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Oakland Port Off Limits for Utah Coal Exports

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The city of Oakland, Calif., has banned coal handling at its port facilities, blocking a plan for producers to use the facility to export Utah coal. (JanHanusSr/iStockphoto)
The city of Oakland, Calif., has banned coal handling at its port facilities, blocking a plan for producers to use the facility to export Utah coal. (JanHanusSr/iStockphoto)
June 30, 2016

SALT LAKE CITY - Utah environmentalists and government watchdogs are cheering a decision by the Oakland city council to ban coal shipments through its port facilities. The decision puts a roadblock in front of plans for Utah producers to ship coal through the California port to overseas markets. But despite losing the port and calls for a federal investigation of how the project is funded, backers say they remain determined to find other ways to export Utah coal to overseas markets.

Josh Kanter with the Alliance for a Better Utah, said in addition to environmental concerns, his group and others oppose spending taxpayer dollars to fund the project.

"It's an indictment of the process and the investment of public money to basically support a private company, or a series of private companies, who are coal-mining companies," he said.

Citing a drop in domestic sales of coal, the Utah Legislature approved a $53 million investment in the California facility to ensure port access for coal mined in Carbon County and elsewhere in the state. But groups opposed to the plan are requesting that the U.S. Department of Justice investigate the use of public funding for the deal.

Environmental groups, including the Sierra Club, HEAL Utah and others, oppose the project, saying wherever the coal is burned, it will still contribute to global climate change. Kanter said backers of the plan will likely try to save the project by either taking Oakland to court over its decision or finding export opportunities at other West Coast ports.

"Certainly anticipate that the Utah coal companies, and maybe with the assistance of the Utah counties, will look for other ways of exporting Utah-produced coal," he added. "It's really the public financing and the use of public taxpayer dollars that troubles us."

Oakland officials say they banned coal handling at the proposed terminal project because of potential health hazards from coal dust in neighborhoods near the port and in cities along the rail lines that would transport the coal from Utah.

Mark Richardson, Public News Service - UT