California’s Senate Approves Additional Coal Export Review

California State Capitol Bldg, Saramento
California State Capitol Bldg, Sacramento

For the second time in as many days, the California Senate approved a bill by Senator Loni Hancock (Democrat – Oakland) to block projects like the one Utah has endorsed to make the Port of Oakland the largest coal exporter on the West Coast.

“California’s investments to contain climate change and grow our clean energy are a significant accomplishment,” Hancock said of her own SB1299 after the California Senate approved the measure 25-9. “Last year we divested our pension funds from coal, and several years ago California stopped using electricity from coal-fired power plants. We should not use our people’s tax dollars on projects and developments that undermine these steps…Instead, the people of California should be assured that their taxes and bond revenues will be used to help their environment and health – not harm them.”

Specifically, SB1279 states that the California Transportation Commission will not allocate state funds for projects proposed after Jan. 1, 2017, for the handling, storage, or transportation of coal at a port facility located in or adjacent to a disadvantaged community. The bill will not affect projects or infrastructure at port facilities that were already permitted as of January of this year, or modifications of existing ports to improve safety, rehabilitation, congestion reduction, modernization or maintenance.

A companion measure, SB1277 – which the Senate approved Wednesday on a 25-13 vote – would require an additional level of environmental impact study for the proposed Oakland coal terminal expansion at a former army base location. Phil Tagami, the developer for the proposed project, has been working on this project for several years, but has been unable to acquire adequate funding or approvals. This past legislative session, Utah lawmakers approved a $54 million plan to use taxpayers’ monies to assist Tagami’s plans.

Both California bills are part of a package Hancock introduced in February during Utah’s regular, 45-day legislative session, and after she learned that a proposed development on city-owned land could export up to 10 million tons of coal annually to China and other Asian countries. At present, California exports less than 3 million tons annually. Similar plans in Northern Pacific ports have also been stalled or halted.

Hancock said she felt compelled to introduce legislation to close loopholes in the law and ensure that other cities will not face similar problems in the future. She added that her SB1277 and SB1279 would put California on a path to better control polluting fossil fuels. She has been a participant at the 2015 climate summit in Paris, known as COP21. Most experts believe that the conference in Paris has put the U.S. on an irreversible path to reducing the nation’s dependence on fossil fuel use, especially in energy production. Utah’s leaders maintain that coal provides an efficient and affordable source of energy.

Meanwhile, Oakland’s City Council plans to reveal a coal ordinance on June 24. On June 27 the City Council will vote on whether to halt the coal proposal or move forward with Tagami’s plans. An initial hearing date for the pair of bills with the California Assembly will be determined within the next few days.

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