San Francisco Bay Chapter Sierra Club

Clean Air for West Oakland

The Port of Oakland and the future Oakland Army Base terminal may begin exporting coal and petroleum coke (a byproduct of refining heavy crude oil). The increased freight traffic carrying coal would intensify the air pollution already plaguing West Oakland, threatening local public health and safety.

About 60,000 pounds of coal dust is lost every time an open-top coal train makes the trip from the mine to the export terminal on the coast. Air pollution in West Oakland already causes many health problems for residents, including pollution-induced asthma, cancer, and heart and lung disease. Exporting coal and petroleum coke would exacerbate air pollution in West Oakland and lead to even more health and safety risks.

In 2014, the Chapter helped persuade the Port of Oakland to reject a proposal to build a dirty, dangerous coal and petroleum-coke export facility (for details see "Port of Oakland rejects coal export terminal--Bay Chapter launches coal campaign with victory"), but the fight continues.

To learn more about the Chapter's campaign to prevent coal exports through the Port of Oakland and the future Oakland Army Base terminal, visit our Coal page.

Port of Oakland

Photo Credit: Michael Mees //

Community and Health Impacts from the Port of Oakland

Toxic diesel pollution from the Port of Oakland has major health impacts on the neighboring West Oakland community:

  • people living near the Port live a decade less than Oakland Hills residents;
  • one in five West Oakland children suffers from asthma.
Join the Sierra Club Bay Chapter, working together with the West Oakland community, to clean up West Oakland air. Join also in our West Oakland energy-conservation campaign.


The Port of Oakland loads and unloads 99% of the containerized goods in northern California. All cargo containers there must be transferred to truck before arriving at consumer stores like Home Depot and Costco. The 2,000 trucks operating out of the Port pollute West Oakland, East Oakland, and the I-880 Corridor, contributing to premature death, asthma, cancer, and heart disease.

At the heart of the problem is the strategy of the trucking companies (and their clients such as Target and Wal-Mart) to save money by paying drivers as contractors rather than as employees. This way the companies don’t have to buy trucks and diesel fuel, maintain equipment, or contribute to Social Security, unemployment insurance, or workers’ compensation. Individual drivers – impoverished according to most credible studies – must assume all costs and liability associated with port hauling. Old polluting trucks are all these low-wage drivers can afford; that's why U.S. seaports are dubbed “the place where old trucks go to die.”

Nearby communities and workers suffer the effects of toxic air: unnaturally high rates of asthma, cancer, and premature death. Toxic diesel pollution is choking our neighborhoods.

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The Solution

The San Francisco Bay Chapter of the Sierra Club urges the Port of Oakland to become a worldwide leader in environmentally friendly port operation, using cutting-edge solutions to reduce pollution, including greenhouse-gas emissions. We envision the Port implementing business practices that reduce harmful environmental and health impacts.

We believe the Port can achieve this vision by adhering to the following principles.

Sustainability. The Port must commit to being a leader, bringing to market the most promising emission-reduction technologies and generating secure green jobs that pay a living wage to meet the economic needs of Oakland. The Port should move beyond fossil fuels to zero-emission fuels for its trucks, ships, harbor craft, and electricity.

Efficiency. The Port needs to set and meet energy-efficiency targets. In particular, it must prevent unnecessary idling of trucks and ships, eliminate dirty diesel fuels, and prioritize direct ship-to-rail transport.

Worker Justice and Public Health. The cost of greening our ports and cleaning up our environment should not fall on hard-working truck drivers already burdened with low wages and deplorable working conditions. Misclassified as independent contractors, they lack health insurance and most of the legal protections of employees, including the right to form a union. We urge the Port of Oakland to follow the example of the Port of Los Angeles and implement a Clean Truck Program requiring trucking companies to purchase and maintain new, less-polluting trucks, and to hire their drivers as employees rather than as contractors. For more about this worker-justice campaign, see

Accountability. The Port of Oakland must take responsibility for the impacts of the trucks that serve it. It must make sure that all trucks are low-emissions, utilize off-street parking, and avoid residential neighborhoods.

Open Space. One of the few shoreline parks available to Oakland residents is Middle Harbor Shoreline Park, accessible only by a public road that crosses the Port. For many Oakland residents, this park represents a rare connection with nature, including endangered California clapper rails, brown pelicans, and California least terns. There should be better public access to the park, and people using the park facility should not need to be afraid of the air quality.

In order to prevent coal exports through the Port of Oakland and the future Oakland Army Base terminal, the community needs to stand up to Big Coal.

If you want to raise your voice and make a difference in your neighborhood, please add your information on our Volunteer Form and be sure to check the regional interest “Fossil Fuel Exports and Crude by Rail.” We’ll make sure you know about any updates and actions in West Oakland.

Questions? Email Chapter conservation organizer Jess Dervin-Ackerman at jess.dervin-ackerman at

>> Para leer sobre este tema en español ver el pdf.