Tuesday's decision overturns the coal-shipping ban, but the city is still free "to pursue future regulation of the project so long as it complies with its legal obligations, including any legitimate contractual obligations to the project developers", writes Chhabria. "We are reviewing the ruling and will discuss our options with the City Council". "We will continue to fight this battle on all fronts; not just today, but every day". Schaaf famously quarreled with Tagami over the project, writing to him in a 2015 email, "You have been awarded the privilege and opportunity of a lifetime to develop this unique piece of land". At the time, he assured the city he had no interest in shipping coal.
The city has been trying to develop the army base, which is near the Port of Oakland and the Bay Bridge, for almost 20 years.
But word leaked in 2015 that Tagami's Oakland Bulk and Oversized Terminal and the firm created to design, build and operate the facility, Terminal Logistics Solutions, were actively planning for coal shipments from Utah. TLS was reportedly negotiating transporting coal via train from Utah. "We continue to stand with the city and its residents, who made the courageous choice to put the health and well-being of the families and children of Oakland above the machinations of Tagami and his corporate partners". The company's ability to export coal from the West Coast is a lifeline to an otherwise flagging industry due to the fact that other coal export projects on the West Coast have been canceled or blocked by local communities, and the domestic market for coal is declining.
ESA had estimated that OBOT's emissions would exceed state air quality standards for particulate matter 2.5, which the City Council concluded was substantial evidence of substantial danger to health.
The contract with Tagami's company only allows for the city to enact new regulations for the project in the case that it has found "significant evidence" of a danger to health and safety.
The coal plan touched off a widely publicized dispute between Tagami and Schaaf and prompted the City Council to pass both an ordinance banning coal shipments and a resolution specifically prohibiting the fossil fuel from passing through the new bulk terminal. In a scathing ruling, U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria in San Francisco said the information the city relied on to conclude that coal operations would pose a substantial health or safety danger to the public was "riddled with inaccuracies" and "faulty analyses, to the point that no reliable conclusion about health or safety dangers could be drawn from it". Roughly 5 million metric tons of coal or coke could be shipped through the terminal each year. But the report never compared this pollution to other sources.
"The city was not required to compile a flawless evidentiary record; far from it", Chhabria wrote.
The decision cheered coal proponents while opponents said they would continue to fight for cleaner air. "I believe there's more than substantial evidence in the record", said Kalb.
For instance, the judge said, the study failed to assess steps the terminal developers have promised to take to limit the spread of coal dust. But Chhabria was unconvinced. "The lack of existing data about the effectiveness of a new technology like rail auto covers is not enough of a reason to assume them away, particularly when the developers have committed to using them".
"Given the record before it, the City Council was not even equipped to meaningfully guess how well these controls would mitigate emissions", Chhabria wrote in his 37-page ruling.
The decision says these include apparent errors in some of the coal-dust emission data in the ESA report; a flawed analysis of the coal terminal's overall impact on air quality in Oakland; a failure to consider the role of regional air quality regulators in limiting emissions from the terminal; and a lack of evidence to back up concerns about fire danger, worker safety and the facility's potential contribution to global warming. The judge also criticized the city and its consultant's omission of any consideration of how the Bay Area Air Quality Management District would regulate the coal terminal, saying they only made "fleeting reference" to its powers.