Activist before Tuesday’s Oakland City
Council meeting in support of a 
resolution against transport of fossil fuels.
PHOTO/Steven Tavares 

OAKLAND CITY COUNCIL | The Oakland City Council is thinking globally and acting locally. On Tuesday, it passed two resolutions hoping to do the city’s part in fighting back against the transport of fossil fuels through the East Bay and the companies that profit greatly from its sale and distribution.

In doing so, Oakland become the first city in the state to approve a resolution against the transfer of hazardous coal and oil exports by rail in the region. The legislation was offered by Councilmembers Dan Kalb, Lynette McElhaney and Rebecca Kaplan.

“Oakland is leading the way for Californians who want to tell Big Coal and Big Oil that we cannot bear the risk they impose upon on our town,” said McElhaney, who represents parts of West Oakland that have long suffered from industrial pollution near the Port of Oakland.

West Oakland activist and resident Margaret Gordon told the council Tuesday evening, “We do not need to have anything that will impact our community through coal dust.” In particular, activists say transportation of coal–often left uncovered on rail cars–allows large amounts of coal dust to be dispersed all along its route.

Admittedly, Oakland has no jurisdiction over the railways that snake around the city, but, McElhaney said Oakland needed to register concern over the increased use of rail to transport coal and oil through city and ultimately abroad to other nations that may not possess as stringent air quality regulations as the United States. “I don’t think this is an idle threat,” she added.

“Ten years of advocacy have cleaned our windowsills of diesel soot,” said Brian Beveridge, co-director at West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project. “We don’t want replace it with coal dust.”

In fact, environmental groups all along the West Coast, like the Sierra Club, have issued strong opposition recently to a number of oil and coal export proposals, including at the Port of Oakland. Last April, the Sierra Club’s San Francisco Bay Area chapter raised concerns over one proposed use of the now vacant Howard Terminal site for the transportation of coal and petroleum coke. The Port ultimately rejected all long-term industrial uses for the property.

The council also passed a separate resolution urging the city to divest in publicly-traded fossil fuel companies. A city staff report says Oakland’s current portfolio has little or no investment in such companies, but the legislation authored by Councilmember Kalb also urges other public investment groups to do the same. They include, the Oakland Municipal Employees’ Retirement System (OMERS), The Oakland Police and Fire Retirement System (PFRS) and the California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS). “This is our effort to urge them to divest,” said Kalb, “and invest in socially responsible companies.”