Churches, Community Unite Against Coal in Oakland

Speakers at a community coal meeting included (L to R): Pastor Ken Chambers of West Side Baptist Church, Margaret Gordon of the West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project, and Will Scott, program director of California Faith Power & Light. Photo by Ashley Chambers.

Speakers at a community coal meeting included (L to R): Pastor Ken Chambers of West Side Baptist Church, Margaret Gordon of the West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project, and Will Scott, program director of California Faith Power & Light. Photo by Ashley Chambers.

By Ashley Chambers

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 Oakland Army Base development project.

“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 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, which brought out opponents and supporters of the coal terminal.

At that meeting, a number of church leaders said the supported the terminal because it would mean jobs, and those who spoke in opposition said bringing coal to Oakland would expose the community – especially West Oakland, which is already challenged with high asthma rates – to greater health risks.

The proposal by Terminal Logistic Solutions (TLS), with the backing of Oakland Army Base developer Phil Tagami, suggests transporting coal in covered cars to reduce the amount of coal dust from spilling out during transit.

However, these measures would not be effective in eliminating this health risks to Oakland and nearby communities, according to those at the

“Because of the wind at the bay, it could carry this coal (dust) to Emeryville, Berkeley and the Oakland hills.”

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

While Council President Lynette Gibson McElhaney has not taken a position on the proposal, she spoke at the meeting, saying the city’s limited authority in written into development contract with 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.

“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 is scheduled to make a decision on the project in December.

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

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, October 29, 2015 (postnewgroup.com)