Who will evaluate evidence on whether coal shipments threaten Oakland’s health and safety? Come to the May 3 city council meeting to tell them to hire the team of public health experts who are now challenging industry-friendly Environmental Science Associates (ESA) for the job. The city council postponed a decision on this issue from April 19 to May 3, which will give them time to consider this new bid.
ESA is notorious in the Bay Area for writing the Environmental Impact Review that gave the green light to Valero’s crude oil-by-rail project, which is now being contested in Benicia. Many critics, from environmental and community groups to the California’s attorney general, have called that review inadequate because it fails to fully report the many negative impacts the crude-by-rail project would cause. In addition, activists question ESA’s commitment to a fair review of the health and safety dangers of coal, pointing to the fact that the team they propose to do the review doesn’t include a single public health expert.
No Coal in Oakland is supporting the alternative proposal from Health Impact Partners (HIP), a national leader in the field of health-impact assessment based right here in Oakland. They will subcontract with PSE Healthy Energy, an Oakland-based energy science and policy institute. In addition, they will assemble a panel of Bay Area public health experts with a variety of backgrounds: environmental health (including air quality, water quality, and noise), environmental justice, occupational health and medicine, and epidemiology. This panel will guide the process and provide feedback throughout the review.
The No Coal in Oakland campaign has been gathering huge support, including a growing grassroots movement of residents, Mayor Libby Schaaf, many local clergy and and labor leaders, newspapers including the San Francisco Chronicle, and State Senator Loni Hancock, who has introduced four bills in the California legislature restricting coal exports from the state. A recent poll by the Sierra Club showed that 76 percent of Oakland voters oppose exporting coal from Oakland. Thanks to all this support, opponents of coal exports persuaded the city council to pass a moratorium on issuing any permits for the Oakland Bulk and Oversize Terminal until this question is resolved. And the council has signaled its intention to enact an outright ban on coal exports.
The focus of the campaign is an agreement the city signed with Phil Tagami’s California Capital and Investment Group to build and operate the terminal at the former Oakland Army Base. Tagami said he had no intention to export coal through the terminal. There was never any environmental analysis of the impacts of shipping coal or other fossil fuels through Oakland. Now he says the city has no right to control what commodities go out through the terminal and threatens to sue the city if it tries to block coal exports.
But the agreement specifies that the city can pass regulations to protect the health and safety of the community and workers if there is substantial evidence that not doing so would be dangerous. The No Coal in Oakland campaign and other groups have assembled extensive evidence from health and legal experts — more than enough evidence to justify banning coal on health and safety grounds. But the city wants to make sure it has solid justification as it faces a likely lawsuit.
The move to hire Environmental Science Associates stems from the city’s need to assemble strong evidence for banning coal. But hiring a consultant with a record of supporting fossil fuel developers against environmental concerns is not the way to go. No Coal in Oakland supports the HIP proposal by public health experts who will do a better of job of reviewing the evidence of the health impacts of coal.
The city council was set to approve a contract with ESA on February 16, but before the council meeting, Mayor Libby Schaaf convinced the council members to postpone the contract vote “so that we may further evaluate other, potentially more effective options,” to bar coal shipments through Oakland. “I remain strongly opposed to the transport of coal and crude oil through our city,” Schaaf wrote in a press release that day.
Now a proposed contract with ESA is again on the table for the May 3 city council meeting. Strong public pressure is needed to tell the council to reject the contract with ESA and make sure the investigation of evidence is valid and unbiased. Come help push the No Coal In Oakland campaign over the finish line.
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Tuesday, May 3, 5:30 – 10
Oakland City Hall, Frank Ogawa/Oscar Grant Plaza, Oakland