Environment & Science

Environmental groups challenge coal export leases in Long Beach

Two companies have exported coal and coal byproducts to Japan and China for years. A recent decision at the Port of Long Beach is under appeal by environmental groups who say those exports are environmentally harmful and deserve scrutiny.
Two companies have exported coal and coal byproducts to Japan and China for years. A recent decision at the Port of Long Beach is under appeal by environmental groups who say those exports are environmentally harmful and deserve scrutiny.
Photo by Izabela Reimers via Flickr Creative Commons

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Environmental groups have appealed a decision allowing the Port of Long Beach to export more than one million tons of coal products through its docks. The move amplifies locally a growing national debate over the safety and legality of coal exports.

The Port of Long Beach has permitted two companies to export coal and coal by-products for years. One of them is Oxbow Industries, an energy development company founded and helmed by William Koch, a billionaire who like his more well known brothers Charles and David has donated millions to conservative causes and politicians.

Earlier this month, Long Beach’s board of harbor commissioners voted to extend lease agreements with Oxbow and with Metro Stevedores, companies that send coal and petroleum byproducts to China and Japan.

Harbor commissioners sought only negative declarations of environmental harm for the two projects, less extensive reports required under the California Environmental Quality Act when a project’s backers say no “significant adverse environmental impacts” will result from a green light.

Environmental advocacy groups, including Communities for a Better Environment, Sierra Club, and the Natural Resources Defense Council, have appealed the decision to the Long Beach City Council in a letter delivered Monday.

They argue uncovered rail shipments of coal and petroleum coke originating in Utah and Colorado expose communities along the route and near where the products are stored to harmful dust. And they point out petroleum byproducts will eventually be burned in countries that underregulate greenhouse gas emissions.

Earthjustice attorney Adrian Martinez, who represents two of the three groups, argues those factors mean the harbor commission should have answered more questions about the environmental consequences of operations at harbor sites.

“What are the impacts of extending and expanding exports of coal and petroleum coke, two incredibly polluting fuels, on the environment?” he asks.

The groups are taking aim at Long Beach’s status as the world’s Best Green Port, a title given to the city by a cargo trade publication.

Proponents of the lease extensions say they support local jobs. Current Long Beach mayor Bob Foster wasn’t available for comment Monday. It remains unclear how the city will decide on the appeal.