How a faltering U.S. coal industry is sneaking their climate-wrecking product through B.C.
Their latest efforts to export through our province and our latest efforts to fight back
Like any kid who grew up in Vancouver, I have the aspirational mantra “Greenest City” imprinted in my brain. This illusion was shattered when I learned Metro Vancouver was also home to North America’s biggest coal port.
Westshore Terminal in Delta has already been exporting 30 million tonnes of coal per year, shipping out more carbon pollution than the emissions of our entire province. Yes, you read that right.
Just last week, American company Lighthouse Resources announced they were finally giving up on a defeated Oregon coal terminal proposal — because they are already shipping their Powder River Basin coal through Westshore in B.C.
U.S. thermal coal producers have been slowly buying up space traditionally used for B.C. metallurgical coal (for steelmaking) from the Westshore terminal, increasing exports to be burned for energy in Asia.
As the United States transitions to cleaner power sources, the coal industry is getting increasingly desperate for export opportunities. But public opposition and stronger environmental review processes in the U.S. have been incredibly effective at stopping new coal terminals, including the proposal Lighthouse finally gave up on in Oregon.
With no options left in their own country, U.S. coal mining companies now see B.C. ports as their ticket to global markets. The privately-operated Westshore terminals is able to use existing permits to ship their toxic product out right under our noses. And residents along the train routes are forced to breathe in the toxic dust and diesel fumes.
That’s not the end of the story, though. Fraser Surrey Docks is proposing a brand new coal port on the Fraser River, and they don’t have all their permits rubber stamped yet. This time we can get it right. We can stop an unaccountable, private port from exporting more dirty coal through B.C.
Also last week, Ban Ki Moon warned us — again — that coal expansion is a major threat to the new international Paris Agreement to tackle climate change. The science is clear: tackling climate change means a rapid phase-out of coal, the dirtiest fossil fuel. It’s on us to speed along this transition in a way that is fair for communities and workers who have been depending on this resource.
For the past four years, I have been going to university in the San Francisco Bay Area. Many times a year, I would travel by train up and down the West Coast — a journey that took me by dozens of communities from Bellingham to Oakland who are fighting, and beating, new coal export proposals. A journey that likely took me along the very same tracks as dozens of coal trains travelling north along the coast towards B.C. ports.
On each trip, I took in the neighbourhoods those train tracks go through, and the beautiful coastline and environmental richness at risk from climate change. It never failed to strengthen my resolve to beat the new Fraser Surrey Docks thermal coal proposal.
And beat it we will. Our allies Voters Taking Action on Climate Change, Communities & Coal and Ecojustice are taking the port to court over their approval of Fraser Surrey Docks — an approval which, ironically, occurred just as negotiations at COP 21 in Paris were ramping up. After months of waiting, our friends finally have their court date: May 17, 2017. You can chip in to support them here.
In the meantime, we’ll be keeping up public pressure on Metro Vancouver to reject the upcoming Air Quality Permit for Fraser Surrey Docks. As U.S. companies sneak their product through already permitted B.C. ports, we certainly won’t let them have their major new terminal on the Fraser River too.