The Oakland City Council voted unanimously Monday evening to ban the storage, handling and export of coal from a new port terminal. The council did so despite the prospect of 1,000 construction jobs, and 120 permanent jobs, at the terminal site.
The purported reason for banning coal was concern about health and safety. However, broader environmental concerns about climate change, and the desire to ban all fossil fuels from the economy, played a role in the public debate about the issue.
A campaign led by Earthjustice, an environmental group, had urged the public to back the resolution banning coal at the new facility, warning that a coal-exporting terminal could “undermine California’s commitments to fight climate change.”
Erin Baldassari reported for the East Bay Times that the mood at a council meeting Monday evening was raucous:
Hundreds of people filled the council chambers, spilling into overflow rooms, and offered several hours of commentary frequently punctuated by cheers, applause and outbursts from audience members on both sides of the issue. Following the vote, audience members burst into song, filling the chambers with a chorus singing, “No more coal in Oakland, I’m going to let it shine.”
The vote came after more than a year of debate pitting environmental activists against business and community leaders, who claimed that without coal as a possible commodity, a planned bulk export terminal in West Oakland would be at risk of losing critical funding.
The members of the public and the council who backed the ban did so despite knowing the potential economic benefits of the terminal. West Oakland is a predominantly black and minority neighborhood — one of the few such left in the Bay Area.
A developer had promised to bring jobs to the area when signing the contract to build the facility on a former army base in 2013. There was no provision in the contract mentioning coal. The developer later announced plans to handle coal, and the State of Utah passed a bill to invest $53 million in the facility to help export coal, Baldassari reports.
Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf, a former staffer for California Gov. Jerry Brown, backed the ban. She later tweeted that the choice between jobs on the one hand, and health and safety on the other, was a “false choice”:
We know that it’s a false choice to say we have to pick between jobs and this community’s health and safety. We can, and we will do both.
— Libby Schaaf (@LibbySchaaf) June 28, 2016
However, it is not immediately clear where else 1,000 construction jobs will come from in West Oakland.