Oakland Athletics takes swing at Schnitzer Steel

The Oakland Athletics this week struck back against opponents of a proposed ballpark with a lawsuit of its own.

Oakland A’s President Dave Kaval said in a series of 16 tweets that the ballclub filed suit against California’s Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) in Alameda County Superior Court on Wednesday for its “failure to impose [and] enforce environmental law in West Oakland against Schnitzer Steel, the largest metal-shredding facility in the state.”

Schnitzer Steel’s 26.5-acre complex is adjacent to the Howard Terminal at the Port of Oakland, where the A’s have pitched a 34,000-seat stadium to replace the Oakland Coliseum. 

“Hazardous materials are supposed to be tightly regulated. Long ago [California] passed tough rules on the handling of hazardous waste to protect communities. California DTSC has exempted Schnitzer from having to comply fully with the law for 30 years. This is a regulatory failure,” Kaval said in one tweet.

“It’s wrong. And it needs to stop,” the shortest tweet read. 

Schnitzer at bat

A term sheet approved by the Port of Oakland’s governing board last summer requires that before it makes a final vote on the stadium, it will have to consider information produced from an environmental review process under the California Environmental Quality Act and land use approvals must be obtained by various public agencies.

The Howard Terminal has not been used for container cargo operations since 2013. The terminal is being used for vessel berthing, truck and container parking and depot operations, training of longshore workers, and other logistics services that support port operations, according to the Port of Oakland.

In March, Schnitzer Steel — along with the Pacific Merchant Shipping Association (PMSA) and California Trucking Association — sued Gov. Gavin Newsom, the city of Oakland and the A’s organization. The petition filed in Alameda County Superior Court asserted Newsom missed a Dec. 31 deadline to certify the ballpark project for “fast-track treatment” and that a thorough environmental review is needed.

Newsom signed Assembly Bill 734 into law in September 2018, streamlining the ballpark’s environmental review process under the California Environmental Quality Act and making the project eligible to be fast-tracked.

“Among other things, the Howard Terminal project will cause massive and harmful environmental impacts in the city, the port and the region, including but not limited to significant new adverse traffic and transportation impacts, air quality impacts and others, as well as business interference and disruption that will adversely affect operations and services at the Port of Oakland provided by petitioners and/or their members,” the petition said. 

‘These are not peanut vendor jobs’

Longshoremen, truck drivers and port businesses have been vocal in their opposition to a baseball stadium on Port of Oakland property, saying the site will be needed for cargo. 

GSC Logistics President and CEO Scott Taylor told the Oakland City Council in July 2019 that the port was the “economic engine of Northern California” and supported thousands of jobs, with drivers earning more than $100,000 and warehouse workers making $50,000.

 “These are not peanut vendor jobs, these are not hot dog vendor jobs,” he said.  

Taylor pointed to a San Francisco Bay Area seaport study that said the 50-acre Howard Terminal site “may be a necessary increment to seaport capacity under moderate to strong cargo growth scenarios.” 

“Under a moderate-growth scenario with sufficient productivity increases, the Bay Area could have sufficient container cargo capacity through 2050 without Howard Terminal but would be at or near capacity — estimated at 99.8% — with little or no room for future growth. Under a strong-growth scenario, Oakland is expected to need Howard’s acreage by around 2042,” the study said.

Mike Jacob, PMSA vice president and general counsel, voiced his opposition at a May 2019 meeting at which the Port of Oakland Board of Commissioners voted unanimously to enter into exclusive negotiations with the A’s for the leasing of the Howard Terminal site for a new ballpark. 

“We think the best place for a new stadium is where it has been for the past 50 years,” Jacob said then. “You do not need to move jobs to threaten our jobs.”

The Athletics’ pitch

The Athletics’ stance is that a ballpark at the Howard Terminal site will benefit the surrounding community and that it already is helping the people of West Oakland by pushing Schnitzer Steel to clean up its act.

According to a summary of the A’s lawsuit filed Wednesday, “Schnitzer produces approximately 200,000 tons per year of metal shredder residue that exceeds the toxicity thresholds for hazardous waste in a predominately low-income, largely African-American West Oakland community. 

“Furthermore, Schnitzer trucks approximately 200,000 tons per year of ‘treated’ metal shredder residue — which DTSC has found continues to exceed hazardous waste toxicity thresholds despite treatment — through surrounding neighborhoods to landfills that are not designated to receive hazardous waste. Once there, the toxic shredder residue is spread as a top layer over nonhazardous garbage as ‘alternative daily cover.’”

The lawsuit claims DTSC has allowed Schnitzer to operate for nearly 40 years without complying with hazardous waste control law (HWCL) requirements, “pursuant to an outdated exemption called an ‘f letter.’”

“California passed a metal-shredding facilities law (MSFL) in 2014 that required DTSC to take one of two actions before January 1, 2018: (1) develop and apply alternative management standards to the metal shredding facilities or (2) apply the HWCL to the facilities and rescind the ‘f letters,’” the lawsuit summary says.

According to the lawsuit, DTSC failed to act by the January 2018 deadline, “and the hazardous waste management practices of concern continue.”

“Over two and a half years later, DTSC still has not acted. The ‘f letters’ remain in place. Schnitzer continues to be excused from complying [with] the HWCL as hundreds of companies around the state do every day. And DTSC still had not acted despite repeatedly finding that Schnitzer’s practices place [surrounding] communities and the environment at substantial risk,” the lawsuit summary says.

“As the A’s establish a presence in West Oakland, environmental justice is one of their top priorities,” it says. “The A’s have made binding commitments to the state of California to uphold environmental standards in the development of their new ballpark. This includes building to LEED Gold standards and ensuring net zero greenhouse gas emissions, with 50% of offsets done locally.”

The Port of Oakland said Thursday that it would not comment on pending litigation.

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