Oakland Asks Judge to Throw Out Coal Lawsuit

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The City of Oakland filed a motion in federal court today asking a judge to dismiss a lawsuit aimed at neutralizing the city's recently enacted ban on the storage and handling of coal.

Oakland was sued in December by developer Phil Tagami and his company, the Oakland Bulk Oversized Terminal. Tagami alleges that the coal ban violated his company’s contractual right to build a fossil fuel export hub at the old Oakland Army Base near the foot of the Bay Bridge.

But according to the city, Tagami's company never had any vested rights to store and handle coal.

See also: Banking on Coal in Oakland

"The [development agreement] did not expressly provide a vested right to store or handle coal or coke at the Terminal, nor any vested right to be free of further health and safety regulations of the type at issue," attorneys for the City of Oakland wrote in papers filed with the court today.

Tagami's company obtained control over the land at the old Oakland Army Base in 2013 and planned to build a bulk commodity export terminal from the start. But in 2015, four Utah counties attempted to invest $53 million in the project in order to secure the right to ship millions of tons of coal through it each year. Numerous Oakland residents, labor unions, environmental groups, and religious leaders opposed the coal proposal and demanded the city block it.

Last June, the Oakland City Council voted to ban the storage and handling of coal. The vote followed a lengthy period of study and public comment which resulted in a finding by the city that the coal terminal would negatively impact the health and safety of Oakland residents and workers.

However, Tagami and his attorneys have maintained all along that the city's policy is preempted by federal laws governing the transportation of commodities via railroads and ships. They say their original proposal for a bulk commodity terminal included coal as one of its potential goods.

For several months after the coal ban was implemented, the city and attorneys representing Tagami met for months attempting to hash out a settlement, according to a December 7 letter sent by one of Tagami's lawyers to Mayor Libby Schaaf and the City Council. But the talks didn't resolve anything.

Tagami filed suit in December against the city.

Protesters rallied earlier today outside the Rotunda Building, where the Oakland Bulk Oversized Terminal's offices are located, in support of the city's effort to defend the coal ban.

"If this lawsuit is successful, it would prevent local communities throughout the country from protecting themselves against environmental catastrophes," said Michael Kaufman, a member of the No Coal in Oakland Coalition.

Reverend Ken Chambers, who leads the Westside Missionary Baptist Church in West Oakland, called on Tagami to end the litigation against the city. "It's a waste of money, a waste of time, and a waste of energy," he said.

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