Richmond City Council Approves Ordinance to Phase Out Coal, Coke Storage

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Despite threats of lawsuits from a waterfront coal storage business, the Richmond City Council approved an ordinance Tuesday night to phase out storage of coal and petroleum coke in that city.

The ordinance gives businesses three years to wind down coal and coke storage operations. In practice, the ordinance will directly affect only one Richmond business, Levin-Richmond Terminal Corporation on the Santa Fe Channel east of Point Richmond and south of the Iron Triangle neighborhood. The terminal stores coal shipped from Utah mines before export to Japan. Levin also stores petroleum coke, a byproduct of oil refining, from the Phillips 66 refinery in Rodeo before it is shipped.

The proposed "coal ordinance," as Mayor Tom Butt called it, was created following complaints from the public about increased coal dust in the air in parts of Richmond. It would govern only the storage of coal in Richmond; it will not have any effect on transportation of coal through the city by rail. Levin's waterfront site could transition to storing other materials, according to a Richmond city staff report.

At the Richmond council's Dec. 3 meeting, dozens of speakers addressed the council about the coal ordinance. Many were Levin employees or their union leaders who fear Levin's 62 jobs would be lost because of the ordinance. A number of others were community activists, health professionals or other residents concerned about high asthma rates in the city, and coal dust's possible role in that.

At that meeting, Levin officials told council members the company would sue the city if this ordinance was approved.

Several people spoke Tuesday night in general terms about the need for good-paying, middle-class jobs in Richmond, without mentioning Levin or the coal ordinance.

"I am only one voice, but that voice echoes a thousand times over," said Michael Dilorenzo, a Levin employee who also spoke Dec. 3. "And for every voice, there's a vote."

Butt let about a half dozen people address the Levin issue -- indirectly -- before asking them to stop.

"I have to admire the creativity you're using to talk about coal," Butt said.

The council had virtually no discussion Tuesday night before voting. Butt, along with council members Eduardo Martinez and Jael Myrick voted "yes" on the ordinance; Councilman Nat Bates, who voted "yes" initially, changed his vote to "no" a short time later.

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