Pointing the way to a clean energy future

Port of Long Beach -- Putting California Communities at Risk

Long Beach coal train

California leads the nation in solar energy generation. But while most of California continues moving the clean energy transition forward, the Port of Long Beach has taken a huge step backwards, promoting the interests and protecting the wallets of the toxic fossil fuel industry.

In a controversial agreement that ignited community outcry, the Port of Long Beach recently approved a new lease to raise the amount of guaranteed coal exports, as well as to continue the Port’s petroleum coke exports (or petcoke, a byproduct of oil refining). The plan, which will have devastating consequences for local and overseas communities, secures dirty fossil fuel exports for the next 15 years.

The Port's agreement violates key provisions of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) that require proper environmental impact analysis and disclosure for projects. Under this state law, the Port is required to gather public insight and provide vital information to decision-makers before approving projects or agreements with detrimental consequences.

Additionally, CEQA mandates that all assessed impacts are met with measures to mitigate harmful impacts. The Port did not conduct any environmental review at all in this case and it claimed that its decision to approve the lease agreements was exempt from CEQA. This claim is especially problematic because the leases deal with increasing the exports of two of the most polluting fossil fuels--coal and petcoke--both of which have air, water, and climate change impacts.


Long Beach coal train

The Port's failure to meet these statewide environmental safeguards prompted the Sierra Club to take action and join with Communities for a Better Environment, Natural Resources Defense Council, and Earthjustice to file an appeal to contest the Port's new approvals. The appeal, submitted to the Long Beach City Council on June 23, was filed to enforce state law requiring an adequate environmental analysis under CEQA.

The agreements approved by the Port include a partnership with Oxbow Company, a corporation that falls under the Koch brothers' big-polluting empire. The plan will bring coal shipments from mines in Utah and Colorado and potentially the Powder River Basin in Wyoming and Montana to the California coast on trains passing through several communities.

The Port's regressive action quickly garnered backlash from local community members, who voiced concerns about community health and environmental impacts from coal dust blowing from the exposed rail cars at a Port of Long Beach Board of Harbor Commissioners' meeting in June.

Californians aren't just worried about the local impacts of this destructive new agreement from the Port of Long Beach -- they have also raised concerns about the ramifications for global climate disruption. The Port's agreement to export fossil fuels will serve Long Beach's temporary economic interests at the extreme expense of overseas communities that are importing the American coal but are without emission controls.

"The Port's neighbors in Long Beach are moving towards clean energy, and Los Angeles plans to be coal-free by 2025 -- yet the Port still wants to embrace the past and ship carbon-intensive coal and petcoke in the middle of our clean energy transition," said Sierra Club attorney Jessica Yarnall Loarie. "Long Beach should put the health and safety of its communities first: we don't want to burn coal here, and we don't want to ship our dirty fossil fuels somewhere else."

The Port's move and long-term agreement contradicts both the U.S.' and the state of California's commitments to move away from dirty fuels such as coal. From mine to rail and port to plant, communities across the West Coast are standing up against fossil fuel exports.

It's time for the Port of Long Beach to listen to the voices of local residents. And with action like the Environmental Protection Agency's new Clean Power Plan and the Oakland City Council's resolution opposing the transportation of dangerous fossil fuels by rail in California, clean energy future is clearly on the national and statewide agenda; the Port of Long Beach is taking a step into the past.

Not only does the Port agreement violate the law, but it also violates our commitment to cleaner air, healthier communities, and a global effort to combat climate disruption. Help protect the communities impacted by this dangerous agreement by signing this petition here to tell the Port of Long Beach to put families first and reconsider their decision.

-- Stephanie Steinbrecher, Sierra Club. Photos by Al Sattler.