Less press is best,” wrote Jeffrey Holt in an email to commissioners in four Utah counties. “Controlled message is critical.” Suspend disbelief for a moment that Holt, an investment banker, might have an ulterior motive in stressing secrecy on a multimillion-dollar deal to transport coal from Utah to Asia via Oakland. The Express recently published an extensively researched article (see “Banking on Coal in Oakland,” 8/19) that detailed the backroom negotiations behind the coal shipment plan and the two men leading them: Phil Tagami, a developer in Oakland, and Holt, who also happens to be Utah’s state transportation commissioner.
After combing through emails, contracts, and reports, the Express‘ Darwin BondGraham detailed how the backroom policy of “less press is best” began to unravel on April 8. That was the day that Holt wrote the email to express dismay about losing control of messaging after a Utah newspaper report had described a $53 million loan to four Utah counties to build railroads to transport coal from Utah to Oakland. So key is Oakland’s terminal to the operation of one of the mines, the Sufco mine, that the loan is contingent on securing the Oakland terminal for coal. As BondGraham concluded, “… shipping coal through Oakland likely will lead to a massive expansion of coal mining in Utah that might not otherwise occur.”
Hence, the secrecy stressed by Holt. But it’s not just Holt who has a financial interest in secrecy. The Express reported that in these emails, “Holt also wrote that Tagami was disappointed that the plan to export coal had been made public. ‘Phil Tagami had been pleased at the low profile that was bumping along to date on the terminal and it looked for a few days like it would just roll into production with no serious discussion.'”
In other words, Oakland’s Tagami and Utah’s Holt committed to conducting deals behind a shroud of opacity to make sure coal would find its way through Oakland. And it almost worked.
Unfortunately for Tagami, Holt, and their industry and finance allies, a serious discussion on the environmental and health impacts of communities in the vicinity of the extracting and exporting of coal is now happening. We were told that coal would not be apart of this deal, and we are determined to keep it that way. The greed of two men should not dirty this project, which should bring great jobs and economic growth to Oakland — without endangering environmental and public health.