California Adds Hurdles to Utah Coal Export Plan

California State Senator Loni Hancock (D-Sen 9)
California State Senator Loni Hancock (Democrat – Oakland)

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.

GRAPH: California Senate District 9 on funding a coal terminal in Oakland
GRAPH: California Senate District 9 on funding a coal terminal in Oakland

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 here.

2 Replies to “California Adds Hurdles to Utah Coal Export Plan

  1. As a worker in the Maritime Industry with experience not only in the State of California but in Florida, Louisiana, New York/New Jersey and overseas in Europe I read this account of Senator Hancock’s workings and the opinions of her constituency and I simply must shake my head and the sheer stupidity of the population of the East Bay area…

    The proposed terminal would, in the long run, be able to not only move coal but literally hundreds of other types of commodities which would only benefit the area around the port both economically and fiscally without ANY risk to public health thanks to new technologies and practices.
    Even in rural Louisiana Ports the Coal Terminals are cleaner than general container terminals which Oakland has at least 4 of.

    Finally, to point wordlessly to the sheer hypocrisy and idiocy of the average East Bay Area Citizen: within a two hour drive UP RIVER (which means the river AND EVERYTHING IN IT flows TOWARDS these Citizens in the East Bay) there are at least 3 Bulk (Coal, Sulfur, ETC.) Terminals, at least 10 Tanker Terminals and accompanying Refineries (which bring in everything from Crude Oil and Diesel to Molasses, Sugar, and Palm Oil (Palm Oil is probably the worst substance to spill into a foreign environment due to it’s ability to stick to ANYTHING)) all within generally highly populated areas… and these same citizens are crying “bloody murder” about the possibility of opening what would be a smaller cleaner variant of these terminals in their neighborhood.

    Welcome to the Soviet Socialist Stupid Republic of California.

    1. You aren’t going to like this, I completely support Loni Hancock’s measures to block the shipping of coal through Oakland, I’m a total Hippy that loves clean air, grew up here and I think the coal industry is financially on it’s last legs.

      For one, the study by Senator Hancock clearly shows that our population are completely opposed to shipping coal through our city. If we are a democracy and follow the Demos Kratos or “will of the people,” then this debate is over. We are opposed to coal being shipped through our city and they shouldn’t force this upon us.

      This matters because it’s public money being used to subsidise the coal thus we have a financial stake in blocking this ridiculous plan. The $242 million prop 1B trade corridor Improvement Funds was supposed to improve our state air quality, the facility does the opposite.

      Under the original proposition of the site, the developer did not conduct an Environmental Impact Report on the transportation of coal and it wasn’t until after it got approved that he snuck that bit back into the deal. 2013 he said coal was not going to be transported, “California Capital & Investment Group is publicly on record as having no interest or involvement in the pursuit of coal-related operations at the former Oakland Army Base.” That changed in 2015.

      Few facts via sierraclub.org. Each coal train sheds an average of 60,000 pounds of coal dust along it’s route. That dust contains lead, mercury, chromium, arsenic and other heavy metals. This can lead to problems with asthma and heart disease, childhood bronchitis, pneumonia, and emphysema.

      The jobs argument does not outweigh the cost to our youth’s health and all the medical costs associated with that care. These are the risks and they are supported by reports from KQED, American Heart Association, Virginia Department of health, and the American Lung Association from the Sierra Club’s website. The issue is not the terminals itself, it’s the moving of MILLIONS of tons of coal through urban areas.

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