Your coal export questions answered
1) B.C. doesn’t currently have any coal-burning power plants. Why should I be worried about coal?
Many parts of the world, including B.C., have stopped burning coal to create electricity because it’s widely recognized as the dirtiest form of energy on the planet – plus there are readily available alternatives to create electricity, such as hydro and wind power.
While B.C. doesn’t burn coal, our province has long been an exporter of metallurgical coal for steel-making. In recent years, port terminals in the Lower Mainland have added new capacity to ship U.S.-mined thermal coal to Asia where it is used in coal-burning power plants, shortening life expectancy for millions of people and contributing to global warming, ocean acidification and mercury emissions. Health and environmental damages from coal mining, processing, transport and combustion are currently estimated to cost up to half a trillion dollars annually in the U.S. alone.
2) What projects are being proposed in the Lower Mainland?
Over the past several years, Port Metro Vancouver has quietly allowed more and more U.S. thermal coal to be shipped through Westshore Terminals at Roberts Bank in Delta. Now the port is considering a proposal from Fraser Surrey Docks to handle even more U.S. coal – up to 8 million metric tonnes per year. The coal would arrive by train from the U.S. through the communities of White Rock, Ocean Park, Crescent Beach, Panorama Ridge and North Delta, then be transferred onto barges at Fraser Surrey Docks. Lafarge would then send barges down the lower Fraser River to the west coast of Texada Island where coal would be loaded onto ships bound for Asian power plants. This would require an additional 160 to 320 train deliveries and between 320 and 640 more barge movements every year.
3) I’ve heard increasing coal exports could endanger our health – how?
The Fraser Surrey Docks terminal would significantly increase diesel pollution from trains and machinery at the port site. Diesel particulate matter is a noxious form of air pollution small enough to embed in the lung tissue. It’s associated with both pulmonary and cardiovascular issues, including cancers, heart disease and asthma. Reducing particulate matter is Metro Vancouver’s No. 1 air quality objective.
Coal dust is also a form of particulate matter known to contribute to lung problems and asthma. Even worse, coal dust contains toxic heavy metals, such as lead, sulphur and mercury.
The combination of diesel particulate matter and coal dust emissions along the rail lines seriously increases exposure risks in neighbouring communities and would increase air pollution throughout the region. That’s why prominent health officials, including the chief medical officers for the Fraser and Vancouver Coastal Health Authorites, and the province’s chief medical officer, have all called for a comprehensive health impact assessment to determine the impacts of airborne dust, potential contamination of air, land, food and fish harvested from contaminated waters. The assessment would also look at diesel exhaust impacts, the effects of increased railway traffic on access to emergency care and noise pollution. So far, Port Metro Vancouver and Fraser Surrey Docks have refused to commission a health impact assessment.
4) Who has expressed concern about the Fraser Surrey Docks proposal?
In addition to the chief medical officers listed above, residents and neighbourhood associations in affected communities, along with organizations such as Voters Taking Action on Climate Change, Dogwood Initiative and the Wilderness Committee, have raised concerns about both the health and global warming risks of coal export expansion, and the lack of meaningful public consultation.
City councils in Vancouver, White Rock, Surrey and New Westminster have passed resolutions of concern about the public process and the potential impacts of the Fraser Surrey Docks project. Many individual mayors, city councillors, MLAs and MPs have spoken out on the issue and lobbied the port authority to conduct public hearings and a health impact assessment. In June 2013, the board of Metro Vancouver – the regional government made up of mayors and councillors from each local municipality – passed a motion supporting the call for a health impact assessment and opposing any further expansion of coal shipments in the Fraser River Estuary, other than existing operations at Roberts Bank.
5) Why is there so much pressure to ship U.S. coal through B.C. ports?
Like B.C., many states and provinces in North America have banned coal-burning power plants and there are signs other parts of the world will eventually follow suit. In July 2013, the World Bank announced it would stop financing the construction of coal-fired power plants in developing countries due to global warming impacts. Coal companies are desperate to get their product to Asian markets before it’s too late and they are in a rush to develop port facilities on the West Coast.
Both Oregon and Washington states have so far fended off coal port proposals based largely on public concerns about health risks; the noise and traffic congestion caused by additional train traffic; and global warming. But Port Metro Vancouver has been able to quietly expand its capacity to ship the U.S.’ unwanted coal because it already had coal export facilities and because Canada’s environmental laws and avenues for public participation in port development decisions are far weaker than in the U.S.
6) What can I do to help stop coal port expansions?
Like all coal port expansion projects, the final decision on whether to approve Fraser Surrey Docks rests in the hands of a port authority, which thus far has proven itself to be unaccountable to the public. The only way to stop these expansions is to build a movement strong enough to threaten the port’s social licence. The best way to start is to sign the petition at nocoal.ca and join the ever-growing movement against coal port expansion.
Thanks to coaltrainfacts.org for much of the data contained in this fact sheet.