More Tricks from Would-Be Oakland Coal Terminal Developers

By Jacob Klein

The long-running battle to keep coal out of Oakland continues. Despite the City’s attempts to secure a legal settlement with the developers at the old Oakland Army Base to prevent coal and petroleum coke (petcoke) from coming through Oakland, no actual settlement has been reached.

In February 2022, the City Attorney’s office released a statement announcing that a framework had been established between the City of Oakland and Oakland Bulk and Oversized Terminal (OBOT), the developer for the West Gateway, and its parties in interest. The settlement would resolve the state court lawsuit that pits the City against OBOT, with each alleging that the other breached the contract for the terminal. The case would go to trial in April 2023 if a settlement is not reached beforehand.

This comes on the heels of a massive community movement that led to an ordinance banning coal and petcoke in Oakland for public health reasons, an ordinance that OBOT and its partners sued over. Unfortunately, the City lost the federal case and the appeal. 

When the City Attorney issued its announcement this February, many of us were hopeful that we would soon see an agreement to prevent toxic coal and petcoke from coming through Oakland. However, in July 2022, OBOT and its partners sent a cryptic letter to the Sierra Club, our partners, and local news outlets claiming that the City was not negotiating in good faith. In this letter, OBOT included a motion they filed to reopen discovery – in effect, a demand that the City turn over its records relating to the case. The subject of the developers’ email claimed that “coal is back on the table.”

The developers and their partners have made similar claims in the past that the City isn’t cooperating and is creating roadblocks to settlement. Once they make that claim, they dangle the threat of coal as an option. In reality, they expect the city – and us – to trust them at their word that they won’t ship coal or petcoke. But so far, they will not agree to the legal provisions that would make the deal sufficiently enforceable and thereby truly protect our communities from those toxic commodities. 

We also can’t forget the false promises made to us at the beginning of this campaign when terminal developer Phil Tagami said that coal wouldn’t come through Oakland — only for the community to discover OBOT’s secret plans with Utah coal companies. Although the characters have shifted, the playbook seems to be the same. The developers’ claims simply cannot be trusted, in our view.

Thankfully, the City Attorney’s office released another statement affirming their stance to keep coal and petcoke out of Oakland and create a terminal that supports Oakland’s economy, environment, and health. The Sierra Club continues to watch this issue closely and we have full faith in the City Attorney’s commitment to achieve a loophole-free settlement.

What You Can Do:

Want to make sure that the City enters a settlement that prohibits coal and petcoke in Oakland, without any loopholes or misleading promises? Write to your City Councilmember and let them know that you support a comprehensive agreement to keep coal out of Oakland. You can find phone numbers, email addresses, and district information online here.

Jacob Klein is Senior Chapter Organizer.