A's File Suit Against State Agency to Regulate Oakland Steel Recycler

Schnitzer Steel is the largest metal shredding plant in California, and the A’s say that state regulators have given the company a pass on its hazardous emissions for decades. Schnitzer Steel, in West Oakland, on Aug. 5, 2020. (David Marks/KQED)

The Oakland A's are suing the California Department of Toxic Substances Control for failing to regulate an industrial recycling plant located next to Howard Terminal, the waterfront where the team plans to build a new ballpark. Schnitzer Steel is the largest metal shredding plant in California, and the A's say that state regulators have given the company a pass on its hazardous emissions for decades.

Athletics President Dave Kaval said the team met with community groups like the West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project and kept hearing complaints about the plant. “23,000 West Oakland residents live within a mile of the location," Kaval said. "This steel recycler generates materials that are constantly exceeding the toxicity thresholds of hazardous waste. It leaches into the soil and groundwater. It blows off site and it catches fire." Kaval said there have been five fires since 2018.

A Change.org petition posted by the A’s gained more than 1,000 signatures within eight hours of going live.

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In a statement, a spokesperson for DTSC said that while the agency wouldn’t comment on pending litigation, “it is deeply committed to protecting Californians and the environment from toxic harm — particularly those who suffer from a disparate level of pollution.”

Oregon-based Schnitzer Steel said they've invested more than $30 million in emission control projects at the facility. Colin Kelly, the company’s director of public affairs, wrote, “Suing the state agency that regulates industrial businesses is an attempt by the A’s to distract from the lack of information and accountability they have demonstrated in their planning for a commercial real estate development at the working waterfront." Additionally, the facility has been serving the Oakland community for over 50 years and is "committed to reducing emissions, saving water, conserving energy, and reducing landfill usage,” the statement said.

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Schnitzer has allied itself with a group that includes maritime businesses and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union in opposing the Port of Oakland’s willingness to lease the Howard Terminal site near Jack London Square to the A’s. Former ILWU official Clarence Thomas said as a third-generation longshore worker, he feared the attempt to regulate Schnitzer was the beginning of a process to move the Port away from the industries that have historically supported a Black working class in Oakland.

“We who work at the Port realize that Schnitzer is just the first domino to fall," Thomas said. "If this deal goes through, there's no way that Schnitzer Steel can stay there. Who's going to be paying millions of dollars for a condominium right next door to a metal recycling plant?”

But Kaval, in an email to A's season ticket holders, described the suit as an attempt to support current residents of the neighborhoods bordering the Port. "West Oakland has long dealt with unacceptably high levels of pollution, as well as elevated risks of health problems like asthma, heart disease and most recently, COVID-19. A better future is possible, and we want to be part of the solution," Kaval said.