Faith leaders unite in opposition to Oakland coal exports

California Interfaith Power & Light
Posted Feb 19, 2016

ens_021916_OaklandToday, leaders from diverse faith communities came together to oppose the proposal to export coal through Oakland, and to call on the Oakland City Council to protect their communities by standing up to out of state coal companies. At the faith leaders rally, which was followed by a prayer vigil, the Sierra Club also released a new poll that found that 76 percent of Oakland voters oppose the coal export proposal.

The poll found that 47 percent of Oakland voters have heard about the proposal to transport coal through their city, and these voters are decidedly against it. After hearing arguments from both sides, an overwhelming 76 percent of voters say they oppose the proposal. This includes a majority (57%) who oppose it “strongly.” The poll suggests that this issue will be important to 2016 voters; 48 percent of respondents say they would be more likely to vote for a Councilmember who opposes coal, while just 17 percent would be less likely.

“No community, rich or poor, should endure the effects of coal. But the environmental inequity of the coal terminal proposal cannot be disregarded,” said Rev. Kenneth Chambers, pastor of West Side Missionary Baptist Church in Oakland. “West Oakland already bears a disproportionate burden of pollution, of toxic contamination from diesel exhaust spewing from thruways crisscrossing through the community. Life expectancy of West Oakland residents is far below the life expectancy of residents in the Oakland hills, and West Oakland tenants are twice as likely to visit emergency rooms for asthma as the rest of Alameda County. The West Oakland community cannot afford to have any more pollution dumped on us. We ask the City Council to stand with us over polluters and profits.”

Faith leaders have been deeply engaged in the campaign to stop coal exports in Oakland. Congregations throughout Oakland have hosted teach-ins on the health, safety and climate impacts of coal. In addition to local Oakland clergy, prominent Bay Area faith leaders from the Jewish, Roman Catholic and Episcopal communities including the Executive Director of the Northern California Board of Rabbis, Rabbi Marv Goodman, former President of the Jesuit School of Theology, Thomas Massaro, and Episcopal Bishop Marc Andrus, have all spoken out against coal and signed onto a letter drafted by California Interfaith Power & Light, urging the City Council to ban coal exports.

“As a resident of West Oakland, a person with respiratory challenges and a faith leader, I am profoundly concerned about the health and environmental impacts of transporting coal through our city,” said Archdeacon of the diocese of California, Carolyn Bolton. “I strongly oppose the development of a coal terminal in our already vulnerable and highly impacted community.”

“Oakland should not be involved in shipping coal overseas, since this fossil fuel is the major contributor to climate change,” said Margaret Rossoff of the Sunflower Alliance. “Coal needs to be left in the ground and replaced with renewable resources.”

“This poll clearly demonstrates what we’ve learned from our conversations on the ground with Oaklanders,” said Brittany King of the San Francisco Bay Chapter of the Sierra Club. “Oakland residents do not want dirty coal exports in their city. The City Council has the legal authority to ban coal due to the health and safety risk this dangerous commodity poses to Oakland residents. It’s time for our elected leaders to make it clear that they stand with the 76% of Oakland voters who oppose coal exports in Oakland.”

Background: A portion of the former Oakland Army Base is being developed as a bulk export facility, known as the Oakland Bulk and Oversized Terminal (OBOT). CCIG, the developer, promised not include coal as a commodity handled by the terminal, but now they are soliciting a partnership with four Utah counties that could allow the state to export up to 10 million tons of coal from their mines each year. A Utah funding body approved $53 million to buy space at Oakland Bulk Terminal for these exports. This deal is being conducted behind the backs of the Oakland City Council and the Port, both of oppose coal as a commodity for shipping in Oakland. Additionally, the developer promised residents that the city-owned port would be coal free. While the Mayor, members of the council and residents have demanded a stop to these talks, the developer has yet to abandon the plans.

Those opposing the plan to export coal through Oakland have voiced concerns over how this decision will affect the community’s safety, the environment, and public health. According to a national train company, each open-top rail car of coal can lose up to one ton of dust between the mines and the port, resulting in the release of 60,000 pounds of toxic fine particulate matter in communities near the rails. Additionally, this deal will stifle California’s strong commitment to cutting carbon pollution, especially as the state continues to suffer from extreme drought, forest fires, and other signs of climate disruption.