Blog Post

Insight: Is Utah Coal Going Global? Maybe.

By: Thomas Holst

A District Court judge recently overturned an Oakland City Council coal ban aimed at preventing deliveries of Utah coal, primarily from Carbon and Emery counties, from entering Oakland and loading onto tankers destined for Asian markets.

However, Oakland city officials plan to appeal the District Court judge’s decision.

The Oakland case arose when a local developer acquired the rights to develop waterfront acreage previously occupied by a military camp. After the developer announced plans to tranship coal through the terminal, the Oakland City Council enacted a ban on coal because public safety may be endangered by coal dust from uncovered rail cars.

This case is uniquely compelling because of the impact it could have on Utah counties as well as issues of constitutionality, the environment, sovereignty, and public safety.

Utah Counties

Demand for coal in the United States is dwindling, meaning a slowdown in revenue for areas with a large coal industry presence, such as Carbon and Emery counties. Gaining access to customers on a global scale could be a potential boon for these economies.

Constitutionality

Coal advocates sought to overturn the Oakland coal ban on grounds that only the federal government can regulate interstate commerce.

Environment

States along the West Coast have embraced renewable energies; California has already enacted legislation blocking transmission of coal-fired electricity in the next decade. Observers have queried if the Oakland coal ban is a “keep it in the ground” tactic that would prevent Japan, a member of the Paris climate agreement, from receiving coal at its two coal-gasification plants in Fukushima, site of the 2011 nuclear accident. After the Fukushima accident, Japan has shifted its energy mix away from nuclear based on its perceived risks.

Sovereignty

Japan is a sovereign entity acting in its own self-interest. Should California be allowed to enforce its policy preference on Japan? What would be the consequences if the proposed Oakland coal b