Fight for a Coal-free Oakland

We're still fighting to prevent coal exports through Oakland!

On this page you can find background, context and resources, and a timeline of this years-long campaign.


A portion of the former Oakland Army Base is being developed as a bulk export facility, known as the Oakland Bulk and Oversized Terminal. The developer, Phil Tagami of California Capital & Investment Group, promised not include coal as a commodity handled by the terminal, but then solicited a partnership with Utah counties that would allow the state to export up to 10 million tons of coal from their mines each year. The deal would make Oakland the largest coal-export facility on the West Coast, and would increase national coal exports by a whopping 19 percent.

Community members and advocacy groups have voiced concerns over how coal exports will affect public health, safety, and the environment. 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.

Thousands of Oaklanders have come together to resist the powerful coal industry that is trying to take over the Oakland Army Base redevelopment project and expose West Oakland residents to harmful, dangerous coal dust. Oakland stands in solidarity with Utah residents who have spoken out about the harmful impacts of coal mining and transport in their communities. The Sierra Club stands with the community in our commitment to a plan for the Oakland Army Base redevelopment that will create good jobs without sacrificing our climate and our health.

Want to know more?

Big Coal’s profits are getting squeezed by the falling price of clean energy and closures of coal-fired power plants across the US. In response, coal companies are looking for ways to ship their dirty energy commodity to foreign markets. Major organizing victories quashing export proposals in Oregon and Washington mean that Big Coal has turned its sights on California. Bay Area communities are already burdened by poor air quality caused by our five oil refineries and the shipping industry. We already have coal trains snaking through our neighborhoods by rail and shipping out of a private terminal in Richmond.

Coal exports present many threats, including:

The Threat to Climate

California has worked hard to be a coal-free state — but while the state is setting aggressive carbon-reduction targets, this terminal would allow the most carbon-polluting fuel to be brought to market, with devastating consequences.

Coal exports would 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.

The Threat to Clean Air

Toxic coal dust is linked to decreased lung capacity, increased childhood bronchitis, asthma, pneumonia, emphysema, and heart disease. For communities along the I-80 corridor, adding more toxic particulate matter to the air would mean more trips to the hospital, more kids with asthma, and shorter lifespans for too many people. 

The Threat to Workers

Port workers who have prolonged exposure to coal would suffer an even greater health risk. And the fact is that exporting coal is bad for jobs as well as for health; Terminals that ship coal provide far fewer jobs than terminals that ship containers or general cargo — and that means fewer local jobs. Coal is an increasingly anti-union industry.

From extraction to transport to burning for fuel, coal leaches toxic chemicals into communities and the environment causing climate disruption and deadly diseases.

Campaign Timeline:

  • October 2018 — The City of Oakland terminates developer Phil Tagami's lease at the former army base in West Oakland for failure to meet critical milestones for beginning construction. In response, Tagami files suit against the city yet again.
  • June 2018 — The Sierra Club signs on to the City of Oakland appeal challenging a ruling on a lawsuit that overturned the city's ban on coal handling and storage.
  • May 15, 2018 — U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria rules in favor of coal terminal developer Phil Tagami in his lawsuit challenging the City of Oakland’s 2016 ban on coal handling and storage. After a three-day trial, the judge found that the City of Oakland had not yet compiled sufficient evidence to support its ban against coal handling and storage in Oakland. The Sierra Club, represented by Earthjustice, intervened in the lawsuit on the side of the city's right to protect its residents' health and safety. Read our press release here.
  • December 8, 2016 — Oakland Bulk & Oversized Terminal, LLC, owned by private developer Phil Tagami, sues the City of Oakland to overturn the ordinance banning coal from being handled and stored in the City of Oakland. Read our press release here.
  • August 2016 — Governor Jerry Brown signs legislation introduced by Senator Loni Hancock banning the California State Transportation Commission from allocating public funds for any projects that would help to build new coal transportation facilities. Read more here.
  • June 19, 2016 — The Oakland City Council votes unanimously to ban coal and petroleum coke (petcoke) storage and handling in the city, citing health and safety concerns like coal dust and climate change. The ordinance becomes law immediately. Read more here.
  • June 27, 2016 — The Oakland City Council holds a hearing to propose a ban on the storage and handling of coal and petcoke based on health and safety concerns.
  • March 2016 — Utah passes a bill to invest over $50 million in taxpayer dollars in the Oakland terminal in the 11th hour of its legislative session.
  • September 21, 2015 — The Oakland City Council holds a hearing to assess the public health and safety risks associated with coal and petcoke. The council chambers fill with students, members of the faith community, business leaders, doctors, public health officials, concerned residents, and many others who testified to demand action. Afterwards, the city retains consultants, Environmental Science Associates and Dr. Zoe Chafe, to assist in the evaluation of the evidence.
  • February 2015 — A poll finds that 76 percent of Oakland voters oppose the coal export proposal. Read more here.
  • April 2015 — The Utah Community Impact Board allocates $53 million to acquire export rights at the Oakland terminal. The backroom funding deal was brokered by the then-chair of the Utah Transportation Commission who was simultaneously working for a private bank that stood to profit from the deal. The revelation of this deal contradicts developer Phil Tagami's earlier public denials about his intent to ship coal. After the secretive deal comes to light, a diverse coalition of groups — including environmental justice groups, environmental non-profits, labor unions, faith leaders, and individual community activists — come together to form a campaign to keep coal out of Oakland while remaining committed to developing the former army base in a way that will create safe jobs for local residents and not jeopardize the health of workers at the terminal.
  • January 2014 — In the Oakland Army Base newsletter, developer Phil Tagami promises not to export coal through the Oakland Bulk and Oversized terminal, writing: "It has come to my attention that there are community concerns about a purported plan to develop a coal plant or coal distribution facility as part of the Oakland Global project. This is simply untrue. [...] CCIG is publicly on record as having no interest or involvement in the pursuit of coal-related operations at the former Oakland Army Base." Tagami made the same commitment in private meetings with the Sierra Club, elected officials, and others.
  • July 2014 — The Oakland City Council passes a resolution opposing the transport of fossil fuels by rail through the city. The resolution was the first in the state to address coal and petroleum coke in addition to oil.
  • February 2014 — Citing environmental impacts, climate change, public health hazards, economic pitfalls, and public opposition, Oakland’s Port Commission voted unanimously to reject Bowie Resource Partners’ proposal for an 8.3-million-ton-per-year bulk export facility for coal at the city-owned Charles P. Howard Terminal.
  • 2000 — Redevelopment of the former Oakland Army Base begins. The redevelopment is the product of years of collaborative work by government agencies, labor unions, and community groups like West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project. As one part of the larger project, the proposed Oakland Bulk and Oversized terminal was touted to the community and to decision makers as a terminal to ship grain and wind turbines. The project has received hundreds of millions of public dollars, including over $242 million in state Trade Corridor Improvement Funds intended to improve air quality.
  • 1999 — The Oakland Army Base closes.

Return to top