Coal export facility considered for Port of Oakland

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UPDATE: The Port of Oakland Board of Commissioners voted to reject the proposals.

A company that operates a coal mine in Colorado is looking to ship its fossil fuel products to Asia via the Port of Oakland.

A coalition of environmental organizations sounded the alarm that the Board of Port Commissioners could agree to consider a lease proposal from Bowie Resource Partners to operate a coal export facility at Oakland’s Charles P. Howard Terminal. The board will meet this afternoon.

Another proposal submitted for consideration, from California Capital Group/ Kinder Morgan/ MetroPorts, could also lead to coal exports, said Jess Dervin-Ackerman, Conservation Organizer for the Bay Chapter of the Sierra Club.

“We’ve really reduced our use of coal in this country, but that means we’ve just been sending it to Asia,” Dervin-Ackerman noted.

In addition to the global concerns about exacerbating climate change by shipping coal to be burned in power plants in Asia, where there are weaker environmental protections, environmentalists are worried that Oakland neighborhoods could be impacted by pollution from rail operations and fine coal dust that could leave airborne traces behind as it is transported to the marine terminals.

Bowie proposed to ship not only coal, but petroleum coke, a pulverized fossil fuel that is illegal to burn in California. Already 128,000 barrels of this product, called petcoke for short, is shipped daily from throughout the state.

Port of Oakland staff, however, has recommended rejecting the proposals from both entities.

“Staff believes that Bowie’s proposed use and operation of the property raises environmental concerns related to the handling of commodities such as coal. Environmental concerns about handling commodities such as coal stem primarily from issues of fugitive dust and climate change," a staff report drafted in preparation for today's meeting noted. "Port staff believes that operations such as those proposed by Bowie conflict with recently adopted Port policies and programs intended to create or support environmental sustainability."

The report went on to note that there has been controversy and litigation over coal and coal export facilities along the West Coast.

As things stand, there are active coal and petroleum coke terminals at the Ports of Long Beach, Benicia, and Stockton.

Given the shipping routes and recent controversies surrounding coal export terminals in the Pacific Northwest, “The Bay Area is a prime target” for fossil fuel companies, said Devin-Ackmerman. “These kinds of proposals just pop up overnight.”

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