The Oakland City Council recently established a Department of Race and Equity, hoping to address social and racial disparities in Oakland.
How ironic that the Oakland Global Trade and Logistic Center is seeking to turn West Oakland into the largest coal export facility on the West Coast.
West Oakland is a low-income, largely African-American community, and the issue of environmental justice can hardly be overlooked.
Black lungs matter.
In 1987 the United Church of Christ Commission for Racial Justice published an explosive report titled "Toxic Wastes and Race in the United States." People of color, especially African-Americans, the report demonstrated, are the most likely victims of industrial pollution. Based on the findings, the Rev. Ben Chavis helped launch the movement against environmental racism.
West Oakland already bears a disproportionate burden of pollution, of toxic contamination from diesel exhaust spewing from thruways crisscrossing through the community.
Some years ago, the Pacific Institute and the 7th Street Neighborhood Improvement Initiative released a report that showed residents of West Oakland face five times more toxic pollution per person than residents of the city of Oakland.
Life expectancy of West Oakland residents is far below the life expectancy of residents in the Oakland hills, and West Oakland tenants are twice as likely to visit emergency rooms for asthma as the rest of Alameda County.
Recently, members of the Alameda Interfaith Climate Action Network joined No-On-Coal to canvass West Oakland. One woman stood in a doorway and said, "They wouldn't put all this coal out there in Lafayette. We get the coal; they get the trees."
To be sure, no community, rich or poor, should endure the effects of coal. But the environmental inequity of the coal terminal project cannot be disregarded.
Albert Kueffner, who volunteers at the Western Service Workers Association at Peralta and 12th streets, was one of the local canvassers. He said, "Most people we talked had asthma or had a child or a family member or a close friend with asthma. A black mother had two young sons on breathing machines. Because of polluted air the kids couldn't go outside and play."
Coal is the largest source of carbon emissions in the world, accounting for more than 44 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions. There is no such thing as clean coal.
It makes no sense for Gov. Jerry Brown and Oakland Mayor Libby Schaff to return from Paris only to watch the City Council welcome coal to Oakland.
Majora Carter, co-founder of Green For All, once said, "If power plants, waste handling, chemical plants and transport systems were located in wealthy areas as quickly and easily as in poor areas, we would have had a clean, green economy decades ago."
Recently, the Rev. Kwasi Thornell of St. Augustine Episcopal Church in West Oakland reflected on the coal terminal project: "Urban poor and minority communities have been the dumping ground for environmental waste products for a long time, and as a result, there's a long history of respiratory diseases in those communities."
It's not complicated. We, too, say no to coal in West Oakland because black lungs matter.
The Rev. Kenneth Chambers is pastor of West Side Missionary Baptist Church in Oakland. The Rev. Ben Daniel is pastor of Montclair Presbyterian Church in Oakland. Paul Rockwell is a member of the Alameda Interfaith Climate Action Network.