California judge ruling opens Oakland port to coal shipping
Oakland city council cited health concerns in bid to ban coal shipments through port to Asia.
A federal judge in San Francisco has striken down an Oakland City ban on shipping coal to Asia. The decision could be a boon to the coal industry in Carbon and Emery counties and to other coal producers in the western United States.
The Oakland City Council banned the facility from shipping coal due to environmental and health considerations.
U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria stuck down the ban, saying the city council did not have enough evidence that the coal operations would pose a substantial threat to health or safety.
The plan, first proposed in 2014, would take coal from Utah, Wyoming, and perhaps elsewhere to Oakland to be loaded onto barges with destinations in China and elsewhere in Asia. It would be the first facility in Oakland dedicated to the shipment of coal.
The Oakland council’s decision came at a time when Utah coal was already facing strong economic headwinds due to major California power providers shifting away from coal-based electricity generation into more renewable energy sources.
It will be necessary to stockpile the coal before being loaded on ships. This is where much of the opposition in Oakland stemmed from. Lawyers for the city argued that coal dust would be hazardous to residents and particularly hazardous to low-income neighborhoods in West Oakland. Lawyers argued that children in that area are already prone to high rates of asthma and other illnesses.
Environmental Science Associates (ESA), hired by Oakland to evaluate the health effects of the proposal, concluded there would be significant negative health consequences as a result of the facility.
The developer, Oakland Bulk & Oversized Terminal LLC, argued the city had no substantial evidence that shipping coal through the terminal would endanger the health of residents of Oakland.
The judge sided with the developer. Chhabria said ESA officials failed to adequately consider the mitigation techniques promised by the company.
“On the primary question presented by this lawsuit, Oakland is wrong,” Chhabria wrote in his decision.
The decision would give coal producers, “Access to growing world markets for our coal reserves,” said Luke Popovich, a spokesman for the National Mining Association.
With coal production diminishing worldwide, the decision could be a boost to the economy of Carbon and Emery counties.
Carbon County Commissioner Jae Potter said he first heard of the judge’s decision at the Governor’s Energy Summit last week. Potter said it was great news for the local economy.
“Yesterday at the governor’s energy summit, we received word that the judge in Oakland has ruled on the Oakland Port Project in favor of development. So it is a very, very good day for energy throughout the United States, but particularly for coal producers,” Potter said. “That doesn’t mean the work’s not finished. It just simply means that we’ve been waiting for two years now for this to happen.”
- On May 22, 2018