While the Utah legislature ended their regular session for 2016 in March, the California legislature has continued their normal legislative meetings and began deliberations that advance further restrictions to Utah’s coal exporting plan, previously codified into authorizations by the state and four Utah counties. The northern California state senator who has been instrumental in the Paris climate talks known as the “Conference of Parties 21 (COP21) held late last year, has sponsored four critical bills that would significantly delay or even completely obstruct a coal commodities terminal at the expansion of the Port of Oakland. Those bills advanced in their respective deliberations in Sacramento this week.
Senator Loni Hancock (Democrat – Oakland), a former mayor of Berkeley and currently representing California Senate District 9 (including. Alameda and Contra Costa Counties), introduced legislation in February that addressed the health and safety aspects of a coal terminal in the East Bay- just as Utah was winding down their legislative calendar.
This week, Senator Hancock released the results of her own constituent survey and reported that an overwhelming number of her respondents were opposed to any plans to send coal through Oakland to Pacific Rim nations.
Hancock’s six-question survey was available to voters beginning in February through Hancock’s website, sent via regular mail and email, and tabulations were made through mid-April.
“Close to 86 percent agreed that the City of Oakland should pass an ordinance to prevent coal from being imported or exported on to City property,” a spokesman for Hancock reported, noting that more than 5,000 California citizens responded to the survey request.
At a regularly scheduled meeting in Utah, Sevier County Commissioner Gordon Topham (Republican – Sevier) said that he couldn’t understand the objections. “The rail cars containing the [proposed] coal shipments have been completely re-designed to contain coal dust and to ensure public safety,” he insisted.
Since coal is a legally traded commodity and accounts for an affordable source of electricity, many policy-makers in coal-rich Utah are pressing for the port development and access while using $53 million in public funds to do it.
But Utah’s money isn’t the only funding required to complete such a terminal at the east end of San Francisco’s Bay Bridge. Hancock had asked the Golden State’s transportation commission to halt any California investment until more study could be completed.
Hancock included in her survey a question about public funding from Sacramento. Respondents were firmly on the side of denying the use of California monies at a solid 96% to 4%. Comments to this point were often and typically made along ideological lines, such as ““We should absolutely NOT support the exporting of coal using the Oakland Port or any other location in the East Bay. We shouldn’t pay for it and we also need to be more vigilant in protecting our community from the harmful health implications,” from a constituent named “Abraham,” reported by Hancock’s office.
Even arch-conservative Utah legislator Representative Mike Noel (Republican-Kanab) conceded that the effort to ship coal from Oakland would face an extremely uphill battle from the east bay. Noel, a graduate of UC Berkeley himself, acknowledged that district’s liberal leanings, “That area is about as Bernie Sanders as it gets,” he said.
Two of Hancock’s anti-coal measures last week passed initial policy committees in Sacramento and are awaiting fiscal review. “California has been working for more than a decade to be a world model for what can be done to combat climate change and I believe the proposed development project in Oakland will reverse the great progress that has been made,” Sen. Hancock said in support of her measures, Senate Bills 1277 and 1279. “I’m grateful fellow senators agreed California cannot relinquish its leadership role.”
Audio of Sen. Hancock below