A’s sue California agency over alleged pollution at ballpark opponent Schnitzer Steel

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The Oakland A’s sued California’s Department of Toxic Substances Control on Wednesday over alleged pollution at Schnitzer Steel’s metal shredding facility in West Oakland.

The Schnitzer recycling center at 1101 Embarcadero West is next to Howard Terminal, where the A’s have proposed a new ballpark, along with housing and offices, that Schnitzer Steel and other shipping and trucking groups oppose.

The A’s allege that the state has failed to regulate the shredding facility’s pollution, which includes 200,000 tons of metal residue per year that contaminates the soil, water and air, according to the complaint. The lawsuit in Alameda County Superior Court names Schnitzer Steel as a real party in interest. The A’s are seeking the company’s compliance with the Hazardous Waste Control Law and the cost of legal fees.

The A’s said there have been at least five fires at the facility since 2018, including one in June.

The government “has exempted Schnitzer from having to comply fully with the law for 30 years. This is a regulatory failure,” Dave Kaval, president of the A’s, wrote on Twitter. “West Oakland has long dealt with unacceptably high levels of pollution, as well as elevated risks of health problems like asthma, heart disease, and COVID.”

The environmental agency said it “cannot comment on pending litigation, but it is deeply committed to protecting Californians and the environment from toxic harm — particularly those who suffer from a disparate level of pollution.”

Colin Kelly, director of public affairs at Schnitzer Steel, said in a statement that the A’s lawsuit is an “attack” that was part of “efforts to dismantle the Port of Oakland to make room for their waterfront stadium and luxury housing development. The men and women that work at the Port have been clear that the A’s plan is incompatible with their work and will put at risk many of the last high-paying, blue collar jobs held by local Black residents in Oakland.

“As a recycler that has been serving the Oakland community for over 50 years, we are committed to reducing emissions, saving water, conserving energy, and reducing landfill usage. We invest significantly in raising the industry standard for safety and sustainability, including more than $30 million in industry-leading emission control and other environmental projects at our Oakland facility,” he said.

Some West Oakland residents say the company’s efforts have been inadequate. Margaret Gordon, co-director of West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project, an activist who has fought for a cleaner area, said she supports the lawsuit.

“It’s overdue,” Gordon said. “Schnitzer Steel has been an objection of controversy for many, many years.”

Gordon wants to see steel processed in an enclosed building that prevents debris from entering the community. She also said that Schnitzer and the Department of Toxic Substances Control have rarely communicated with the community about their safety efforts.

Kaval said 23,000 West Oakland residents live within a mile of facility.

The A’s and Schnitzer Steel are involved in a different legal dispute over the proposed 35,000-seat stadium at Howard Terminal. In March, Schnitzer Steel, Pacific Merchant Shipping Association, the Harbor Trucking Association and the California Trucking Association sued the city of Oakland and Gov. Gavin Newsom to block a streamlined environmental review of the A’s ballpark.

Mike Jacob, vice president and general counsel of the Pacific Merchant Shipping Association, which advocates for marine terminal operators and shipping companies, said the A’s new lawsuit threatens the livelihood of industrial jobs at the Port of Oakland.

“This aggressive action by the A’s proves what we have been afraid of this whole time: They are intending to shut down and push back on the current operations of Oakland’s working waterfront. It proves that the obvious incompatible land uses of putting new housing, offices, and baseball fans right next to our heavy industrial maritime uses pose the very real and direct threat of potentially shutting down existing operations at the Port,” Jacob said in a statement.

Kaval said in an interview that the environmental lawsuit would proceed regardless of the fate of the ballpark. “It’s really a separate thing,” he said, noting that the A’s offices are already in nearby Jack London Square, close to the facility.

He also said the stadium would not affect port jobs, and it has the support of 154 labor unions. Those include the Alameda Labor Council, a coalition of AFL-CIO unions that include 135,000 workers in health care, transportation, education and construction.

Kaval said that environmental reviews are continuing and a draft report should be ready this year. The baseball team is negotiating a community benefits agreement with local residents. The City Council could potentially vote on the project next year, he said. If approved, the A’s hope to open for the 2023 season.

Roland Li is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: roland.li@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @rolandlisf



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