Communities Unite to Stop Dirty Power — #keepitintheground

Pull Quote TEXT ONLY for featured stories in image slider: 

#keepitintheground #climatejustice #nopowerplants #cleanenergy #nocoal

Communities Unite to Fight Coal in Oakland

Protest at Oakland City Council hearing on coal. ©2015 Eric  K. Arnold

By Eric K. Arnold

Coal, once the staple of American industrial production, may be on its last legs. With domestic production showing a long-term decline, the fossil fuel’s days appear to be numbered.

According to the most recent annual report [1] of the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), in 2013, U.S. coal production fell below two billion short tons for the first time in two decades; coal mining capacity decreased, as did the average number of coal mine employees, the average sales price of coal, and total U.S. coal stocks. In April of 2015, the EIA projected coal would hit a 28-year low, reflecting significant drops in domestic demand and exports. In August, Goldman Sachs divested itself of its coal holdings; a month later, it issued a gloomy forecast[2] for coal’s future, stating, “the industry does not require new investment,” dashing hopes for a miraculous upturn in the coal market. A report[3] by the Carbon Tracker Initiative (CTI) noted that 26 domestic coal companies have recently gone into bankruptcy proceedings; and coal’s value on the Dow Jones index dropped by 76 percent between 2009-14 (a period when the overall Dow index went up 69 percent).

According to CTI, domestic energy generation has remained flat for the past decade but energy sources have shifted: coal and oil are down, but natural gas and renewable energy are up. America’s largest coal producers are recording annual losses in the billions of dollars, while Chinese coal demand has slumped and new environmental regulations[4] aimed at significantly reducing air pollution and increasing wind and solar consumption are being phased in by the Chinese government. Additionally, all federal coal leasing is currently under moratorium until a comprehensive review can be completed. As the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) noted[5] in its online magazine, OnEarth, “it would be difficult to overstate the industry’s current distress.”

This is scary news for the coal industry, yet a welcome announcement for environmentalists who have waged national campaigns against coal for decades. These desperate times for coal producers have led to desperate measures. Their last hope, it would seem, is to increase coal’s export capacity by transporting the black gunk through West Coast ports. But even there the pro-coal forces have met with unexpected resistance, as city after city in Oregon and Washington have mounted grassroots campaigns to deliver an emphatic message: “Say no to coal.”

Demonstrator outside Oakland City Council hearing on coal. ©2015 Eric  K. Arnold

Oakland’s “No Coal” Stance Sends Shock Waves
A showdown in Oakland, California in 2015, over a proposal to convey coal via train to a planned marine terminal at the site of the old Oakland Army Base site, generated considerable controversy. Coal advocates based in Utah secured tens of millions in loans from an obscure public agency to dangle in front of Terminal Logistics Solutions (TLS) for the right to bring coal through West Oakland, one of the most polluted areas in the entire state. But a coalition of environmental advocates was ready with a grassroots campaign joined by numerous community organizations. A battle for the future of energy in America ensued, as the ornate chambers of the Oakland City Council became ground zero for this landmark fight.

The latest news out of California does not bode well for the pro-coal contingent. On February 16, the Oakland City Council voted to table a proposal to pay Environmental Science Associates $208,000 in consultant fees to determine whether the coal trains would pose significant health risks. The Council was reportedly set to approve the contract, but abruptly reversed its decision after Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf urged them to delay the decision, and environmental advocates pointed to a recent Environmental Impact Report (EIR) authored by Environmental Science Associates for the city of Benicia, which significantly downplayed the health hazards of a proposed coal train project (though it did note significant risks of air pollution).

The Benicia EIR, prepared by a former employee of the American Association of Railroads, contradicted NRDC’s findings which stated that the aging train cars to be used in the project were not equipped to handle what the Wall Street Journal termed the equivalent of “two million sticks of dynamite” per car. NRDC’s findings had raised concerns about a potentially lethal incident, such as what occurred in July 2013 in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, when 69 crude oil-laden cars caught fire and exploded after rolling down a hill and derailing at a speed of 63 mph. The disaster[6] killed 47 people, incinerated much of the town’s center, caused 36 of the 39 remaining downtown buildings to be demolished due to petroleum contamination, sent 26,000 gallons of oil into the Chaudière river (resulting in a swimming and fishing ban and causing deformities in almost 50 percent of the river’s marine life) and generated cleanup costs well in excess of $7.6 million, as well as insurance claims totaling $50 million. Needless to say, Benicia rejected the proposal.

Furthermore, a poll[7] conducted on behalf of the Sierra Club found that 76 percent of Oakland residents opposed the coal trains, while only 15 percent supported it. And on February 19, California State Senator Loni Hancock introduced four separate bills (SB 1277, 1278, 1279 and 1280)[8] aimed at restricting coal in California and, specifically, keeping it out of Oakland.

If passed, the bills would declare shipping coal through West Oakland a health and safety hazard and prohibit coal from being shipped through the Port of Oakland; require comprehensive environmental data collection for coal projects by public agencies; prohibit the use of public funds to operate coal-exporting facilities adjacent to low-income communities; and require facilities which receive state funds to either prohibit coal altogether, or contribute to the state’s greenhouse gas reduction fund. In short, Hancock’s bills would close almost every loophole which has come to light in the Oakland coal train battle.

Hancock’s actions also sent a clear message to the Oakland City Council to take decisive action to prioritize the environmental health of a community already suffering from the double whammy of toxic levels of pollution and the lowest income levels in the entire city. To put people before profits, as it were. This may prove to be the nudge Oakland city officials needed to firmly reject the coal proposal, after months of inaction and behind-the-scenes dithering over possible liability concerns.

Demonstrator outside Oakland City Council hearing on coal. ©2015 Eric  K. Arnold

Lies, Deception and Backroom Deals Push Coal on Oakland
On September 21, 2015, almost 700 people signed up to speak at a public forum addressing a proposal to build a new coal handling facility at the former Oakland Army Base—a new record, according to clerk LaTonda Simmons. At the hearing, which lasted almost six-and-a-half hours,  Oakland City Council members heard from concerned members of the community worried about the negative health impacts of fugitive coal dust residue, as well as several experts who offered testimony about environmental and public health factors. On the other side were allies of developer Phil Tagami’s California Capital and Investment Group and TLS, the company that would operate the proposed West Oakland terminal where the coal transported from Utah would arrive before being exported to China and other foreign destinations. The pro-coal advocates included several paid lobbyists and hired-gun consultants who insisted that this coal would be the cleanest coal available in the United States, as well as construction workers and church leaders who said the community needed the jobs.

Some of the most impactful testimony came from Katrina Booker, a former registered nurse who currently works as a longshorewoman at the port of Stockton. Booker’s first-person account of what it’s like to be a worker at a coal facility cut through all the rhetoric and dry statistical data to offer a dose of reality. “When the coal comes off the ships off the conveyor belts, you have the most dust there. When I work, I have to wear my mask, and that doesn’t keep the dust out. At the end of the day, my eyes are burning and red. I get nosebleeds, I have headaches, it’s hard for me to breathe. Whatever has gotten past that mask, I have already inhaled into my lungs.”

Christopher Christiansen, a 4th generation longshoreman with ILWU Local 1021, was more succinct in his assessment: “Coal is wrong for our community and our docks. The argument that we need coal… just doesn’t pass with a straight face.”

Fittingly, the last speaker to address the Council was Margaret Gordon, an environmental activist based in West Oakland who has worked tirelessly for two decades to address air quality issues in her community. Oakland, she said, is “a green city, a sustainable city,” pointing to a Rockefeller Foundation resiliency initiative adopted in 2014.[9]

“If coal comes in here, you’re not that anymore,” she warned. “That’s a contradiction within itself. There’s no more resiliency, it’s not sustainability, none of that is happening anymore… That’s not what I have worked for [for] 20 years… cleaning up the air pollution in West Oakland.”

The Council hearing capped off a well-coordinated campaign against coal which resulted in what some long-term environmental activists are calling an unprecedented show of solidarity across demographic and ethnic lines. “It’s been a tremendous effort, probably the most powerful organizing effort I’ve seen in Oakland since I’ve been involved in environmental work,” said Brian Beveridge, who’s worked with Gordon for the past decade on the West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project (WOEIP), one of the core organizations which anchored the campaign, along with the Sierra Club, Earthjustice, Communities For a Better Environment, Baykeeper, Asian Pacific Islander Environmental Network, and Sunflower Alliance.

“We’ve certainly seen powerful organizing around Black Lives Matter and some of the other social justice issues, but as far as the environment, this has really brought people together across the board. All races, genders, ages,” Beveridge said, adding that the engagement of young people and people of color, “feels like a sea change in the modern environmental movement. We’re just not that divided on it anymore. People are saying, if that’s the job they’re offering, we don’t need a job that bad. There are better jobs to be had than shoveling coal in an underground bunker. That is a really powerful thing. I don’t think the developers thought they were going to jumpstart a whole new element of the environmental movement. Talk about unintended consequences!”

The Oakland campaign began in 2013. At that time, CCIG’s Tagami insisted in a newsletter for the project that, “CCIG is publicly on record as having no interest or involvement in the pursuit of coal related operations at the former Oakland Army Base.”

But it soon became apparent that the coal industry was indeed targeting Oakland. After the Port of Oakland unanimously rejected three proposals to export coal  in February 2015, Utah lobbyists visited the new terminal site in March 2015, just one month before securing a $53 million loan to help CCIG pay for the cost of constructing the facility. CCIG Vice President Mark McClure was present at a presentation before the Community Fund Investment Board (CIB), an obscure Utah state agency which granted the loan. An email sent by former Utah Transportation Commissioner Jeffrey Holt to the counties invested in the project specifically mentioned Tagami’s distaste for media attention.

Demonstrators inside Oakland City Council hearing on coal. © 2015 Eric  K. Arnold
Opposition to Coal Creates Unprecedented Unity
“When people started reading these articles from Utah, and hearing the quotes from Utah’s (CIB), and Mark McClure there talking about it, and the transcripts of those stories,” environmental activists were outraged, Beveridge said.

The first time the word “coal” appeared on a public document, “We got together and started talking about what we might do to stop it,” said Michelle Myers, president of the Sierra Club’s San Francisco Bay Chapter. Initial efforts included door-to-door canvassing in West Oakland, because, “it was important for us to start this campaign in communities that would be most impacted.”

From there, the efforts mushroomed. There were meetings at churches; flyers were circulated via a West Oakland food truck; and organizations, such as, Bay Localize and the Rose Foundation, joined the campaign.

“We’re committed to a different future for Oakland which is all about clean energy,” said Bay Localize’s Colin Miller. “We don’t have to choose between good jobs and good health. We can actually have both.” Miller is one of the organizers for the Summer Climate Justice Leadership Academy, which helps train local youth “who have committed to a livable future for themselves and their families.”

One of those youth, 17 year-old Paulina Garcia, attended the City Council hearing and was prepared to speak against coal, “because I want to see better change in my community and find solutions for the younger generation to have a cleaner, better Oakland.”

Alvina Wong, APEN’s Oakland Community Organizer, said her organization has been involved in the No on Coal campaign for about a year. Many APEN members live in West Oakland and Chinatown, or along International Blvd where the density of air pollution is an ongoing concern. Wong has helped to mobilize hundreds of people—from monolingual Chinese to Pacific Islanders—and says that her constituents, who span the demographic gamut across age, gender, and race, have “so much energy and emotion on stopping coal!”

In addition to backing from a diverse range of environmental groups, key support also came from organized labor: the SEIU and the California Nurses Association—which provide care for people impacted by coal dust—also jumped aboard, as did the longshore workers of ILWU and the Alameda Labor Council. These were important allies, because their involvement directly countered the argument that coal was necessary to create jobs. Numerous petition campaigns demanding that Oakland ban coal circulated on social media, ultimately garnering over 10,000 signatures. A large rally before Oakland City Hall in July 2015 raised public awareness and initiated a flurry of media attention—creating a negative public perception of Tagami, who had gone to great lengths to keep his coal plans under the radar.

As Myers said of Tagami: “He’s done this in the dark of night, he’s done this after the environmental reviews have been analyzed, he did this after the community jobs agreement was already finalized, and now all of a sudden coal is his preferred commodity because he thinks he can get some money to build the terminal from it.”

Ultimately, Tagami’s apparent reneging on a “no coal” promise became a focal point of the campaign and gave anti-coal advocates an irrefutable talking point. Since April 2015, the story has been widely reported in the press in both Utah and California, and circulated throughout environmental networks.

Emails obtained by KQED under a Public Records request reveal that in May 2015, Oakland Mayor Schaaf gave CCIG’s Tagami a direct order[10] to “stop it immediately… you must respect the owner and public’s decree that we will not have coal shipped through our city.” A defiant Tagami responded by saying[11], “the terminal needs to handle whatever legal bulk goods the potential customer may need to pass through the facility.”

CCIG’s Meritless Economic Claims and Quid Pro Quo Deals

Tagami’s backsliding was also noticed by EPA project manager Richard Grow, who went out of his way to praise Gordon and Beveridge for their mitigation efforts, but had much harsher words for the developer and his cronies. “It’s unsettling, disappointing to find… [that] some of those very same people at the table in our discussions have been off in Utah… trying to establish coal deals and coal contracts. None of those issues were brought to the table in our discussion.” Actions such as that, he added, are “not a tribute to the good faith we try to engage in.”

Another questionable tactic by the pro-coal forces was offering quid pro quo arrangements which they characterized as community benefits but others viewed as straight-up bribes. Early in 2015, TLS executives Bridges and Omar Benjamin took Beveridge and Gordon out to lunch, told them of plans to build an “environmentally-friendly” coal terminal, and promised the activists a percentage of profits for their support. “They offered us 12 cents a ton to back coal in the community,” Beveridge recalled. “Specifically, they said [WOEIP] can take this money and do whatever you want to it. Ironically, they suggested we use it to support a health clinic.”

According to the East Bay Express,[12] similar offers were made to African American church leaders—seven cents per ton—to promote the idea that coal would mean good jobs for the Black community. This notion appears to have little basis in reality as testimony from the Council hearing noted that other commodities create many more jobs than coal. Furthermore, there’s no guarantee that a majority of the jobs potentially created would go to African American residents of West Oakland, but plenty of evidence that this wouldn’t be the case. As stated in Oakland Global’s August 2014 newsletter,[13] among the hiring requirements, “there… was not a provision in the jobs policies that a particular Oakland neighborhood or ethnicity would receive priority over another. And so far, project hiring has been diverse. The top four ethnicities represented in hours worked on the Oakland Global project are as follows: Hispanic—42.1%; Caucasian—31.6%; African-American—15.3%; and "Failed to state/Other"—10.2%.”

Under this hiring pattern, less than one in six jobs would go to Black workers—hardly enough to make a significant dent in the unemployment rates of West Oakland, which is 67 percent African American, as per the 2010 US Census. The 94607 zip code, which includes the Army Base site and adjacent neighborhoods, has the second-highest unemployment rate (14.93 percent) in Oakland,[14] over five times higher than the 94611 zip code, which includes the wealthy, predominantly white Piedmont and Montclair neighborhoods. Perhaps not coincidentally, the West Oakland census tracts in direct proximity to the Port have Enviroscreen scores of 85-90 percent[15]—among the worst in the state for air pollution.

Besides the economic reality that coal represents an unstable market, there’s also considerable evidence that it carries a heavy burden of hidden costs. According to a 2011 study by the Center for Global Health and Environment,[16] in coal-reliant states like Kentucky, coal expenditures exceed revenues before factoring in healthcare and environmental mitigation costs.

“The true ecological and health costs of coal are… far greater than the numbers suggest,” the study concludes, speculating that the true cost “doubles to triples the price.” And West Oakland residents already pay a high price in terms of health, as stated numerous times during the Council hearing.

“All money ain’t good money,” according to West Oakland longshoreman Derek Muhammad—a sentiment echoed by community residents and coalition members alike—and taken up by Councilmember Dan Kalb, when he said: “I’m saddened that good people would imply… that we have to choose between jobs and protecting the public’s health.”

Galvanized by Opposition, Oakland Won’t Back Down
The idea of bringing coal to Oakland has been so egregious, it’s actually been conducive to active resistance. Not only has it galvanized the environmental movement, but it’s failed to convince elected officials of its efficacy or even reasonability. Significant pushback from the No Coal in Oakland coalition; sustained community engagement targeting West Oakland’s most-impacted residents; shady practices by Bridges and Tagami; unfavorable press for the project—all of these things have indeed created the perfect “shitstorm” that Beveridge says he warned Benjamin and Bridges about months ago.

“In a sense, this is unanimous opposition, aside from the master developer himself and his partners, and a couple groups in organized labor who really feel they have a vested interest in this project,” Beveridge noted at the hearing. (Some months after the hearing, the East Bay Express would report[17] that African American church leaders who spoke on behalf of the coal trains had either been paid to do so by Bridges and TLS, or promised money from a slush fund from future coal shipments.)

After a six hour meeting, five Council members—representing a voting majority—raised what Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan noted were “serious concerns.” The Council cited everything from the possibility of exacerbating current conditions, to the lack of available data regarding mitigation measures, to liability and emergency response concerns, to the economic viability of long-term investment in a declining market, to the ethical contradictions of promoting a project which goes against the spirit of the city’s own climate action plan as well as statewide mandates for greenhouse gas reductions. As Kalb said, “the idea that we might seriously entertain this huge volume of coal… is something we will regret and be deeply embarrassed about for many years.”

A further point of emphasis was made by Council President Lynnette Gibson-McElhaney, who spoke of her personal experiences dealing with respiratory issues in her family. “As a West Oakland resident and mother of an asthmatic child, I live these challenges every day,” she said, adding that two other family members are also asthmatic.

The Council’s decision, originally expected in December 2015, was delayed twice. Talk around City Hall was that there were concerns about lawsuits from the pro-coal lobby should the city outright reject the plan, and there was some confusion over whether the city had the authority to ban coal shipments, given that it had failed to specifically do so in the past.

Regardless, the environmental coalition pressed forward. On October 2, Earthjustice filed a legal action asking the city to require a new California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) analysis and stated in a press release: “the environmental review for the project failed to include any discussion or analysis of the impacts of transporting, handling, or exporting coal from Oakland on surrounding neighborhoods or the environment. This is particularly problematic given the project's disproportionate impact on Oakland's most vulnerable communities of color.”

All’s Fair in Coal Wars: Utah Tries Money Laundering

But the coal lobby won’t go down without a fight and an entrenched legal battle may lie ahead. In November 2015, CCIG filed a brief to dismiss the suit on the basis that the statute of limitations to contest a CEQA review expired in 2012, even though coal was not specifically mentioned in the original project proposal. Later that month, Earthjustice dismissed its lawsuit[18] without prejudice (meaning it could later be refiled), after learning that CCIG “had pursued project funding from the Utah counties without City support, knowledge or involvement.” In a statement, Earthjustice’s Irene Gutierrez explained, “We believe it is in the best interest of our community client groups to continue advocacy efforts and work in good-faith with city staff to achieve a mutually acceptable solution.”

Meanwhile, the Sierra Club and the Center for Biological Diversity teamed up to petition[19] the Utah courts to block the use of public funds intended for Utah communities in California. This action was followed by an Op/Ed[20] in the Salt Lake Tribune (SLT) which called the use of CIB funds for the crude-by-rail scheme “disturbing” and noted that the loan application wasn’t received until four weeks after the loan had already been approved. It went on to note conflict-of-interest concerns and the riskiness of using public funds for such a venture, echoing an SLT editorial[21] which also noted the lack of transparency and apparent attempt to hide the coal scheme from the public (“coal” was never mentioned during the CIB’s public hearing in April 2015). Furthermore, it noted, “There was no mention of the fact that the city of Oakland has a policy that opposes the shipment of fossil fuels through its ports, and lawsuits could ensue. There is no guarantee the port will be completed, and it's unclear how the loan would be collateralized.” At press time, the Utah Attorney General had not yet made public his review of the CIB loan’s legality.

Despite the recent victories for the environmentalists, the battle is far from over. On March 1, 2016, Utah State Senator Stuart Adams introduced a bill, SB246, which would reroute the $50-plus million loan through the Governor’s Office of Economic Development, essentially sidestepping the legal issue of using CIB funds for a purpose they may not have been intended for. This equally dubious gamble funds the risky venture with monies drawn from Utah’s highway improvement budget, which would then be repaid with CIB funds—creating an elaborate shell game. Earthjustice lawyer Ted Zinkowski likened the new bill to a money-laundering scheme, noting “All the questions we raised about this use of CIB money would remain.”[22] But Utah officials seem willing to overlook those questions in the hopes that the loan will help stimulate rural counties which are highly dependent on coal mining.

In an interview[23] with the SLT, Utah governor Gary Herbert had plenty to say about what he evidently believes is an inalienable right to coastal ports for his landlocked, energy-producing state: "We need to have access to the ports and the fact you don't like it should not stop us from doing what's in the best interest of the people of Utah."

Such rhetoric in the name of the free market may not be in the best interest of the people of California, however. Herbert’s comments failed to mention the possibility of any health risks in the crude-by-rail scheme, nor do they address California’s existing environmental laws, which mandate mitigation of communities already suffering from high levels of pollution. Hancock’s recent bills, if passed, would add teeth to environmental legislation already on the books, such as AB32 and SB535. Responding to Adams’ bill and Herbert’s remarks in the SLT, Hancock said, “It is very ironic that the state of Utah would use Utah taxpayer money to build a railroad to take coal to California where people do not want it… Why don't they keep their money in Utah and create sustainable jobs?”

Oakland Activists Ready to “Occupy” Coal Route
Big money, shady dealings, controversial politics, and a unified coalition of local grassroots activists and nationally-known environmental organizations: this story has all the trappings of the kind of movie Hollywood used to make in the post-Vietnam War era, when it still had a moral center. But this is no mere fictional account because real human lives and the survival of a disadvantaged community lie in the balance.

Should the City of Oakland put the kibosh on the coal proposal, it’s hard to imagine that the TLS, CCIG, and Utah coal lobby would just skulk away without exhausting every possible legal avenue at their disposal. It’s possible that the coal proposal could be decided on in Oakland before Hancock’s flurry of bills wend their way through the legislative process, but it’s just as likely that any decision by the Oakland Council could be further delayed until state lawmakers vote on the proposed restrictions.

But even if the environmental argument ultimately loses in court, grassroots organizers are prepared to take actions to block the trains. As Al Weinrub of the Oakland Clean Energy Alliance said, “This has been so well-organized, it’s not going to go away. If they lose the fight here, they’ll take it to the streets… people will lay down on the tracks. It’s gonna be another Occupy.”

























Pull Quote TEXT ONLY for featured stories in image slider: 

“At the end of the day, my eyes are burning and red. I get nosebleeds, I have headaches, it’s hard for me to breathe.” - Katrina Booker

People, Power, Policy

Coalition Challenges California to Legislate Climate Equity

By Kay Cuajunco, Photos by Brooke Anderson

On August 25th, community leaders from across the state converged on the steps of the Capitol to demand climate policies that benefit and protect low-income communities and communities of color. In commemoration of the 10th Anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, residents from some of the state’s most pollution-impacted communities stood in solidarity with frontline communities across the nation, urging their legislators to pass policies to transition away from dirty fossil fuels and ensure another Katrina doesn’t happen again.

The rally was part of the California Environmental Justice Alliance’s (CEJA) annual Congreso, a two-day conference that seeks to build a stronger movement for equity and justice in statewide environmental policy. CEJA members and allies stood together in solidarity from the Golden State to the Gulf Coast to honor the sacrifice of so many and recognize how the heartache and pain from Hurricane Katrina has forced the environmental justice movement to grow stronger and more resilient.

Climate change has hit the Gulf Coast hard and discriminatory policies and unjust practices continue to leave many low-income communities of color sick and displaced. As we saw 10 years ago in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the government continues to fail to invest in infrastructure to protect us or respond to our needs in times of crisis.

This is climate injustice.

People of color are the new majority in California and decision-makers can no longer ignore us. We have new opportunities to alter the patterns of environmental degradation and climate chaos. CEJA represents 20,000 community members across California most impacted by pollution and poverty and this year the theme for our Congreso was “People, Power, Policy” in celebration of our visionary grassroots policy-making fueled by people power throughout the state. We’re working together to advance policies that protect low-income communities and communities of color during times of crisis and lift up community-led climate solutions that will help our state transition to 100 percent equitable, renewable energy.

As people across the country and around the world gear up for another round of international climate negotiations at the United Nations in December, people are looking to California to lead in equitable climate policies that benefit low-income communities of color who are hit first and worst by the impacts of climate change. CEJA empowers frontline communities to advocate for policies like these, but we also need climate leadership from decision-makers. During our Congreso, we honored Senate President pro Tempore Kevin de León with the first Environmental Justice Leadership Award for championing environmental policies centered on equity, and for his bold leadership on SB 350, a bill that will increase our state’s use of renewable energy, cut petroleum use, and increase energy efficiency.

CEJA is a strong supporter of SB 350, which will help direct small-scale renewable energy into communities that need it the most and generate local clean energy jobs. CEJA’s other priority, AB 693, will help low-income communities and communities of color currently locked out of renewable energy benefits, with solar installations at affordable, multifamily housing units, so renters can receive a portion of the energy produced on site at their apartment complex, thus reducing their monthly utility bills.

As our state develops the next generation of climate policies that will help us meet the greatest challenge to our planet, environmental justice must be at the center. We are a leader-rich movement that is changing the face of climate leadership. By advancing energy equity and seizing climate policy opportunities at this critical moment, low-income communities and communities of color are leading the way in the transition from dirty energy and fossil fuels to a clean energy future that will provide our communities with good local jobs and a healthier environment.

Our opening panel of Juan Flores from Center on Race, Poverty & the Environment, Christine Cordero from Center for Story-based Strategy, and Antonio Diaz from People Organized to Demand Environmental and Economic Rights (PODER) bridged the local, statewide and national struggles for environmental justice. We heard stories from community leaders reclaiming public land for community gardens to resist gentrification, the fight against fracking in the Central Valley, and lessons from last year’s People’s Climate March in New York City.

"We have one thing the oil companies don’t have: people power. We're empowering community members not to be afraid. We're holding legislators accountable." - Juan Flores, CRPE

CEJA honored Senate President pro Tempore Kevin de León with the first Environmental Justice Leadership Award. De León has championed environmental policies centered on equity—first SB 535 and now SB 350, a bill that would create equitable renewable energy standards—to help make California a leader in climate and energy policy with low-income communities and communities of color at its forefront.

Elma del Aguila, a youth member from the Central Coast Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy (CAUSE), speaks of the connections between the Central Coast and communities on the Gulf Coast impacted by Big Oil and rising sea levels, which threaten their safety and livelihoods. Hundreds supported CAUSE at the California Public Utilities Commission hearing in Oxnard last July to demand Not One More Power Plant.

“They think that because we are a community made up of minorities, we will not speak out against this injustice. They think that because we are a city of minorities, our beaches can be used as a dumping ground for their toxic slum. They think that because we are a city of minorities, we will allow this environmental racism to happen. They think that they can walk all over us because we aren't strong enough to fight them. They don't understand that when people come together, we become an unstoppable force capable of taking down any company, any politician.” - Elma Del Aguila, CAUSE

Mari Rose Taruc, State Organizing Director at the Asian Pacific Environmental Network (APEN) reminded us all of how far the environmental justice movement has come and how we are powerful beyond imagination.

“We are evolving our environmental and climate justice work so that the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina, and the tragedies we experience in our communities in the valley, to our coasts, to our homelands, are not repeated. Our heartaches drive our passions that drive our innovations. And we become more powerful beyond imagination. That’s what we need in these times for a Just Transition. That’s the energy we need to bring inside the Capitol.” - Mari Rose Taruc, APEN


Related Stories: 
Pull Quote TEXT ONLY for featured stories in image slider: 

On August 25th, community leaders from across the state converged on the steps of the Capitol to demand climate policies that benefit and protect low-income communities and communities of color.

No Coal in Oakland, A Report on the Campaign

by Margaret Rossoff

Table of Contents

  • Introduction
  • Strategy
  • Advantages at the outset
  • Strategic assessment of forces
  • Pro-coal
  • Anti-coal
  • Tactics
  • Diversity
  • Organization
  • The evidence
  • Plan B
  • Conclusion
  • Guide to Acronyms


Many activists have expressed interest in an account of how the No Coal in Oakland campaign was organized.  This article is a response, but is not a history.  It is structured thematically rather than chronologically, and the many amazing activists and organizers are not identified by name.  Some of our initiatives came from organizations and some came from individual activists, but this account does not attempt to credit them, as every idea became a shared project.  Unlike just about every document during the campaign, this is not a collectively written piece.  It was significantly improved by careful readings by several people, for which I am very grateful, but I am responsible for all errors and omissions.  I expect—and hope--others will be writing their own accounts from a variety of perspectives.

I have included many links for documents referred to in this account.  For general background about the campaign, go to  A guide to acronyms is at the end of the article.



No Coal in Oakland's campaign was focused on persuading the members of the Oakland City Council to ban storage and handling of coal at a bulk export marine terminal to be built on City-owned land.  This would effectively prevent the transport of coal through Oakland and other cities along the rail lines as well as the shipment of coal overseas.

Our campaign to get the council members to vote for the ban had several components.  The primary ones were:

  • Direct lobbying with council members.
  • Outreach to Oakland residents, including particularly West Oakland residents and participants in community groups.  This was intended both to influence elected officials through popular opposition, and because we saw our campaign as part of building the larger movement for environmental justice and to contain climate disruption.
  • Insuring that evidence of the dangers of coal was adequately documented and presented to the council, including rebutting misleading claims by the developers.
  • Exploring other routes that might also lead to keeping coal out of Oakland.

This article focuses primarily on the first two aspects of our campaign.


Advantages at the outset

Our campaign had several advantages.

  • We were trying to stop a fossil fuel project in advance.  It is generally easier to prevent new infrastructure than to shut down, or even block the expansion of, an existing facility.  Oakland residents were not already employed in the coal industry, nor had it sponsored our Little League teams.
  • There was a clear path to our goal. The City Council had the power to prevent coal from being stored at the terminal on City-owned property based on health and safety grounds, as spelled out in the Development Agreement.  We just had to convince them there was “substantial evidence” of “a condition substantially dangerous to …health or safety” of “occupants or users of the Project, [or] adjacent neighbors.”   (
  • Coal already had a terrible reputation.  A widely recognized imperative to close existing coal-fired plants, including a national campaign by the Sierra Club, provided context for our local struggle.  The local dangers of coal dust escaping from railroad cars and the exacerbating effects of burning coal on climate disruption were intuitively obvious to people we spoke with.  Of course, we needed to amass scientific data to justify the ordinance banning coal, but in our community work we were building on a pre-existing narrative.
  • The community of West Oakland, where the terminal will be located, was already identified as experiencing disproportionate adverse health consequences.  This historically African-American community was undermined by “urban renewal.”  Now industrial facilities, diesel traffic and proximity to freeways contribute to pollution in an area with high unemployment, widespread poverty, limited access to healthy food, and increasingly unaffordable rent.  The resulting disparities in the rates of asthma and other medical conditions, and in life expectancy, would be further intensified by the additional burden of a coal facility.  
  • People could participate easily.  A supporter could contribute by simply signing a petition or sending an email to their council member—or could get much more involved in the campaign.  We had a range of activities for supporters to join at any given time as extensively as they wished.  See below for a discussion of our many tactics.

Strategic assessment of forces


Developers and operators

Initially the face of the pro-coal forces was Phil Tagami, the President and Chief Executive Officer of California Capital and Investment Group (CCIG), the developer chosen to build the marine facility at the former army base. Tagami was known for the renovations of the Rotunda Building in Frank Ogawa/Oscar Grant Plaza, opposite City Hall, and of the nearby Fox Theater—both projects relying on public financing while garnering private profit.  He is also politically well-connected, having served on the Port Commission, the state Lottery Commission, and other public agencies.  He has close ties to Governor Brown, with whom he owns property.  ( )

He was also known for standing at the doors to the Rotunda Building with a shotgun when Occupy Oakland took over the plaza.  (

His initial assertion that the Oakland Bulk and Oversized Terminal (OBOT) would not involve coal is documented in his own newsletter and in conversation reported by Council Member Dan Kalb.  (See quote from newsletter in  and Kalb’s report in

Initially the City signed a development agreement for the Oakland Army Base (OAB) with Prologis CCIG, a joint venture.  On February 16, 2016, the scope of CCIG and its principal, Tagami, was reduced.  The City now has lease agreements with several different tenants, for projects that include a trucker facility run by OMSS (Oakland Maritime Support Services) and two recycling firms, CASS (Custom Alloy Scrap Sales) and CWS (California Waste Solutions), as well as the marine terminal CCIG is developing.

Negotiations between Tagami and Utah coal interests became public in April, 2015, through a Utah newspaper article.  (  Around this time, the public learned that Terminal Logistics Solutions (TLS), headed by Jerry Bridges and Omar Benjamin, would be the operators of the terminal. TLS is located in the Rotunda Building where Tagami also has his office.  Bridges and Benjamin, who are both Black, are former executive directors of the Port of Oakland. Their leadership roles gave TLS the appearance of a home-grown enterprise run by people of color.  They have used their credibility in the community to attract support for the coal project, claiming that the facility would generate jobs, and that the community's health and safety would be protected because both OBOT and the rail cars would be completely enclosed.  This local front for the project is deceptive: evidence suggests that the majority voting share in TLS is controlled by Bowie Resource Partners, the coal company behind the proposal to ship coal through OBOT, whose mines are non-union.  (

In 2013 Bowie proposed shipping coal through the Port of Oakland, which rejected Bowie’s proposal in early 2014.  (   Bowie soon looked for an alternative way to get coal from mines it owns in Utah to overseas markets to compensate for plummeting domestic demand.  When the former army base was decommissioned in 1999, part of it was ceded to the Port of Oakland, part to the City of Oakland.  Tagami had already obtained general approval to develop a bulk commodities terminal on one corner of the City-owned waterfront and, at some point in 2014, it appears that Tagami decided to do business with Bowie rather than keep his promise not to ship coal through the new facility.  The plans were hatched in secret, but when news of Tagami’s betrayal of the public trust broke in April 2015, Tagami and his collaborators at TLS suddenly found themselves in hot water.  

Under the guise of a local minority business, TLS had lunch with the staff of West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project (WOEIP) and offered them twelve cents per ton of coal shipped through Oakland if they would support the proposal. (  With no apparent sense of irony, they suggested the money could be used to fund a health center.  Of course WOEIP staff refused, and in fact they became important mainstays of the opposition to coal, continuing their long history of fighting pollution in the West Oakland neighborhood.  (


Faith and labor

TLS also met with a number of Oakland pastors and offered them financial support linked to coal.  This divided the clergy; a number of them became spokespeople on behalf of TLS.  While some clergy repeated the claims of TLS that OBOT would provide jobs, others, outraged and disappointed, joined the opposition to coal.   (

The situation within organized labor was complicated.  Years of negotiation went into the Project Labor Agreement for the OAB site, which may account for some of the concern within organized labor that opposition to coal would unravel a great deal of work.  In August, 2015, the Teamsters Joint Council No. 7 sent a letter to the City Council outlining their concerns that banning coal would jeopardize the entire project.  (

The Laborers sent members to the September 21, 2015 City Council hearing to support the speakers in favor of using OBOT for coal.  Although Building Trades unions did not officially support or oppose the plans, some opposed the resolution against coal passed by the Labor Council.  They may have been concerned that the terminal would not be constructed without a commitment to coal, which would deprive their membership of potential jobs.

The pro-coal forces hired a lobbyist, Gregory McConnell, whose office is also located in the Rotunda Building, and a law firm, Stice & Block LLP.  The McConnell Group is a lobbyist for businesses.  Pro-coal clergy set up an “Ecumenical Economic Empowerment Council” and some pro-coal entities created “Jobs4Oakland.”  Neither of these groups has a web presence.

This was the opposition we faced.  (A discussion of how we combatted their propaganda is in the section on Tactics, below.)

To the extent that the developers had any support in the community, it was because some people trusted the pro-coal clergy and because people were motivated by the jobs claim.  At Oakland City Council hearings on both September 21, 2015 and June 27, 2016, the developers brought in supposed supporters, who were paid to attend.  In September these included laborers who ceded their time to pro-coal speakers; some didn’t speak English, some were themselves opposed to coal and some had no idea what the issues were.  (  In June a loud group recruited by Jobs4Oakland, primarily African Americans angry about racism and lack of jobs, came with placards and chants, disrupting No Coal in Oakland's mini-rally before the council hearing and then heckling and jeering NCIO speakers until finally escorted from the council chambers. 




The group that would eventually be known as No Coal in Oakland started when several environmental justice activists began meeting, initially calling ourselves Oakland Fossil Fuel Resistance.  We were concerned about the potential dangers of shipping crude oil by rail through Oakland as well as the threat of coal, which soon monopolized our attention.  We were quickly joined by the Sierra Club’s conservation coordinator who brought in one of the founders and directors of WOEIP.  After initial meetings in a back yard and a garage, the group began to meet at the Sierra Club (SC) office in Berkeley but soon moved to the WOEIP office in West Oakland.

NCIO met weekly for fifteen months, with generally fifteen to twenty people present.  These included community members and environmental justice activists from the Sunflower Alliance, 350EastBay, System Change Not Climate Change, Communities for a Better Environment (CBE), the Environmental Caucus of the IWW (Industrial Workers of the World), Western Service Workers Association, and California Interfaith Power and Light (CIPL); and the staff from WOEIP and SC.  We worked closely with labor activists and clergy opposed to coal, creating joint committees for these efforts.  

NCIO attracted people with long histories of political organizing in a wide variety of contexts, who between them had deep and broad knowledge of Oakland politics, successful campaign strategies, environmental justice struggles, legal analysis, environmental science, labor organizing, and more.  The group included members who were vehemently anti-establishment and cynical about the possibility of success with the elected council, along with a couple of people who had served as elected city officials.  We included at least one Republican and quite a few socialists working together, deeply religious people alongside atheists, and a few folks with histories of past conflict who focused on our shared goal.  Our passionate commitment generated mutual respect within the campaign and widespread appreciation for the campaign.

Several NCIO members worked on the campaign without pay for the equivalent of full-time jobs (or more) and many others donated many hours on a regular basis.  As a result, the group was able to quickly respond to developments, investigating and analyzing issues as they came up.  This included, for example, getting specific information on the number of potential jobs and who would get them; challenging the covered cars claims; and exposing the connections between Tagami, TLS, Brown, and Bowie.

WOEIP offered us space for our weekly meetings (frequently with snacks to sustain us) and storage for our literature and placards.  Rooted in the West Oakland community, their staff has years of experience with local environmental justice struggles and were involved from the outset in negotiating jobs and community benefits connected to the conversion of  the army base.  They shared their first-hand knowledge of this history as well as insight into the people and institutions involved.  In addition to learning a great deal from them, NCIO benefited from the respect for WOEIP held by both Oakland politicians and environmental activists.  

The SC provided many resources, including the organizing work of the Bay Area chapter’s conservation coordinator in the initial months of the campaign, as well as help from interns, volunteers and other staff.  SC’s financial support including funding the five hundred yard signs and some of the expenses of community events.  They initiated and paid for a poll of Oakland likely voters and planned the community debrief held after the September 21, 2015 council meeting.  SC provided publicity including: email blasts to people who signed our petition; coverage in their chapter newspaper, the Yodeler; and support from their media coordinator, particularly for the significant press conference we held on February 16, 2016.

The SC and WOEIP staff in NCIO are also members of the Bay Area Coal Exports Group (BACEG).  Other members of BACEG are Earthjustice, CBE, San Francisco Baykeepers, and Asian Pacific Environmental Network (APEN).  BACEG predated the Oakland coal controversy.  It is also concerned about coal in Richmond (a relatively small amount is shipped out of a private terminal there, Levin-Richmond Terminal, and is transported through the city in open rail cars) and in Stockton.  Through the SC’s national campaign, Beyond Coal, they are also connected with efforts in the Northwest and elsewhere.

BACEG’s role in the coal campaign included legal action and organizing expert testimony.  Four organizations within BACEG (SC, APEN, CBE and Baykeepers, represented by Earthjustice and SC attorneys) sued the City, asserting that shipping coal required a new Environmental Impact Report.  (  (The suit was dismissed without prejudice, which meant it can be refiled should the developer later apply for permits to store coal at OBOT and the City fail to conduct an environmental quality review.)  BACEG mobilized expert speakers to provide testimony about the dangers of coal to the council (as well as oil, which was briefly considered by the City Council) and they drafted a proposed ordinance.  

NCIO met much more frequently than BACEG, and was focused solely on the Oakland campaign.  BACEG consists of non-profit organizations with paid staff, while NCIO, with the exceptions of the overlapping members, is composed of unpaid activists, mostly from Oakland.  The relationships between NCIO, SC and BACEG included cooperation and complementarity, and also areas of conflict.  NCIO grassroots activists wanted to be represented in BACEG’s meetings, but were not included.  Multiple centers of leadership led to some unnecessary duplication of effort and became particularly problematic when there were differences about strategic direction (for example, relationships with Utah activists, when and how to pressure Governor Jerry Brown, whether to oppose a proposed review of evidence by an environmental consulting firm).   At such times, tension over who was in charge of the campaign, along with poor communication, exacerbated the underlying political differences.


NCIO early on identified the need to recruit labor support.  NCIO activists experienced in other political struggles recognized this is a crucial sector—both to spread the word about the campaign and to put pressure on council members.  The early letter from the Teamsters that supported coal underscored this.  NCIO participants included representatives to the Alameda Central Labor Council, activists in several unions, and two retired labor lawyers.  In addition to understanding the lay of the land in the labor movement, these folks had strong ties to other labor organizers. The alliance that recruited labor against coal was based on pre-existing relationships of trust and respect.

Labor opposition to coal was led by three unions: California Nurses Association/National Nurses Union (CNA), Service Employees International Union Local 1021 (SEIU 1021), and the International Longshore Workers Union (ILWU) Local 10.

The ILWU, which would represent the workers handling coal, had already indicated their refusal to touch the stuff when Bowie made its previous proposal to the Port of Oakland.  Their spokespeople spoke eloquently at council meetings, rallies, radio programs, and newspaper interviews, debunking the jobs claims of the developers and highlighting the health dangers of coal; they also brought their members to several council meetings and rallies.

CNA and SEIU organizers played the major role in persuading the Alameda Labor Council (ALC) to take a stand against coal.  This was the first time the ALC engaged in a debate on climate change and their resolution was one of the great achievements of the campaign.  (  The meme of “jobs versus the environment” has a long history (think spotted owls).  Pro-coal forces exploited this ready-made narrative, which fit neatly with the appalling unemployment rate in West Oakland.  It was critical that the Labor Council, an umbrella organization for over 100 unions with over 100,000 members, voted and acted to oppose coal.  They understood that the job claims were wildly inflated and that handling coal would endanger workers and residents.  The ALC Executive Secretary-Treasurer addressed the City Council at its June 27 hearing, urging the ban on coal.  In addition 19 unions signed our letter to the Mayor and City Council opposing the use of OBOT for coal, while two other unions sent their own letters to this effect.  Several sent representatives who provided testimony at Council hearings or met with council members.  (One activist’s account of mobilizing labor against coal can be found at

In the wake of the decision to oppose coal, the Alameda Labor Council has formed a Climate and Environmental Justice Caucus.  (  The coal campaign is proud of its role in catalyzing environmental activism by local labor forces.


NCIO did not have preexisting relationships with the faith community comparable to our ties to labor, but we realized this was an equally important constituency for the same reasons—getting out the word and influencing council members.

Early on, we had the support of a prominent Black minister from a large church, but he became focused on police brutality issues and was not able to spend time on the coal campaign.  Another pastor organized a series of meetings, hoping to unify clergy against coal; when many of them instead became active supporters of coal, he was discouraged if not broken-hearted.

Meanwhile NCIO activists contacted progressive clergy and recruited some, but we were stumbling in the dark.  Fortunately, through our environmental justice connections, we got in touch with California Interfaith Power and Light (CIPL) and their local affiliate Alameda Interfaith Climate Action Network (AICAN), interdenominational groups that organize religious institutions to address climate change.  They began to work closely with us and to reach out to clergy in their network.  Meanwhile, a pastor in West Oakland became distressed to see his colleagues, with whom he had united on other issues in the Black community, speaking on behalf of coal.  He took up the cause of recruiting ministers opposed to coal and had great success, including persuading both of our early allies to reengage with the effort to stop coal.

When she learned about his outreach to clergy, an NCIO activist introduced this pastor to our group.  In October he began holding monthly evening meetings at his church, bringing in clergy, community members, and NCIO activists for updates and discussions.  Although the three lead people in the NCIO faith outreach effort (an NCIO organizer, CIPL staff, and the West Oakland minister) did not know one another before the campaign began, they quickly developed mutual respect and collaborated well.

Their efforts culminated with three events on February 16.  The first was a press conference which generated a widely circulated photograph of many faith leaders and others active in religious communities standing in opposition to coal. 


(Photo by Tulio Ospina)

Speakers at the press conference, which was well reported, included representatives of many denominations: Baptist, Presbyterian, Episcopal, Jewish, and United Church of Christ, with support from others including Catholic, Islamic, interfaith, and Native American groups.  (
Following the press conference there was a prayer vigil organized by AICAN.  Meanwhile, a number of clergy went into the City Council meeting and spoke together during Open Forum to express the significant opposition to coal among the many faith traditions in Oakland. 


A third constituency NCIO identified as an important source of allies was the business community.  Our outreach to this group was less well-organized and was not lent urgency by a need to combat a pro-coal voice.  Still, we obtained significant support from businesses, including speakers at council meetings and signers of our letter to the Mayor and City Council.  Thirty-four businesses signed our letter, as well as 24 real estate agents recruited by one NCIO activist working in that field.  Probably the most effective speakers from the business world were the representatives of green industries, particularly solar, who spoke of choosing Oakland because of its environmental commitments and indicated they might relocate if coal were shipped through the city.



Along with the focus on these strategic sectors, NCIO reached out throughout the city.  We concentrated on West Oakland, where OBOT will be located, which is already impacted by environmental pollution and resulting health disparities, but we also campaigned throughout the city.  We understood that council members in every district needed to know where their constituents stood—and we wanted to make more people aware of environmental justice issues and of our capacity to organize together and win these battles.  Although our immediate goal was to prevent the use of the OBOT terminal for coal, many of us saw this campaign as part of a broader effort to mobilize for social and environmental justice.

Our community outreach efforts are summarized below in the section on Tactics.

The success of our outreach efforts was apparent in a February, 2016 poll commissioned by the Sierra Club, in which 47% of respondents indicated that they had already heard about the issue.  Once they got background information, 76% of those polled opposed coal shipments and many indicated this issue would affect their votes for council members. This was a scientific poll of 400 likely voters.  A larger but unscientific poll was conducted by State Senator Loni Hancock in support of her legislative efforts against coal.  She invited people to email responses to a series of questions, and 92% of the respondents opposed coal.  (


Elected officials and community leaders

NCIO also reached out to elected officials in nearby jurisdictions, and some of them reached out to us.  Eleven East Bay Area mayors signed a letter to the Oakland City Council (, 25 officials signed our letter to the Mayor and City Council, and seven spoke at the June 27, 2016 council meeting preceding the vote.  (

Because of federal pre-emption of rail traffic decisions, communities have no control over the nature of goods shipped by train through their neighborhoods.  If the Oakland City Council blocked coal at the terminal, there would be no risk of coal transport through their communities, so our neighbors strongly supported our efforts.

Our letter was also signed by 23 community leaders, most of them political activists in a variety of venues.

Environmental justice organizations

Another source of support for the coal campaign was the pre-existing climate justice movement, in which many NCIO participants were already active.  These groups provided publicity, forums for presentations, financial donations, testimony, phone bankers, canvassers, and enthusiasm for our efforts.  The campaign against coal occurred in the context of the work of these groups and provided an inspiring victory for our allies.  Many of them came to our celebration after winning the council vote.

Young people

Parents, teachers and mentors helped us reach young people, whose testimony at the City Council was always effective in emphasizing what is at stake for future generations.  We spoke to some classes, and supported high school students creating a related video project.  Young people, who will inherit the earth we are trying to save, were moving speakers at meetings with council members, at meetings of the council, and at rallies.

Health professionals

Health professionals were natural allies in the campaign against coal, and the California Nurses Association played a prominent role in our labor organizing.  Doctors and nurses organized 200 colleagues and several major associations (representing over 25,000 members) to sign letters of opposition to coal. 

A vital role was played by public health professionals who testified at hearings and submitted written evidence.  ( )  Most impressively, nine prominent public health professionals, working independently without remuneration from the City, produced a report for the June 27, 2016 hearing, endorsed by even more of their colleagues, documenting the health and safety risks of shipping coal.  (

Council members

An important part of our strategy was to identify the positions of each of the council members and who would be most likely to influence each of them.  This analysis shifted over time and was complicated by the fact that the City Attorney instructed them not to announce their positions before all the evidence was submitted to the council.  It seemed clear from the outset that two council members strongly supported a ban, others were uncertain, and one or two opposed a ban.  For a discussion of how we addressed this, see below.


Gene Sharp, who has written extensively on this subject, has identified 198 methods of nonviolent action, including 54 forms of “nonviolent protest and persuasion.”  (  The No Coal in Oakland campaign used at least 22 of these 54 methods.


Very early in the campaign, we created two documents that were crucial to building the movement.  One was a petition we used as an outreach tool.  People who heard about the threat of coal could do something small but immediate by signing the petition.  If motivated, they could take petitions to get additional signatures from family, friends, co-workers, etc.  Canvassers took the petition door to door, signatures were gathered at farmers markets and events, and copies were available whenever we tabled or spoke about the campaign.  The petition was also accessible on line.  Contact information went into the SC data base and was used by SC for emails and phone banking to inform people about council meetings.  Over 3,000 people signed this petition.  Other organizations (notably CREDO) created on-line petitions as well, but our campaign did not have access to their data.

The other document, a letter to the Mayor and City Council, was collectively written. 

(  Eventually 221 individuals and organizations signed on, tangible evidence of the extent of support for our campaign.  Those who were invited to sign may have been more likely to do so when they saw how extensive the support was.  A data base collected contact information about the person who authorized the sign-on and the campaign member who connected with them.  This list was used in the last weeks of the campaign to encourage one more round of contacting council members; to garner endorsers for the rally held two days before the council vote; to ask allies to publicize the rally and council meeting to their own email lists; and in some cases to request donations.

The petition indicated the extent of popular opposition to coal, while the letter to the Mayor identified important organizations and public figures supporting a ban.  Both were expected to have impact on the council members.  These documents were delivered during council hearings, but as the lists continued to grow it is not clear that the final versions ever did reach them.

A third document was a petition to be signed by West Oakland residents only.  With 532 signatures, it was delivered on June 27, 2016, as a reflection of the sentiment in the community that would be most impacted by the potential coal shipments.  This petition could have had many more signatures if we had started using it when we first began canvassing in West Oakland, as many West Oakland residents signed our city-wide petition.  (


Outreach flyers

In addition to the petitions, a major outreach tool was a trifold flyer with background information about the issue as well as information about how to identify and contact the council member representing an Oakland resident's district.  This was a convenient source of facts for supporters.


We had a basic handout that was frequently updated to announce specific events—council meetings, rallies and community activities.  This flyer provided some background information, encouraged people to show up, and indicated how to connect with the campaign.  (One example:      

(We used a union print shop for large orders, and indicated “labor donated” when we printed a few copies of a flyer.)

Another form of outreach was phone banking, which took place at crucial times to mobilize support at council meetings.

Electronic media

NCIO created an email group for “internal” communications.  With some misgivings, we relied on Google technology for our email group and for documents we wanted NCIO activists to be able to access.  We used this email list to circulate the agenda and minutes of our weekly meetings, enabling people to keep abreast of campaign developments even if they didn’t attend a meeting.  We shared news and did some brainstorming about tactics. This email list was remarkably focused on the campaign, avoiding trolls or dogmatists who often undermine on-line discussion groups.

Little dreaming what a formidable task this would turn out to be, a dedicated activist agreed to post NCIO information on a page on the website of the Sunflower Alliance, a climate justice organization in the East Bay closely allied with our objectives.  ( )  This page grew to include links to NCIO documents, the official record of testimony to the City Council, and media reports including articles, blogs and radio interviews.  It was—and remains--an invaluable reference source.

The NCIO website was not launched until March, 2016, but it immediately became an essential repository of information and analysis.  It is hard to imagine how we managed so long without it.  (

A Facebook page and a Twitter account were created at about the same time, further improving our communication capacity.

We also benefited from the on-line presence of many allied organizations that spread the word about our campaign.  Notably, over a dozen organizations publicized the June 27, 2016 council meeting to their email lists, reaching thousands of people (although probably many received multiple mailings).


Community presence

We began door-to-door canvassing in West Oakland very early in the campaign, informing people of the issue and inviting them to a meeting at a local Catholic church that was attended by about 80 people, about half local residents.  Throughout the campaign, such outreach generally received a positive reception, the main shift being that at the outset we were telling people about something they hadn’t heard about, and over time more people were aware of the issue

We had a speaker after services in a West Oakland church, who spoke in both English and Spanish, distributed flyers and obtained 45 signatures of congregants supporting banning coal.  We spoke at several other churches throughout the city.

We tabled at farmers markets, street fairs, an indigenous powwow, and two well-attended West Oakland events at City Slickers Farm and the People’s Community Market.  On National Night Out in August, 2015, many of us visited gatherings in several neighborhoods.

We also attended events with likely supporters, such as showings of the film “This Changes Everything,” handing out literature and sometimes speaking about our campaign.  Many of us showed up for a Bernie Sanders rally on May 30, 2016, where we did extensive leafletting and distributed some of our yard signs.  We staffed a booth at the November 21, 2015 Northern California Climate Mobilization rally, where we distributed literature and collected petition signatures.  Next to the booth, a community artist silkscreened and gave away copies of a No Coal in Oakland poster he designed that quickly became our logo and an enduring image of the campaign.  (See black-and-white version below.)

In addition to participating in community events, we organized our own.  Besides the kick-off meeting in St. Patrick’s Parish, we set up community meetings in four council districts.  We held an intersectional teach-in in December, described below in the section on diversity.  We organized a community picnic at DeFremery Park in West Oakland in May, providing food and music and mobilizing people to speak up against coal.  We held rallies, a well-reported press conference, and a prayer vigil.  (A video of our June 25, 2016 rally is at .)


Art and theater

Another form of community visibility was the NCIO yard sign.  The process of producing this was challenging as we had varied opinions about the design and limited understanding of the technicalities involved in printing them.  When the yard signs became available, we organized strategic distribution—placing more signs in the districts of undecided council members, surrounding the homes of council members when we could locate them, and identifying sites with high traffic and maximum visibility for placement.  With the help of many supporters, 450 of these signs cropped up throughout the city in the final six weeks of the campaign.

The owner of the Grand Lake Theater has often used his marquee for progressive political statements.  During the course of the campaign he several times posted calls for the City Council to ban coal.

As noted and included above, a local artist created a striking design which was silkscreened and distributed at the November Climate Mobilization rally.  In a black-and-white version, this became an identifiable logo for NCIO, appearing on our flyers and yard signs.

Another branding for the campaign was the red tee shirt the Sierra Club is using nationally for its “Beyond Coal” campaign.  This identified our supporters at council meetings, in some cases contrasting with tee shirts by the opposition promoting their (probably fictitious) organizations.

Very early in the campaign, in May, 2015, allies oriented to direct action staged a theatrical event outside the Rotunda Building where Phil Tagami’s office is located.  This was beautifully timed on Bike to Work Day, when hundreds of bicyclists came through the plaza.  We held up banners and distributed literature (although, unfortunately, the flyers arrived rather late).  The demonstrators bicycled in pulling carts of charcoal, spread a tarp surrounded by hazard tape and dumped the loads—creating a cloud of dust.  Several people spoke about the dangers of coal.  The entrance to the Rotunda Building was filled with police officers, as Tagami had asked the mayor to protect his property from us.

At one point a large number of SEIU Local 1021 members, in their union tee shirts, stood in front of the police officers—arguably an act of street theater.

Another theatrical event was a dramatization, “The Embodied Story of Coal,” held before the council meeting on February 16, 2016.  Signs hand made by young people enlivened rallies.  Our dramatic banners appeared at rallies and on one occasion on a freeway overpass.  The weekend before the vote, our demonstrations included placards with portraits of people photographed at previous demonstrations.

(See other photographs at

Singing and music-making was an element of many of our rallies.  One unusual incident involving music took place on June 27, 2016, when we asked people to gather briefly at 4:00 pm before heading into council chambers for the crucial vote.  Occupella, a small group of women singing movement songs, began to perform for the gathering crowd.  Then a large number of people arrived who had been organized and paid by pro-coal forces, apparently misled to believe that excluding coal from OBOT would eliminate potential jobs for them.  This group, carrying placards and chanting loudly, drowned out our music.  As the two groups milled uneasily about each other, another group arrived, members of UNITE HERE Local 2850 (representing workers in hotels and related industries).  Fortuitously, the unionists showed up pounding on drums.  Thanks to their unexpected but timely arrival, the opposition to coal won this non-violent acoustic contest.

Media outreach

In addition to our own media outreach, as indicated above, NCIO benefited from coverage in the progressive and establishment media, as evidenced by the extensive links posted on the campaign page.  (  Initially media repeated inaccurate information from city officials, including that the City had signed away its authority to protect the community from dangers like coal.  Our efforts were critical to educating the City Council, the press, and the public.

Activists were contacted by reporters for interviews and quotes, and spokespeople appeared on several radio programs.  We placed OpEds and used letters to the editor to respond to distorted coverage.  The Oakland Post, the East Bay Express, Earth Island News and Race, Poverty and the Environment were among the media that reported in some depth about our campaign.

Connecting with allies

The sectors we identified to influence council members were in many cases also allies from other struggles.  We reached unions, community groups, and faith organizations not only through their leadership but with direct contact with their members.  Of course the environmental justice movement groups and activists were natural allies.  To different degrees, each of these allies provided us with support-- addressing the council, canvassing, phone banking, helping to organize rallies, and providing publicity, funding and other resources.


Direct lobbying 

The way to win this campaign was to get the City Council to pass an ordinance banning coal and apply it to the OAB development, based on Paragraph 3.4.2 of the Development Agreement.  We needed five votes out of eight in order to pass the ordinance.  Accordingly, a major thrust of our campaign was direct lobbying of council members.

Throughout the campaign, our outreach literature encouraged people to email, call, write or visit their council members.  We have no idea how many people responded to these appeals, but it seems that the city officials heard from a lot of opponents of coal.

We also took a strategic approach to lobbying, identifying as best we could who on the council were our definite supporters, who were undecided and who were likely to oppose a ban.  This assessment—which we reviewed periodically—was challenging because most council members were not forthcoming about their positions.  The City Attorney had instructed them not to take a stand, apparently based on the concern that their decision needed to come after evaluation of all the evidence submitted.  We analyzed the views of council members based on what they did say to us in open conversations and what we could glean from people who had less public interactions with them.

While many different people, some not connected with NCIO, were involved in meetings with council members, we made an effort to strategically identify which constituencies would have most impact on particular members.  We were fortunate that many campaign supporters knew the backgrounds of the council members and some had close connections to members or their staff.  This enabled us to assess how to influence them most effectively.

At times we put together large delegations of constituents to meet with a council member, while at other times we had a smaller group with a more targeted purpose.  Based on our assessments, we organized or encouraged labor folks to meet with one, educators and students to meet with another, clergy to meet with a third. 

Besides meeting with individual council members, we frequently addressed the council in its meetings.  Whenever coal was on the agenda, we mobilized large numbers of people to attend, to speak, to cede their time to other speakers, and to fill the chambers with supporters of the ban.

When coal was not on the agenda, we made use of the Open Forum period in City Council meetings, a chance for residents to address the council for one minute on a topic not up for consideration that night.  Our goal was to continually remind them that we were expecting an ordinance banning coal.  

After a few Open Forums at which individuals spoke, we encouraged several specific constituencies to appear as a group.  Some of our allies who are parents, teachers, and mentors organized a contingent of young people to come and speak; the council president was clearly moved by the voices of children and teens, extending the Open Forum time period to accommodate them.  Another important Open Forum constituency was the faith group that spoke on February 16, 2016.  As mentioned above, a contingent of health professionals, in their white jackets with stethoscopes, also had a powerful impact. 

Since City Council meetings are televised, livestreamed and archived on line, our speeches at council meetings reached not only those in attendance but many others.

Response to the opposition

The major arguments of the pro-coal forces, and our responses, are briefly summarized with links to other documents:

  • Pro-Coal Claim: OBOT would provide thousands of jobs for the unemployed residents of West Oakland.  NCIO Response: The jobs claims were grossly exaggerated, as OBOT itself, a highly mechanized facility, would only generate 117 jobs, and these would be for members of a union with a long waiting list for new members.  (
  • Pro-Coal Claim: Coal transport and handling would have no environmental impact because of the use of covered coal cars and a fully enclosed domed facility.  NCIO Response: We documented that covered coal cars are not in operation anywhere in the U.S., that the Federal Railway Authority has not evaluated their effectiveness for preventing leakage of coal dust during transport, and that covering cars could lead to fires or explosions.  (
  • Pro-Coal Claim: Utah bituminous coal is low-sulfur, and therefore “cleaner” than the China coal it would replace.  NCIO Response: We argued that we need to support a transition to renewable energy, and that any coal burned in China would still increase climate disruption and return pollutants to Oakland, undermining the state’s climate goals as well as local health.
  • Pro-Coal Claim: Without coal, OBOT will not be feasible.  NCIO Response: We pointed out that the developers themselves claimed that 15,000 possible commodities could be shipped.  They argued or implied the whole OAB development would be threatened, an argument that lost any credibility when the rest of the OAB development was separated from Tagami’s project in February, 2016.  We had been mystified that the operators were not looking at alternative commodities, until we learned that TLS is a front for Bowie Resource Partners, the coal company that has no interest in any other commodity.  If TLS abandons OBOT, we expect another use can be found for the property, probably one that generates more jobs and certainly one with safer jobs.
  • Pro-Coal Claim: Poverty is a greater threat to health than coal.  NCIO Response: We do not contest that poverty exacerbates health problems.  This is one of the reasons to oppose shipping coal through a neighborhood already burdened with health disparities.

We responded to these claims at various points in the campaign.  We combatted the coal proponents' inaccuracies in our verbal testimony to the council and written documentation backing up our position.  When the City Council received a letter from the Teamsters Joint Council No. 7, in August, 2015, we promptly sent a rejoinder to the city officials and the union.   (

At the September 21, 2015 hearing which the pro-coal forces paid laborers to attend, we distributed a flyer about jobs without coal and several activists engaged in conversations with the laborers.

On March 24, 2016, the San Francisco Chronicle printed an opinion piece from Michael McClure, a CCIG partner, which was filled with misrepresentations.  The Chronicle published our letter rebutting his falsehoods; we also sent a thorough refutation to the City Council and mayor.  (

Late in the evening of May 22, 2016, we learned that the developers were holding a press conference at 11:00 the next morning.  One of our supporters quickly drafted a response to the distortions in the press release, with some input from others in the campaign.  She and two more campaigners distributed this rebuttal to the media as they arrived for the press conference.  This was a remarkable example of a rapid response from an individual within the campaign.

None of these lies quite prepared us for the colorful mailer that the pro-coal forces (identified as "Jobs4Oakland") sent out to Oakland residents the weekend before the June 27, 2016 vote.  Besides the familiar lies about jobs, the mailer implied the national Sierra Club Board was all white (excluding the pictures of Black members and other people of color) and included logos of supposedly supportive unions that in fact did not endorse the mailer (several located in the Seattle area).  The mailer was egregious enough to lead one council member to issue a press release condemning the inaccuracies.  NCIO put together a flyer refuting the mailer, which we distributed at the June 27 hearing.  (



A key weakness of the campaign was racial diversity.  Although people of color were involved, some very critically, the overall composition of NCIO reflected the current state of the environmental justice movement in the Bay Area.  This was particularly challenging because the visible pro-coal forces were almost all African-American.

We did have significant leadership from African-Americans—on our coordinating committee, working with faith leaders, among the support from labor and attending our weekly meetings.  Many who spoke out against coal were Black leaders of unions and religious congregations.  Based on responses to our outreach, we knew we had the support of most West Oakland residents.  However, we did not bring out the Black community in significant numbers to rallies or council meetings.  This was particularly apparent at the June 27, 2016 meeting when the pro-coal forces paid dozens of African-Americans to show up.

One way we attempted to address this was through intersectionality.  The SEIU organizer spearheaded a teach-in for the coal campaign with other social justice activists, held on December 8, 2015.  We had encouraged people to show up on this date, which was to have seen the council take further steps toward an ordinance, only to find out that that the Council would merely entertain a status report that nothing was happening yet.  We built on the publicity we had already begun to instead bring people to a nearby union office, where we held panels with presentations regarding displacement/gentrification, the Fight for 15/minimum wage, police brutality/Black Lives Matter, and coal. Over a hundred people heard the presentations, which were followed by questions from the audience and cell phone calls to the council members.

NCIO committed to restricting our group to the coal issue, despite the sympathy we had for related social justice issues.  But many of us were involved in these other struggles before and during the coal campaign.  Some of us helped launch the campaign to place three initiatives on the Oakland ballot, regarding improving the rent control ordinance, raising the minimum wage and establishing an empowered civilian police oversight commission.  NCIO members wore our coal campaign tee shirts while supporting housing activists at council meetings.  The two campaigns coordinated our presence at a council meeting where housing issues were hotly contested and our health professionals were speaking during Open Forum.

The pro-coal developers’ arguments had a significant racial subtext.  At the June 27, 2016 hearing it was evident that the developers capitalized on the righteous anger of African-Americans about injustice, turning that anger toward us.  Their narrative was that the opposition to coal consisted of white environmentalists, not necessarily Oakland residents, the kind of people who gentrify the city and are indifferent to the unemployment of its residents.  Ironically, their lobbyist, Greg McConnell, was known for his lobbying in opposition to renter rights and a higher minimum wage, causes generally supported by those fighting the coal threat.

Because of our long-time Oakland roots, personal histories working for social justice, and our collaborations during the coal campaign, many of us were indignant at the attempt by the pro-coal forces to portray us as gentrifiers indifferent to the plight of poor people of color.  However this claim had visual credibility given the absence of a substantial presence of people of color, and particularly of Black people, at our City Council appearances.



NCIO’s organizational structure developed as we went along.  Our weekly meetings were always open, and the group that became active was self-selected.  As we identified projects, we created committees to get that work done.

By November, 2015—halfway through our campaign!--it was clear that the weekly meetings needed to be supplemented by a smaller group that discussed issues in advance and planned the agenda.  We chose as members of the coordinating committee (CC) seven people who were active on the different projects.  The CC generally met in a weekly conference call.  Initially this call was open to everyone in NCIO, but the logistics of managing discussions over the telephone led us to encourage non-members to listen without speaking.  Periodically we invited particular people to join the call because of joint projects.  The recommendations of the CC were brought to the general meeting for adoption or modification.

We attempted to be accessible and transparent throughout the campaign.  The agendas and minutes of our weekly meetings were sent out to our discussion group.  Our email address ( was on all our literature and we responded promptly to emails.       


We realized after a few months that we would need to raise money for campaign expenses, chiefly printing costs (except when making just a few copies, we used a union print shop).  In August, 2015, we set up a GoFundMe site which raised over $6,700 over the life of the campaign (but other organizers should check out alternative crowd sourcing sites, such as YouCaring, which take no commission or a smaller percentage as their fee).  A large fundraising effort through our MailChimp list generated generous responses in the last weeks of the campaign, as did the buckets we passed during the June 25, 2016 rally.  Not counting the anonymous contributions at the rally, over 100 individuals made donations to NCIO of between $10 and $250.

We applied for three grants and received two, from CREDO and the Center for Environmental Health.  Besides the support from WOEIP and SC within NCIO, we received financial donations from eight organizations supporting our work (half were environmental justice organizations, along with a church, two union locals and a progressive political organization).

The evidence

A crucial component of defeating the coal terminal was presenting the City Council with “substantial evidence” regarding health and safety dangers.  I am not going to cover this here except to note that NCIO’s involvement included

(a)  research leading to our own submissions for the September 21, 2015 hearing,

(b) recruiting experts to provide testimony and written evidence for that hearing, and

(c) liaison to the independent panel of public health scientists who wrote a report for the June 27, 2016 vote.


(a)    Our major submission on September 21, 2015, can be found at:


(b)    All documents related to the coal issue, both those submitted to the City and those written by city staff can be found at the City’s website at


(c)    The report of the independent panel is at:

There were two other reports, one by a public health expert (Zoë Chafe), hired by the council member sponsoring the ordinance to ban coal, and one by an environmental consulting firm (Environmental Science Associates, or ESA), hired by the City and working with the City staff.  (These can be found at     [Chafe] and [ESA].)

Together, all these documents provide the “substantial evidence” that justifies the City’s authority to ban coal under the Development Agreement.

Plan B

Although we focused on winning the ban by the Oakland City Council, we pursued several possible back-up plans.


Two NCIO activists visited Utah in August, 2015 to discourage the Community Impact Board (CIB) from investing in Oakland and to connect with activists in the state.  They met with people from the Sierra Club, Peaceful Uprising, and Canyon Country Rising Tide. They presented the CIB members with documentation of the opposition to coal in Oakland, making the point that this was not a wise investment, and they connected with a supportive state senator.  Later in the campaign two Utah activists visited and attended one of NCIO's meetings.  At the June 27, 2016 hearings, three Utah residents addressed the council.

Because the CIB investment was legally suspect, a Utah attorney representing local interests submitted a letter brief to the Utah State Attorney General, with support from us.  NCIO cosigned another letter brief from the Center for Biological Diversity’s attorney regarding the unconstitutionality of the CIB investment proposal.

(The Utah actions currently face legal scrutiny initiated by groups in both Utah and California, with participation by NCIO members.  See


California state legislation

California State Senator Loni Hancock drafted legislation regarding coal exports from California, which NCIO heartily supported, including leafletting at the California Democratic Party Convention about the legislative bills and the Oakland campaign.  (For information about this, see

One of her bills was passed and signed by Governor Brown.  It will stop state funding for any future proposed coal terminals.  It is not relevant for OBOT, which has already used public money and from this point on will raise private funds.  (

Jerry Brown

NCIO was interested in pressuring Governor Jerry Brown to take a stand, since he poses as a climate champion while maintaining a business partnership with Phil Tagami and silence about the coal threat.  At the Vatican he declared that to avoid catastrophic climate change, we must keep 90% of the coal in the ground.  We contacted him before the Paris talks held in December, 2015, with a letter signed by people who might influence him and a personal email from a Jesuit with whom he went to high school.  Brown never responded.

Several months later the San Francisco Chronicle began to target his silence with a couple of prominent articles.  Beginning April 10, 2016 they consistently included him in the “Bad Week” column that appears in the paper's Sunday Insight magazine.  Their first item declared: “Governor, alleged champion of climate-change action: We're reserving a spot in 'Bad Week' until you take a stand on that plan to ship millions of tons of coal through Oakland."  They continued in this vein even after the City Council vote.

We organized a statewide call-out to Brown on April 25, 2016, inviting allies to contact him to oppose coal in Oakland and to support Loni Hancock’s legislation.  (  When Brown visited San Francisco on June 2, NCIO members demonstrated in front of the building where he spoke and handed out flyers about our coal campaign.

Brown’s first statement about coal in Oakland finally came when he signed Senator Hancock’s bill on August 26, 2016, alluding with approval to the Oakland ban.

Federal possibilities

WOEIP staff, who are active in both NCIO and BACEG, are exploring federal remedies under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act.  (

Regulatory agencies

NCIO has made preliminary contact with staff and elected officials at agencies that are involved in funding the OAB project to discuss our concerns about public money going to a facility storing and shipping coal.  We succeeded in getting the Alameda County Transportation Commission to withhold funds for shoring up the wharves where OBOT is to be built until the coal issue is resolved.


On June 27, 2016, the Oakland City Council voted 7-0 (with one member absent) to pass an ordinance prohibiting large quantities of coal in the city, along with a resolution applying this ordinance to the OAB property.  (

On July 19, 2016 a second reading was incorporated into a long consent calendar item.  The whole package passed by consensus so quickly we didn’t even have time to applaud!

At this point the developers may follow through with their threat to sue, and the campaign may need to continue on the legal front.

Guide to Acronyms

AICAN: Alameda Interfaith Climate Action Network

ALC:  Alameda Labor Council

APEN: Asian Pacific Environmental Network

BACEG: Bay Area Coal Exports Groups

CBE: Communities for a Better Environment

CC:  Coordinating committee of NCIO

CCIG:  California Capital and Investment Group

CIB: Community Investment Board (Utah)

CIPL: California Interfaith Power and Light

CNA:  California Nurses Association

ESA:  Environmental Science Associates

ILWU: International Longshore Workers Union

NCIO: No Coal in Oakland

OBOT: Oakland Bulk and Oversized Terminal

OAB:  Oakland Army Base

SC:  Sierra Club

SEIU:  Service Employees International Union

TLS:  Terminal Logistics Solutions

WOEIP:  West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project