Churches, Community Unite Against Coal in Oakland

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Community members and faith leaders held a public meeting this week to oppose the export of coal from a terminal at the City of Oakland’s Army Base development project.

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“The community of West Oakland has high health risks for asthma, cancer and other health challenges that continue to plague our community,” said Pastor Ken Chambers of West Side Baptist Church, who is a cancer survivor, speaking at the meeting Monday, Oct. 26 held at his church.

 

One speaker, Margaret Gordon, of the West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project (WOEIP), said the coal trains from Utah would reverse the improvements in air quality the city has made over a number of years.

 

Pastor Chambers is part of a group of at least a dozen other churches and organizations represented at the Monday meeting, including Pastor Curtis Robinson of Faith Baptist Church and Will Scott of California Interfaith Power & Light, that are pushing back on this proposal to bring coal to Oakland.

 

The community meeting came in the wake of a lengthy and heated public hearing held last month by the City Council, where a number of church leaders said they supported the terminal because it will mean jobs.

 

Opponents of coal say the shipments would expose the community – especially West Oakland, which is already challenged with high asthma rates – to greater health risks.

 

Speakers at the community meeting said measures taken to mitigate the impact of coal dust would not be effective.

 

“This is bigger than West Oakland. We are organizing citywide support from every council district to stand up against this environmental injustice,” Chambers said.

 

Council President Lynette Gibson McElhaney, who has not taken a position on the proposal, spoke at the meeting, saying the city’s limited authority is written into the development contract with project developer Phil Tagami.

 

In June 2013, “When we adopted that development agreement, we pretty much set in stone the current existing regulatory environment. It gives a developer certainty,” said McElhaney, whose district includes West Oakland.

 

Basically, the agreement limits the city from making changes to certain rules and regulations to the developer, she said.

 

“But we do preserve, at all times, (the right) to amend or change any regulations as it relates to public health and safety,” McElhaney added.

 

“We’re hoping that Council President McElhaney and the full council will step in and champion this issue for environmental justice in the City of Oakland,” said Chambers.

 

The City Council plans to make a decision in December.

 

Another community meeting is planned for Monday, Nov. 16 at 6:30 p.m. at West Side Church, 732 Willow St. in Oakland.

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