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Calif. attorney general backs Oakland's appeal of coal export terminal decision

California's attorney general is once again weighing in on a case involving a proposed coal export terminal in Oakland, this time calling for a reversal of a federal judge's ruling against the city's coal ban.

The city granted Oakland Bulk and Oversized Terminal, or OBOT, a lease to build an export terminal at the site of the former Oakland Army Base. After learning the developers intended to ship coal from Utah-based producers seeking access to Asian markets, Oakland instituted a ban on shipping and storing coal in the city. OBOT sued and a federal judge ruled in May that the coal ban breached the city's development agreement with the company. The city is appealing the ruling.

Attorney General Xavier Becerra filed an amicus brief in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals supporting the city, saying state and local governments have a right to retain "police powers" to protect the public as well as manage the tidelands where the terminal would be built.

"The state has a substantial interest in the proper interpretation of development agreements, particularly when the government's power to protect the health and safety of its citizens is in dispute," according to the Dec. 17 filing.

Becerra also argued that by correctly using concepts under the California Environmental Quality Act, the city "appropriately determined" that the coal terminal would present a "substantial danger" to the nearby community.

"The district court incorrectly disregarded the city's reliance on these prevailing environmental standards and instead conducted its own analysis in a manner that inappropriately second-guessed the city's substantial evidence of harm to West Oakland," Becerra wrote.

Becerra said in a statement that the California Department of Justice stands by the city in its effort to protect its citizens.

"The transportation of coal from the terminal would disproportionately hurt communities of color already burdened by pollution and its consequent health effects, such as asthma and cancer," he said. "We are committed to advancing environmental justice wherever possible in our state."

David Smith, legal counsel and spokesperson for the project, said in a statement that OBOT was disappointed that the attorney general's office "chose to weigh in on political grounds rather than the true legal merits of the case."

"The district court found that the materials the city purported to rely on were a sham and lacked any credibility whatsoever," Smith said. "The court's ruling even referred to the city's actions as 'facially ridiculous.' We are confident the 9th Circuit will agree."

Oakland terminated the developer's lease in November, and OBOT has filed another lawsuit alleging the city interrupted the project's progress to prevent its completion.