Two Oakland City Council committees unanimously approved measures yesterday that would, in different ways, combat the harm being done by fossil fuels to the City of Oakland and to the planet. The Council Public Works Committee passed a proposal to ban the shipment of coal through the city and the Port of Oakland and to oppose the shipment of crude oil on railroad tracks through Oakland. And the council Finance Committee approved a measure that would remove city funds from investments in fossil fuel companies and urge public retirement funds and other local communities to do the same.
If the full council passes the measure on the shipment of fossil fuel, authored by Councilmembers Dan Kalb, Lynette Gibson McElhaney, and Rebecca Kaplan, Oakland would join Berkeley and Richmond in opposing the shipment of crude oil on railroad tracks through their communities. Cities do not have the power to actually ban these shipments because only the federal government can regulate railroads.
- Maya Sugarman/File photo
- Chevron’s Richmond Refinery.
But the Oakland measure goes further, also banning the transportation of coal and petroleum coke (an extremely toxic byproduct of oil refining) through the city and through the Port of Oakland. A background document points out that 27 communities in Oregon and Washington have already passed resolutions against coal shipment and export and describes the danger that trains transporting coal pose to the communities along the route. Coal is usually shipped in open cars that typically lose hundreds of pounds of coal as they travel, spreading highly toxic coal dust into surrounding areas.
The document also points to the recent increase in the shipment of crude oil by rail, which has resulted in numerous derailments and some explosions, including the one in Lac Megantic in Quebec last summer that killed 47 people. In Oakland, rail lines “pass through our most vulnerable communities of East and West Oakland, which, throughout Oakland’s history, have been exposed to significant environmental harm from industrial and commercial uses,” the proposal states.
The other measure, to divest city funds from fossil fuel companies, would further the goals of Oakland’s Energy and Climate Action Plan adopted in 2012 to promote policies and practices that help reduce the threat of climate change, said author Dan Kalb. In passing the measure Oakland would join Richmond, Berkeley, San Francisco, and dozens of cities around the world in a growing movement for divestment. This movement, wrote Bill McKibben, founder of the climate-change organization 350.org, will not have its impact “by directly affecting share prices, at least in the short run — these companies are the richest enterprises in history. Instead, as the country’s colleges, cities and denominations begin to cut their ties, we’ll start to revoke the social license of these firms.” McKibben has also pointed out that cities, universities, and other bodies that take their money out of fossil fuel can redirect their investments to clean energy.
The Oakland measure would also call on Oakland Municipal Employees’ Retirement System (OMERS), The Oakland Police And Fire Retirement System (PFRS), the California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS), and neighboring communities to join in divesting funds from fossil fuel. Oakland has previously taken its funds out of companies that produce alcohol, tobacco, firearms, and nuclear weapons.
Both measures are expected to go before the full council on June 17.