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Opinion: Backers of Shipping Coal to Oakland Mislead the Public

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John Siegel’s Opinion in the Nov. 21, 2019 Oakland Post accuses the opponents of a coal terminal with inaccuracies  in their arguments while itself making many inaccurate claims.

To begin with, it should be noted that Mr. Siegel spent years as an executive in the coal industry and is financially invested in the proposed Oakland Bulk and Oversized Terminal (OBOT) project as CEO of Insight Terminal Solutions. I am responding as an activist with No Coal in Oakland, a grassroots community group, and based on my background as a longtime environmental advocate for West Oakland and my experience as a Port of Oakland Commissioner.

As a small example of his inaccuracy, Mr. Siegel writes that the Environmental Protection Agency “has authorized” coal shipments, but the EPA does not issue this kind of permit.  It is true that rail cars pass through Oakland, bringing Utah coal to the Levin-Richmond Terminal.  There have never been air monitors on the rail line, so we don’t know how much fugitive coal dust is emitted.  But rail operator BNSF acknowledges the emission of coal dust in transit.

And Oakland’s Race and Equity Indicators Report identified adverse health effects for children in Oakland, including emergency room visits for breathing difficulties.  (On a scale of 0 to 100, where 100 is healthiest, Oakland received a 3.)

The doctors Mr. Siegel names treat asthma, but neither of them believes that outdoor air quality contributes to asthma. The consensus of medical professionals is that asthma is related to pollution, with voluminous supporting research.  The two doctors mentioned have not produced any documentation to support their contrarian position.

Mr. Siegel claims the terminal would employ hundreds, which is unlikely in an automated facility.  Any work there would be reserved for union members.  The International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 10 is on record refusing to handle coal and opposing the use of this terminal for coal. If coal is such a desirable commodity, why did the Port of Oakland in 2014 turn down the use of the Howard Terminal to ship it?

It is not clear, as Mr. Siegel claims, that all California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) permits have been obtained.  In any case, required permits from  the Bay Area Air Quality Management District ( BAAQMD), as well as the City of Oakland, have not been obtained and it is not clear that they will be granted.

Proponents of coal threaten the city with dire financial consequences.  They assume they will win their lawsuit for damages, which is on hold, and which will require them to document actual expenses on the project.  No such figures have ever been made public, and much of the spending to date has been public money.

Insurance companies are beginning to refuse coverage for coal facilities, a trend that is likely to increase.  This means a coal terminal will become financially unsustainable.

The City of Oakland took a stand for the health of its residents, many of whom actively supported banning coal.   The developers, led by Mr. Siegel and his hired guns, are attempting to confuse the community because their financial schemes have been frustrated.   

Margaret Gordon is an activist who works with the organization No Coal in Oakland, a former Port of Oakland Commissioner and co-founder and co-director of the West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project (WOEIP).

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