By Dani Zacky
Ever since the City Council voted unanimously in 2016 to ban the storage and handling of coal, Oakland and the developers of the old Oakland Army Base have been locked in litigation. With a trial scheduled to begin in July, this is the last chance for the parties to reach a settlement, and a possible agreement may come before the City Council in the coming weeks.
In these crucial final weeks, we need to make sure that the City Council pushes for an enforceable settlement that will truly keep coal out of Oakland in order to protect community health and safety. The Sierra Club is organizing alongside community partners to make sure that the City rejects any settlement with loopholes that would leave the community vulnerable to the fossil fuel industry.
On May 16th, the Sierra Club rallied at a City Council meeting with partners including Youth Vs. Apocalypse, SF Bay Physicians for Social Responsibility, West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project, Communities For A Better Environment, Asian Pacific Environmental Network, No Coal In Oakland, San Francisco Baykeeper, Oakland Education Association, and more. The young people of Youth Vs. Apocalypse led us in chants and powerful public testimony urging the Oakland City Council to stay strong.
The stakes are incredibly high: If we lose, coal could come to the Bay Area in mile-long open-top rail cars, spreading toxic coal dust through countless communities along the way. West Oakland residents — who already live with the consequences of environmental racism in the form of freeways, diesel trucks, and port emissions — would suffer the worst health impacts from the toxic coal-dust pollution: asthma, pneumonia, emphysema, and heart disease. The developers keep promising “good jobs,” but those jobs have never materialized. And, Oakland residents deserve work that doesn’t poison them or their community.
In early May, the Washington Post wrote about West Oakland’s toxic legacy in an article titled “City planners targeted a Black community for heavy pollution: Can the damage be undone?”. Let's be clear: if the City Council supports a settlement with loopholes or vulnerabilities, it will not only fail to undo the damage to West Oakland wrought by decades of environmental racism, it will perpetuate the same harms in a whole new generation of residents.
What You Can Do:
The fight for an enforceably coal-free Oakland continues. While we wait for more news on a settlement agreement or the case to go to trial, we’re still working with our partners to ensure that Oakland keeps coal out. You can stay up-to-date and get involved in different action opportunities by joining the campaign here: addup.sierraclub.org/campaigns/keep-coal-out-of-oakland
Dani Zacky is an organizer for the SF Bay Chapter.
Supporters gather at the No Coal in Oakland May 16th rally. Photo by Virginia Reinhart.