well sometimes good) guy trying to get by.

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