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California Senate moves to delay Oakland coal-export plant

Legislature • Utah appropriated $53M for Oakland facility; environmentalists are vehemently opposed.

In this December 2008 photo, the former Oakland Army Base stands in Oakland, Calif. Oakland officials have approved a $1 billion deal to transform the former base into a state-of-the-art distribution center that's expected to create thousands of jobs. With a 7-0 vote Tuesday, June, 19, 2012, the city council approved a series of agreements with developers to transform 130 acres of the former base into a shipping, packaging and warehousing complex next to the Port of Oakland. (AP Photo/Bay Area News Group, Laura A. Oda) MAGS OUT LOCALS PLEASE CREDIT

Sacramento, Calif. • Democrats in the California Senate on Wednesday approved legislation that would delay a proposed export facility in Oakland to ship Utah coal to Asia, a project that's drawn fierce opposition from environmentalists.

Senators voted to require a more rigorous environmental review of the plan.

The possibility of a coal shipping terminal has roiled Oakland for more than a year as environmentalists worry about the health impact of sending millions of tons of the fossil fuel annually through the city on its way to Asia.

The Utah Legislature earlier this year approved $53 million in public funding to help four rural counties ­— Sevier, Carbon, Emery and Sanpete ­— invest in the coal terminal, reasoning that the local economies depend on the coal industry.

California Gov. Jerry Brown, who has worked to build an image as a global leader in the fight against climate change, has so far remained quiet on the proposal. Brown is a former mayor of Oakland. The project's lead developer, Phil Tagami, told the San Francisco Chronicle that Brown is a longtime friend of his.

If the bill clears the California Legislature, it would need Brown's signature to take effect. Evan Westrup, a spokesman for the governor, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

SB1277 is the only surviving piece of a slate of proposals by Oakland Democratic Sen. Loni Hancock seeking to slow or derail the project in her district.

Environmental studies done so far looked generically at commodity exports and did not consider the impacts of coal, Hancock said. An additional review "will help ensure any impacts of shipping coal through the port and community are analyzed and addressed," she said.

Critics of the bill say coal shouldn't be treated differently from other commodities.

The Senate's 25-13 vote fell along party lines with Republicans opposed. The measure goes next to the state Assembly, where environmental legislation has recently struggled to get past moderate Democrats who often side with business interests.

Jerry Bridges, president and CEO of the company that wants to ship the coal, says Oakland desperately needs the jobs. He also said the coal will be transported via covered rail cars and unloaded through underground chutes, greatly reducing the possibility of coal dust in the air.

The project is also controversial because Tagami had announced in 2013 that no coal would be shipped through the proposed $880 million development on the former Oakland Army Base. That changed in 2014 after he partnered with Bridges' company, which has talked with Utah about exporting coal mined in that state.

The Oakland City Council is prepared to vote later this month on whether to stop the proposal.

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Associated Press writer Janie Har in San Francisco also contributed to this story.

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