Long Beach City Council upholds decision on coal exports

Source: Long Beach Press Telegram

LONG BEACH >> Coal and petroleum coke will continue to be exported from the Port of Long Beach.
The City Council voted 9-0 Tuesday to uphold a June decision by the harbor commission approving a 15-year lease for Oxbow Energy Solutions LLC, led by founder and CEO Bill Koch, and a 20-year renewal lease for Metropolitan Stevedore Co. to use a 5.4-acre site with a coal shed on Pier G south of the Queen Mary.
The Sierra Club, Communities for a Better Environment, the Natural Resources Defense Council and Earthjustice had appealed the decision, questioning the health effects on the surrounding neighborhoods and the ethics of shipping greenhouse gas-emitting fuels to countries in Asia.
Harbor commissioners approved the leases after finding the barn is exempt from the California Environmental Quality Act because operations have not changed since a 1992 report found that there would be no “significant adverse environmental impacts.”
Environmentalists and community members vigorously objected, and pushed for a new, extensive review during a more than two-hour hearing to determine whether commissioners acted properly.
Jesse Marquez, executive director for the Coalition for a Safe Environment, argued that the public was less educated and engaged on environmental issues 22 years ago, the last time the lease was up for renewal.
“We have a situation here where you need to use common sense,” said Marquez, a Wilmington resident.
Port officials present at the hearing said concerns raised by opponents — such as the transportation of coal to Pier G via uncovered rail cars — are immaterial because the situation will be the same in the new agreement and cause “no new impacts” and thus do not require a new review.
Council members ultimately agreed. While some did express a desire to lessen the environmental impacts of the coal exporting, they said the interstate transport of the commodity is regulated by the federal government.
“I don’t think that’s personally in the purview of this council,” said Councilman Al Austin.
Metropolitan Stevedore Co. has operated the Pier G coal shed since 1962 and has subassigned the facility to companies such as Oxbow, the only entity presently using the barn.
According to the port, coal exports this year are projected at 1.72 million tons, down from a high of 2.35 million tons in 1996. The Virginia ports of Newport News and Norfolk exported a combined 44 million metric tons of coal in 2012.
Still, exporting coal is a big business for the Port of Long Beach, which will increase its profits in the new agreement through a direct lease with Oxbow.
Harbor Department spokesman Art Wong said earlier Tuesday that the port receives $15 million to $20 million annually from coal exports, about 5 to 6 percent of the port’s $350 million revenue stream.
“The port is a public agency,” Wong said. “It’s our fiduciary responsibility to get fair market value for our assets.”
Contact Eric Bradley at 562-499-1254. Staff writer Karen Robes Meeks contributed.