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Port Of Richmond Sees A Spike In Coal Exports

RICHMOND (KPIX 5) – People in Richmond have been complaining about more coal trains rumbling through their neighborhood and we got a hold of numbers that show a large increase in coal exports at the Port of Richmond.

It comes after Oakland successfully blocked a coal terminal.

So, is Richmond getting Oakland's coal?

At the Levin-Richmond Port, coal has been piled up and is visible to the naked eye from above.

Data from the U.S. Census Bureau, which tracks trade, shows that in 2015 the port exported 453,000 metric tons of coal.

That dropped to 120,000 metric tons in 2016.

But last year, exports skyrocketed to more than 1 million metric tons, mainly headed to overseas markets in Asia.

"I hadn't been informed of it," said Richmond Mayor Tom Butt. "I had always assumed it was about the same."

The port told KPIX 5 last week that coal exports have been about the same.

But when we told spokesman Jim Holland about the census bureau numbers, he said he had made an "honest mistake."

Holland has refused multiple times to give an on-camera interview.

"I've heard a couple of people postulate that perhaps the coal that would've gone to Oakland is now going to Richmond. I don't know that that's true," said Mayor Butt.

What the port did confirm was that the increased numbers are coming from mines in Utah and Colorado, owned by the same company partnering with Phil Tagami in Oakland, who tried and failed to build a coal shipping port there.

"The real question is what kind of health and environmental impact does it have? And that's a tough question. I think there's a lot of assumptions that there's a lot of coal dust floating around and that may in fact be the case," Mayor Butt said.

Julia Walsh is a retired public health professor at UC Berkeley and she says Richmond and Western Contra Costa County have increased rates of asthma.

She said more coal would only exacerbate that.

"That is appalling," Walsh said. "Yes, I knew that it had substantially increased and when you have these coal trains coming through, they produce a tremendous amount of dust."

The Port of Richmond provided their own numbers on Tuesday afternoon, saying the U.S. Census numbers are not correct. What those port numbers also show is a significant spike in coal deliveries to the Port of Richmond.

Because the port is privately owned, the city of Richmond cannot do anything to stop or halt or slow the deliveries of coal to the port. Only the federal government can regulate that.

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