Oakland City Council votes to appeal ruling on coal exports

- The Oakland City Council has voted unanimously to appeal a federal judge's ruling two weeks ago that struck down an attempt by the city to ban the shipment of up to 5 million metric tons of coal a year through a planned terminal at the former Oakland Army Base.

In his May 15 ruling, Judge Vince Chhabria said the City Council lacked legally sufficient substantial evidence when it concluded in 2016 that large coal shipments would endanger residents' health and safety.

A finding of danger was the only way the city could modify a 2013 contract it reached with Oakland Bulk & Oversized Terminal LLC to build a large bulk goods terminal on the former base.

The contract allowed Oakland to apply new regulations to the project only if "substantial evidence" showed a "substantial danger" to the public's health and safety.

In 2016, the city passed a law banning the shipment, handling and storage of coal in Oakland and also passed a resolution applying that law retroactively to the planned terminal.

The city said it found that the dangers, especially to the residents of West Oakland, included increased air pollution and the risk of combustion of the coal.

Oakland City Attorney Barbara Parker said in a statement that she believes the City Council enacted the 2016 ordinance "under its lawful power to prevent substantially dangerous health and safety conditions in and around the proposed terminal in West Oakland."

After the council voted on Tuesday to appeal Chhabria's ruling, Parker said, "We believe the City has the responsibility and the authority to act when the health and safety of our residents is endangered."

She said, "The council acted pursuant to the city's police powers to ban the storage and handling of millions of tons of coal in West Oakland. Those activities pose a clear and demonstrable danger to Oakland residents, especially children whose health will be directly impacted by coal dust and other health and safety hazards related to a massive and inherently unsafe coal export operation."

Parker said she will formally file the appeal with the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in the coming weeks.

City Councilmember Dan Kalb, who authored the legislation banning the storage and handling of coal in Oakland, said he was "disappointed" by Chhabria's ruling.

"Appealing the court's ruling is critical for the health and safety of our East Bay communities and our planet. The residents and workers of Oakland and nearby communities should not and cannot afford to be subjected to any more environmental hazards, including those created by coal dust," Kalb said. 

Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf said, "I am proud Oakland will continue to fight for our community's health by appealing a federal court judgment that would allow a coal terminal built in our city."

Schaaf said, "The storage and handling of unsafe coal in West Oakland threatens the well-being of all residents, but it will unfairly and unjustly impact those who live closest to the terminal and already suffer health disparities from pollutants and foul air. I am fighting for the health of our community, environmental justice, and equity."

Oakland City Attorney spokesman Alex Katz said the city spent $3.1 million on fees for outside attorneys at the time of Chhabria's ruling two weeks ago.

Katz said the city hasn't estimated the cost of launching an appeal but he said the money will come from the city's self-insurance liability fund.

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