Senate bills would block funding for proposed coal exports at Oakland facility

Friday, February 19, 2016

OAKLAND, Calif. -- Citing the health and environmental impacts of a proposal to export coal out of Oakland, state Sen. Loni Hancock, D-Oakland, introduced four bills today at a news conference in Oakland, saying she wanted to make sure residents won't be impacted by similar proposals in the future.

Two of the four bills target funding for the $1.2 billion project, some of which is being paid for with state money.

The California Transportation Commission approved a $170 million grant for the project, Hancock said. Although the CTC grant has already been awarded, Hancock said it is being doled out on a reimbursement basis.

"There are varying estimates of how much money has actually been reimbursed," Hancock said in a separate interview. "If the bill were to pass and take effect before the money is spent, it would affect the project."

One of the bills, SB 1279, would prohibit the use of public funds to build or operate any port that exports coal from California. SB 1280 would require port facilities that receive state funds to fully mitigate greenhouse gas emissions associated with burning coal anywhere in the world because, Hancock said, "Guess what? We share the air."

Hancock said she was shocked to learn that the developer of the planned bulk export facility at the former Oakland Army Base was preparing to export coal through the city.

The Oakland City Council approved a contract in 2012 with California Capital and Investment Group to develop the site, but according to Hancock and environmental advocates, coal was never mentioned as a possible commodity. The potential for shipping coal through the facility only came to light last year, when the state of Utah invested $53 million in the project, which would ship coal from Utah through the Oakland port.

"It basically makes a mockery of the state's and Oakland's leadership on global climate change issues," Hancock said in a separate interview, comparing the project to the Keystone Pipeline project that would have transported tar sands oil from Canada to refineries in the United States and that environmental advocates nationwide vehemently opposed.

At the news conference today, West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project co-founder Margaret Gordon compared the proposal to the lead-contaminated water in Flint, Michigan, while high school student Nate Henderson framed the issue in the context of a national struggle for racial equity.

"From diesel trucks and pollutants in West Oakland to the airplanes landing at the (Oakland) Airport, when do black lives really matter if we are the first ones to really experience or be affected by pollution time after time," Henderson said.

Hancock emphasized that the bills are mostly prospective and that the city of Oakland and Oakland City Council must act to prevent the shipment of coal through the new facility.

"There is a provision in the contract that was signed that allows the city to consider the health and safety of its workers," Hancock said. "I hope and expect that the city will use that authority and prohibit coal."