West Oakland: Sick of Coal
by Alvaro Palacios Casanova
West Oakland is a community that faces poverty and chronic disease. The community is disproportionately exposed to air and noise pollution with two freeways, a port, and rail running through it. It is also home to many organizations that are constantly battling for social, economic, environmental, and health equity.
So why should Oakland not allow polluting coal transports through this already over-burdened community?
The impacts of coal transport will have significant and unavoidable air quality impacts, by increasing diesel emissions from ship, rail, and transport trucks, and from fugitive coal dust. The last may be most devastating, since fugitive coal dust can contain cadmium, lead, and arsenic, all of which can pose severe health threats, especially to children and others who are at greater risk. An estimated 620 tons of coal dust could result from the transports, exposing West Oakland children, who already have twice the number of hospital emergency visits for asthma, and further decreasing their lung function and their susceptibility to hospitalization.
On June 27th, state legislators in Sacramento and city officials in Oakland will both be voting on coal transports. The Oakland City Council will vote on an ordinance to ban coal from being transported and handled at the Oakland Bulk and Oversized Terminal (OBOT) at the Port of Oakland. At the state capitol, the Assembly Natural Resources committee and the Assembly Transportation committee will hear two Senate bills by Loni Hancock (District 9) addressing both coal transport in Oakland (SB 1277) and prohibition of public funds for coal projects near disadvantaged communities (SB 1279). It will be a moment where elected officials will either provide justice to an already vulnerable and overburdened West Oakland community or add to the legacy of environmental racism in the community.
Environmental racism is the disproportionate impact of environmental hazards on people of color. Environmental Justice is the movement that is seeking to rectify the injustices of environmental racism. On Monday, elected officials at both the state and local levels will have an opportunity to deliver justice to a community mired by inequity and to not contribute to a historical legacy of environmental racism in West Oakland.