California nixes funding for coal export terminals

Governor’s bill blocks transport to markets in Asia.

 

Last week, California Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill that prohibits the California Transportation Commission from funding new coal exports.  

The bill cuts coal out of a massive import and export hub, the Oakland Bulk and Oversized Terminal, that is currently being constructed on top of a former Army base. The sprawling concrete connects the West Coast’s sea routes to rail lines in the rest of the West. Beginning in 2018 it will ship hard-to-transport products like cars and agricultural machinery as well as commodities like steel, lumber — and, until recently, coal — to booming Asian markets abroad.

oakland_california_aerial_view-jpg
The port of Oakland, California, where the Oakland Bulk and Oversized Terminal will begin shipping in 2018.
Wikicommons

Brown’s bill follows a June decision by the City of Oakland to ban the transport and storage of large shipments of coal from the city. The terminal drew public opposition from many residents who viewed coal exports as moving away from the state’s ambitious climate goals and for the possible health effects of transporting coal through a city with already-high asthma rates.

Proponents of the ban have also criticized tax dollars to fund new coal exports that Brown says block the opportunity for renewable to take the place of coal. “In California, we’re divesting from thermal coal in our state pensions, shifting to renewable energy, and last year coal exports from California ports declined by more than one-third, from 4.65 million to 2.96 million tons,” Brown said in a statement. “That’s a positive trend we need to build on.”

California’s ban on funding coal export is the latest West Coast roadblock for the contracting coal industry. In March, Oregon became the first state in the country to pass legislation that would completely end the use of coal for electricity by 2030. In June a proposed coal export terminal north of Bellingham, Washington, was rejected by the Army Corps of Engineers because it would have infringed on the Lummi Nation’s fishing treaty rights.

The coal industry meanwhile has been in sharp decline, from a combination of federal regulations like the Clean Power Plan and market forces: the cost of natural gas is historically low and is out-competing coal. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, natural gas is expected to surpass coal for use in electrical power generation some time this year. Those two sources now account for about 32 percent of America's electricity each. The dwindling domestic market has motivated some Western states to seek out Asian markets for coal, contributing to a push for export terminals like the one originally planned for Oakland.

Proponents of Brown’s bill say it will curtail coal exports and in the process encourage global market to move towards renewable energy. But that may be happening already: While China's economic growth has depended on coal, its appetite for it seems to have waned. Demand for coal there decreased this year, according to the EIA’s 2016 International Energy Outlook report.

Paige Blankenbuehler is an editorial fellow at High Country News. She tweets

Note: This story has been updated to reflect the corrected name of the Oakland Bulk and Oversized Terminal.

High Country News Classifieds
  • COMING TO TUCSON?
    Popular vacation house, furnished, 2 bed/1 bath, yard, dog-friendly. Lee at [email protected] or 520-791-9246.
  • DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR
    Crested Butte Land Trust seeks a development director to lead its fundraising efforts. Remote and unspoiled, Crested Butte is located in one of the Rockies...
  • PRICE REDUCED $94,300 - LOT SOUTH OF MONTROSE
    5-Acre Home Site, Great Views with Spectacular Sunsets From a South Facing Home Site. Excellent for Passive Solar Design. Covenants, No HOA. Keller Williams Co....
  • CHARMING HOME/FARM NEAR CLIFF, NM
    3 bed/2 bath, detached strawbale building. 11.7 acres, barn, corrals, fenced. Wells, solar panels, greenhouses. Paved access. 575-535-2568.
  • STAFF ATTORNEY
    WildEarth Guardians seeks two public interest-focused staff attorneys with a minimum of 5 years experience to join our legal team. Experience with at least some...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF NEW MEXICO WILDLIFE FEDERATION
    The New Mexico Wildlife Federation is seeking an Executive Director, a visionary leader who is passionate about public lands, dedicated to executing an innovative strategic...
  • CUSTOMER SERVICE SPECIALIST I
    HIGH COUNTRY NEWS Customer Service Specialist I General Statement of Duties: Works closely with the customer service manager performing high-volume routine computer database work. Also...
  • ARAVAIPA LAND STEWARD
    The Aravaipa Land Steward coordinates preserve stewardship work and general operations including maintenance and general preserve management. Implements preserve management plans, which may include species...
  • VP OF DEVELOPMENT
    seeks a talented and dynamic development professional, with a passion for protecting our natural environment, to lead our development and fundraising team.
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Native American Fish and Wildlife Society seeks an Executive Director in Denver, CO to serve as the Chief Administrator of the national Native American...
  • DEVELOPMENT ASSISTANT
    High Country News seeks a development assistant to assist with fundraising campaigns. HCN is an award-winning, national news magazine. Strong candidates will have experience administering...
  • LAND ACQUISTIONS SPECIALIST - RENEWABLE ENERGY
    Energiekontor US seeks experienced local candidate, must reside in western South Dakota. Send resume and cover letter to: [email protected]
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Seeking passionate full-time Executive to lead the oldest non-profit organization in Idaho. Must have knowledge of environmental issues, excellent organizational, verbal presentation and written skills,...
  • CONSERVATION DIRECTOR
    Carbondale based public lands advocate, Wilderness Workshop, seeks a Conservation Director to help direct and shape the future of public land conservation on the West...
  • TROUT UNLIMITED BIGHORN RIVER BASIN PROJECT MANAGER
    The Bighorn River Basin Project Manager identifies and implements projects to improve streamflows, restore stream and riparian habitat, improve fish passage and rehabilitate or replace...
  • DIRECTOR OF VISITOR SERVICES & BOOKSTORE OPERATIONS
    The San Juan Mountains Association in Durango, CO is seeking a Director of Visitor Services & Bookstore Operations to lead our visitor information program &...
  • INTERNET-BASED BUSINESS FOR SALE
    Dream of owning your own business, being your own boss, working from home ... this is the one. 928-380-6570, www.testshop.com. More info at https://bit.ly/2Kgi340.
  • TRIPLEX .8 ACRE KANAB, UT
    Create a base in the center of Southern Utah's Grand Circle of National Parks. Multiple residential property with three established rental units and zoning latitude...
  • LIGHTWEIGHT FLY ROD CASES
    4 standard or custom lengths. Rugged protection for backpacking. Affordable pricing.
  • FIVE-ACRE VIEW LOT WITH WELL
    5 acres, well. Abuts Carson NF; hike fish ski; deer turkey elk.