Opinion: ‘We Still Object to Coal’

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(Wikipedia Commons)

The Oct. 31 Post article regarding the Insight Terminal Solutions (ITS) plan to “phase in a ban on the transportation of coal” is riddled with inaccuracies. ITS, the would-be operator of the Oakland Bulk Commodity Terminal (OBOT), is waging a deceptive campaign to bully Oakland into submitting to the toxic effects of moving coal through the city’s waterfront.

ITS’s “plan” is for coal to be the terminal’s anchor commodity with up to 50 million tons of coal shipped in the first decade alone. It plans to phase out coal at the end of two decades. There can be no “phase out” without a phase in of the toxic substance first, and that is the core of ITS’s “plan.”

Since no coal is currently being shipped through Oakland, ITS’s proposal is not a “reduction.” It is the introduction of new poisons into Oakland’s most vulnerable communities.

Currently, ITS is in bankruptcy, like many other coal companies, as the coal industry follows its bumpy path to oblivion. Instead of phasing coal in and then out, why isn’t ITS planning to concentrate on bulk commodities like “grain, soda ash, wood chips, and others” – now?

ITS is the successor to Terminal Logistics Solutions (TLS), originally contracted to operate OBOT. Court filings revealed that TLS was a wholly owned subsidiary of a coal company (Bowie Resource Partners, now renamed “Wolverine Fuels”). That two principals of ITS, John Siegel and James Wolff, were formerly high-level executives of Bowie could explain ITS’s continued obsession with coal.

Greg McConnell makes empty promises that OBOT coal dust will not affect anyone in Oakland. ITS is basing these claims on technologies that have never been used for coal transport — or even proven feasible — such as covered rail cars. Covered rail cars aren’t used to ship coal because they create a risk of catastrophic fire (not to mention coal dust leakage). Oakland already has more risk of catastrophic fire than we want!

The federal judge cited in the article did not determine that there is no health risk to Oakland residents. His conclusions, which pertain only to how the Council evaluated reports submitted by health experts, are being challenged on multiple grounds in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal.

The article raises the specter of bankruptcy for Oakland because of liability to OBOT if the City loses pending lawsuits. In fact, in the federal case, OBOT makes no claim for monetary damages. Zero. A separate case filed by OBOT in state court that does claim damages is tied up in a technical appeal challenging whether that case can go forward at all. It is too soon to conclude that Oakland will be held liable for any damages.

The Oakland City Council, No Coal in Oakland, the Sierra Club, San Francisco Baykeepers and thousands of Oakland residents support a ban on coal storage and handling in Oakland. The ITS plan is an unacceptable step backwards for the health of city residents.

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