A Continuation of BC’s Coal Saga compiled from stories in the ECOreport
Lafarge Canada’s coal facility on Texada Island is involved in BC’s plan to become the biggest coal exporter in North America. It currently handles Close to 400,000 tonnes of coal a year, from Quinsam Mine in the Comox/Courtenay region of Vancouver Island. If the proposed Fraser Surrey Dock’s coal terminal is approved, up to 8 million tonnes of coal may pass through Texada. That decision will have to wait until June, but in April BC Environmental Assessment Office inadvertently disclosed the fact Large’s permit had already been amended when they emailed an activist that:
“On March 12, 2014, the Ministry of Energy and Mines issued a Mines Act amendment with conditions to Texada Quarrying Ltd [Lafarge]. I suggest that you follow up directly with the Ministry of Energy and Mines if you have any questions regarding the amendment.”
“Was it only an inadvertent slip that the EAO email mentioned the permit had been issued? Was government intentionally trying to keeping this quiet, or had staff simply not bothered to inform the public, our Ministers and MLA’s that the permit had been issued?” asks Donald Gordon, spokesperson for Coal Dust Free Salish Sea and Voters Taking Action on Climate Change director. “Either way, it’s outrageous that First Nations, Regional Districts and residents were not promptly notified of a government decision on a highly contentious issue. Is it likely that Lafarge has been kept in the dark about this approval for the past four weeks?”
Chief Calvin Craigan of the shíshálh (Sechelt) Nation issued the following statement on learning of the decision:
“The provincial government is making it clear that they intend to try to push their agenda through at all costs. They are amending laws, ignoring coastal communities, ignoring First Nations, and ignoring the impacts of this project on resources in our traditional territory. This project is not in the best interests of any coastal community. The Sechelt First Nation, local governments and coastal residents will stand together to stop this project. We have no choice.”
The Government’s secrecy was not the only problem. Lafarge’s permit explicitly prohibits release of coal into the “water or foreshore” at the coal loading facility, yet as you can see from numerous photos on this page, the beach is contaminated.
After being notified, twice, the Ministry of Environment finally sent out a technician who reported “no coal was noted outside of the stockpile area, a small strip of land along the beach showed up as black. This was not noted from the air, but was picked up when the investigator walked the area. Six samples of the soil , sand, rock and debris (mostly wood chips like material) were taken and sealed. These samples were turned over to the coal geologist with the Geological Survey branch for analysis . She did a detailed analysis and advised me there was no coal in the samples.”
Local residents and land owners geo-referenced, photographed and collected coal samples for testing by an independent lab.
Lab results show a chemical signature consistent with coal and the high levels of arsenic suggested the Quinsam coal mine was the source. (Earlier studies have shown elevated levels of arsenic in coal mined at Quinsam.) Environmental specialist Dr André Sobolewski found the elevated level of arsenic in the samples troubling, even more so as local First Nations are harvesting shellfish in this area. He urged MOE to conduct immediate follow up studies to determine if arsenic contaminates local shellfish.
“We have clear evidence that Lafarge is already allowing coal to escape from its current small stockpiles into the surrounding beaches and foreshore. We’ve brought that evidence to the Ministry of Mines, but they have dismissed it and are doing nothing to address what appears to be a significant breach of Lafarge’s existing permit. We’ve had to collect donations to have coal samples tested in the lab because government is not doing its job.” said Donald Gordon. “Why should we expect that Lafarge and the Ministry of Mines will do a better job when they are handling 8 million tonnes of coal a year?”
Fifty one of BC’s faith leaders subsequently wrote BC’s Premier, Christy Clark, an open letter requesting she reconsider her decision to approve the expansion of coal facilities on Texada Island.
They said coal is “the fossil fuel most directly linked to the rise of CO2 emissions in China” and “making money at the expense of the health and prosperity of the planet is wrong.”
They are leaders of the Sikh, Jewish, Unitarian, Quaker, Roman Catholic, Anglican, United Church of Canada, Presbyterian, and Evangelical Lutheran communities.
Most come from the Lower Mainland area, but there were some from Vancouver Island, Powell River and even Texada Island.
“This has global implications,” Rabbi David Mivasair, of Ahavat Olam Synagogue in Vancouver, told the ECOreport. “It also impacts us here and we can do something about this here.
“In May of 2012 Premier Clark stated that responsibility for climate change does not stop at BC’s borders. She also claimed that BC LNG exports would be good for the world and good for the climate because they would allow other countries to wean themselves off of dirty sources of energy like thermal coal,” said Rosemary Cornell, a member of the Sustainability Circle at Canadian Memorial United Church and letter organizer. “However, when asked to take a stand on current plans to export US thermal coal from Fraser Surrey Docks and Texada Island to be burned in Asian power plants, the Premier has remained silent. The letter sent yesterday by faith leaders encourages her to consider the moral implications of promoting export of a fuel that is contributing to horrific air pollution in China and rising CO2 emissions worldwide.”
“Our province has shown strong leadership in the past on commitments to reduce GHG emissions and our municipalities have robust plans to reduce carbon output. The traffic in coal is not compatible with those plans,” the collective letter states.
“In our weekly sermons we encourage our congregations to adopt a sustainable lifestyle. Many of them are walking the talk, reducing their carbon footprint in their daily choices of what they buy and how they travel. Now our congregations are asking us to act as emissaries of their message to you, to embrace a shift in the way to do business. Therefore we will not stand idly by when we see local actions that will contribute to climate destabilization.”
This Morning, May 15, Voters Taking Action on Climate Change (VTACC) has served the Ministry of Energy and Mines (MEM) and Texada Quarries Limited (TQL) with notice that it is bringing a court case challenging the legality of MEM’s recent approval of a major coal export expansion on Texada Island.
They are arguing that:
- that bulk coal storage and shipping facilities are regulated under the Environmental Management Act, not the Mines Act, and a waste discharge permit is required before this project can proceed;
- important information about how contaminated run-off from the site will be managed was not shared with the concerned public prior to the permit being issued.
If successful, the Voters Taking Action challenge will require the MEM permit to be set aside and the Environmental Management Act applied to the project.
“We see no other option than to take the government to court” said Donald Gordon of adjacent Lasqueti Island. “The Province has ignored evidence of ongoing coal contamination, rejected the pleas of public health officials, dismissed citizens’ and First Nations’ call for an independent environmental assessment of this project, and refused to apply its own pollution prevention laws under the Environmental Management Act. We cannot sit back and watch while this massive coal export facility is illegally authorized without adequate review.”