California Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation Aug. 26 banning state transportation funding for new coal export terminals.
The bill represents a victory for environmentalists as they campaign aggressively to block shipments of coal from the West Coast to energy-hungry markets in Asia.
The legislation was introduced in response to a developer’s failed proposal to build a coal terminal in Oakland. The project would have involved funding from the state of Utah, which hoped to create jobs in an economically depressed area of the state.
Environmentalists say exporting coal from the U.S. would discourage China and other Asian countries from investing in cleaner technology, exacerbating global warming.
“Coal is an antiquated industry and we need to accept that as a reality and not think otherwise,” said Dan Kalb, an Oakland City Council member who opposed the coal terminal.
Brown has been vocal in calling for aggressive action to combat climate change but had avoided weighing in on the proposed Oakland coal facility. Brown, a Democrat and a former mayor of Oakland, is friends with the developer, Phil Tagami.
Larry Kamer, a spokesman for Tagami, declined to comment on the governor’s action.
In a letter to lawmakers, Brown said the state and local governments should seek to reduce and ultimately eliminate coal shipments through all California ports.
“I believe action on multiple fronts will be necessary to transition away from coal,” he wrote.
Coal from Utah is currently shipped through ports in Richmond, Stockton and Long Beach.
SB1279, which applies to projects proposed after Jan. 1, 2017, will prohibit state transportation funds—a key source of money for port construction—from being used to expand those facilities or build new ones involving coal shipments.
Critics of the legislation say it may violate federal law and treaties, and they object to coal being treated differently from other commodities.
The debate over coal has grown increasingly contentious across the West Coast, setting up tense battles between environmentalists and communities seeking jobs in coal-producing western states.
With declining demand for coal in the United States, companies in Montana, Wyoming, Utah and elsewhere want to ship instead to Asia.