Burning coal is one of the most polluting forms of energy production and one of the greatest contributors to global warming. What could be more insane than destroying the environment with massive coal mining operations, and then loading the coal onto a mile-long string of open coal cars, then sending them more than 750 miles through densely populated areas, spewing coal dust all along the way, and then finally loading the coal on ships (also major polluters) only to send it more than 6000 miles to Asia to be burned?
Insane? Yes! Is it impossible? No. Unless the people of Oakland and everyone concerned decides to put an end to this madness. Developers have proposed to turn the former Oakland Army base into a coal export terminal that could export up to 10.5 million tons of coal per year to Asia. The trip from Utah will put an estimated 646 tons of coal dust in the air as the coal travels from Utah to Oakland each year.
These are trains of death – most harmful to the people of West Oakland who have one of the highest rates of asthma in the Bay Area. Inhaling coal dust is linked to respiratory problems, heart attacks, cardiovascular disease, and birth defects. Long-term exposure is linked to increased risk of cancer. And even worse is the impact on the planet, putting tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere each year.
The opposition to this insane plan is growing. Hundreds of people have turned out to Oakland City Council meetings. The ILWU 10 (International Longshore and Warehouse Union) – the union of the workers at the Port of Oakland, who load and unload the ships – have opposed the coal port, along with other unions. The mayor of Oakland has expressed her opposition, as well as city council members. Resolutions against coal trains have been passed by the City Councils of Richmond, Berkeley, San Leandro and others.
So what makes developer Phil Tagami think he can continue? His friendship with Governor Jerry Brown? The nearly $250 million of state taxes the developers got for port development because of their lie that they had “no interest or involvement in the pursuit of coal-related operations?”
The disregard for the people of the Bay Area and the planet is only surpassed by the arrogance and racist attitudes of the developers. They’ve promised to give hundreds of thousands of dollars to Oakland churches, struggling to keep their programs alive. They’ve promised big money to environmental groups, and to create more than 1000 jobs at the port. Besides some construction jobs, the new port will employ fewer than 150 people. Their promises mean nothing!
So far most of the opposition to the port has been directed at city hall and the state legislature. But that isn’t enough. We only have to look at the efforts of people in Seattle and Portland and other cities. City governments have taken a stand, but the coal companies pushed legislation to the state and federal levels. In Benicia, CA, the Planning Commission voted against allowing oil trains carrying crude oil to travel through the city. Valero Oil immediately appealed the decision, claiming Federal law overrules the decision.
Our efforts can’t be limited to pressuring the system to respond. There is no need for discussion or further studies. If the coal and oil industries won’t stop their murderous actions, it’s up to us to bring this madness to a halt.
Working people are the ones who make this society run, and that is really where our power is. If the Longshore workers, the people of West Oakland, along with those who have expressed opposition to the coal port, organize their forces, it could put an end to this project. The Longshore workers have the power to shut down the port. And if other workers joined in who are concerned about the health of the city and of the planet, who work in Oakland, drive buses, operate BART, work in the health care field, it would put an end to this insanity. And just imagine where that might lead.