Oakland is paying a consultant $120,000 to study the potential health risks of shipping coal through a new bulk cargo terminal at the port.
The City Council voted unanimously Tuesday night to approve a contract with Environmental Science Associates to help city staff investigate the health impacts of a project that could lead to the shipment of millions of tons of coal every year through the planned West Oakland port facility.
The vote came amid concerns from activists that ESA routinely works for fossil fuel companies and might not be objective in its analysis.
It's the latest development in a heightened debate over whether the city will allow the cargo terminal to handle coal, which would come from mines in Utah.
Last month, the state Senate passed a bill by Berkeley Democrat Loni Hancock requiring a new environmental report on a massive bulk cargo terminal slated to be built near the Bay Bridge Toll Plaza.