Sierra Club: Oakland port rejects proposals for coal exports

The Sierra Club said Feb. 27 that Port of Oakland Board of Commissioners that day voted to reject proposals to build a coal and petroleum coke export facility at the Charles P. Howard Terminal in Oakland, Calif.

Citing environmental problems, public health hazards, economic pitfalls, and public opposition, the commissioners voted to reject two proposals that would have opened the Bay Area up to additional fossil fuel export facilities, the club added. A Feb. 28 report in the East Bay Express confirms the rejection of the coal export proposals.

“As an ex-Commissioner for the Port of Oakland, the prospect of approving a new coal export terminal in Oakland would threaten to roll back all of the progress we have made on being good environmental stewards for our community,” said Margaret Gordon, Co-Director of the West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project. “The proposed coal export facilities would threaten Bay Area families by further polluting the West, East and Fruitvale communities of Oakland, which are already some of the most vulnerable communities of color in the Bay Area.”

“From California to Oregon to Washington, local communities are holding the line in the fight against dirty coal exports. Though we still have more work to do here in the Bay Area, today’s decision represents a huge victory for safeguarding clean air, clean water, and public health for our communities,” said Jess Dervin-Ackerman, Conservation Organizer for the Sierra Club’s San Francisco Bay Chapter.

The Port of Oakland received bids in December 2013 from two developers to construct a coal and fossil fuel export facility at the 50-acre Howard Terminal site. One of the potential developers, Bowie Resource Partners, had projected to construct an 8.3 million ton per year bulk export facility, including over 4 million tons of coal and 1 million tons of petreolem coke. Kinder Morgan, Metro Ports, and California Capital Investment Group (CCIG) also placed a bid for a facility with a likely fossil fuel export component, the club noted.

Kinder Morgan and Metro Ports had previously proposed to construct coal export terminals elsewhere on the West Coast, the club said. In 2013, Kinder Morgan abandoned its plans to build a coal export terminal at the Port of St. Helens, Ore., along the Columbia River. Similarly, Metro Ports walked away from plans to construct a coal export terminal in Coos Bay, Ore.

In addition to the Howard Terminal proposal in Oakland, there are potential proposals to develop additional coal and petcoke export facilities at the Oakland Army Base, other berths at the Port of Oakland, and the Port of Richmond. There are currently two existing coal export facilities in the Bay Area at the privately owned Levin-Richmond Terminal and at the Port of Stockton, the club noted.

A port staff memo attached to the Feb. 27 meeting agenda says: “The Trafigura/Impala/Bowie proposal describes their proposed bulk cargo, including coal, in some detail, so the analysis below is based on information in their proposal. Their projected annual throughput volume by the 5th year of operations is 8.3 million tons, consisting of coal (4.0 million tons), iron ore fines (2.0 million tons), iron ore pellets (1.0 million tons), petroleum coke (1.0 million tons) and borax (0.3 million tons).”

The memo went on to describe environmental impacts, including the coal dust that would blow off trains carrying this coal from places like Utah and Colorado. Bowie is an affiliate of a company that a few months ago bought three coal mines in Utah from Arch Coal, and had already owned a coal mine in Colorado. Trafigura is a commodities trader.

The memo noted about the burning of this exported coal in foreign power plants: “The proposed project may run counter to California climate change policy that supports reductions in global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, such as those produced by coal-fueled plants, to slow down climate change. Increased GHG concentrations in the atmosphere promote global warming, with increased ocean temperatures leading to sea level rise. The California Assembly passed, and Governor Jerry Brown signed, Joint Resolution 35, Chapter 139 – Relative to exportation of coal, which urges the President and Congress to restrict waterborne export of coal for electricity generation to any nation that fails to adopt regulations on GHG or hazardous air emissions as restrictive as those adopted by the U.S., or to secure and approve international agreements that result in emissions reductions equal to those in the U.S.”

The memo said that opposition to prior export terminal proposals in Washington and Oregon show that the port could face major problems with a coal export project. “Based on this information, the Port could be involved in protracted discussions and potential litigation regarding operation of a coal export facility,” it added.


About Barry Cassell 20414 Articles
Barry Cassell is Chief Analyst for GenerationHub covering coal and emission controls issues, projects and policy. He has covered the coal and power generation industry for more than 24 years, beginning in November 2011 at GenerationHub and prior to that as editor of SNL Energy’s Coal Report. He was formerly with Coal Outlook for 15 years as the publication’s editor and contributing writer, and prior to that he was editor of Coal & Synfuels Technology and associate editor of The Energy Report. He has a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University.