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  February 27th, 2017 | Written by

Community Groups Ask Judge to Dismiss Lawsuit Challenging Oakland Coal Ban

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  • Opponents contend coal port deal was conducted behind the backs of Oakland City Council.
  • Developer denies that port project is a coal terminal but a multi-commodity, bulk terminal.
  • In December developers sued City of Oakland to overturn ban on storage and handling of coal.

Earthjustice, representing community groups San Francisco Baykeeper and the Sierra Club, filed a motion to intervene in the lawsuit from Oakland Bulk & Oversized Terminal, LLC, owned by private developer Phil Tagami, challenging Oakland’s ban on handling and storage of coal in Oakland. The groups also filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit.

Last June, the Oakland City Council voted to ban coal from being handled and stored in the City of Oakland, including the proposed Oakland Bulk and Oversized Terminal.

A portion of the former Oakland Army Base is being developed as a bulk export facility. The developer solicited a partnership with four Utah counties that could allow that state to export up to 10 million tons of coal from their mines each year. A Utah funding body approved $53 million to buy space at Oakland Bulk Terminal for these exports.

Opponents contended the deal was conducted behind the backs of the Oakland City Council and the port, both of which oppose coal as a commodity for shipping in Oakland. They also claim that the developer promised residents that the city-owned port would be coal free.

The developer also denies that the project in question is a coal terminal but a multi-commodity, bulk terminal. Opponents counter that the terminal would rely on coal for 49 percent of the cargo it would handle.

In December of 2016 developers including Phil Tagami sued the City of Oakland to overturn their ban on storage and handling of coal. The suit claimed the coal ban was an “unconstitutional abuse of power” and that it violates federal laws that regulate interstate trade, rail transportation, and maritime shipping.

“Oakland city officials were well within their legal rights to take a decisive stand against Phil Tagami after he misled the people of Oakland about coal at the terminal,” said Colin O’ Brien, Earthjustice attorney who filed the motion to intervene. “Tagami’s lawsuit ignores the will of the people and the health and safety risks coal poses to community members, especially in West Oakland.”

“The City of Oakland carefully examined the significant health impacts that storing and handling coal in West Oakland would have on nearby families already overburdened with air pollution,” said Jessica Yarnall Loarie, Staff Attorney for the Sierra Club Environmental Law Program.

According to a rail study, each open-top rail car of coal can lose up to one ton of dust between the mines and the port, resulting in the release of 60,000 pounds of toxic fine particulate matter in communities near the rails.

“A coal terminal on the shoreline of San Francisco Bay will hurt water quality and aquatic life,” says Erica Maharg, Baykeeper Managing Attorney. “Baykeeper supports Oakland’s right to ban fossil fuels that are a threat to the Bay and local environment.”